Photo/IllutrationIndustrial designer Eiji Mitooka talks about his Coto Coto Train project for Heisei Chikuho Railway Co. on Oct. 29 in Fukuchi, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Koki Nakamura)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUCHI, Fukuoka Prefecture--A new sightseeing train designed by Eiji Mitooka, best known for Kyushu Railway Co.’s Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars) luxury sleeper train, is set to make its debut next year.

“I want the train to run slowly and leisurely through the countryside, mountain foothills, waterfront areas and forests, and go through tunnels into settlements, as its name suggests,” said Mitooka, who is designing the interior and exterior of the new Coto Coto Train.

“Coto Coto” is a reference to lyrics from “Mori no Suisha” (the water wheel in the forest), a song that became a hit soon after the end of World War II and suits the countryside landscapes along the line, according to Heisei Chikuho Railway Co.

“Coto” is also associated with “koto,” which means “thing” in Japanese, indicating that the train is loaded with meaningful things from the region such as “matsurigoto” (celebrations), “monogoto” (all matters) and “hitogoto” (human affairs) and connects the local areas along the line.

Heisei Chikuho Railway Co. will introduce the new two-carriage sightseeing and restaurant train in March.

Kenichi Kawai, president of the Fukuchi-based semi-public railway company, which operates train lines connecting stations in Tagawa, Nogata, Yukuhashi cities and elsewhere in the prefecture, recently announced the news with the industrial designer.

Heisei Chikuho Railway Co. will operate the train about 120 days per year during lunchtime hours on weekends and holidays. The three-hour journey will allow travelers to take in beautiful views of forests and pastoral landscapes along the line while they enjoy food made with many local ingredients. The operator is working out details of the menu and the train schedule.

Despite having a much smaller scale than the seven-carriage Seven Stars, and a capacity of just 48 passengers, the design focus is still on elegance.

The interior will incorporate natural light and the warmth of wood. The ceiling will be covered with stained glass panels. In addition, it will feature the traditional wood latticework of “Okawa kumiko” from Okawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, which is also used for Nanatsuboshi, and other ornaments to create a luxurious feel.

The exterior will be painted a chic crimson polished to a mirror finish. The color stands out in the green background of the forests and farms, allowing the idyllic landscapes also to be reflected on the carriage bodies.

Two existing carriages owned by the company, aka Heichiku Railway, will be used for the Coto Coto Train after their interior and exterior designs are overhauled. The cost for the project, which is estimated at 60 million yen ($531,000), will be covered by state subsidies for the promotion of regional revitalization and subsidies from the prefectural and local governments along the line.

The first carriage will have a capacity of 18 and will come with four- and two-seat tables and a kitchen. The second carriage will have a capacity of 30. It will also be installed with sofa seats for a total of 12 people to sit facing one another, offering a cozy space for group passengers.

Each carriage will be equipped with a wheelchair-accessible space and a service counter, as well as a showcase for local specialties and other products.

This spring, Mitooka rode a Heichiku Railway train with Kawai serving as a guide. The industrial designer, who viewed the landscapes from the windows to find inspirations for the designs, said he feels the region retains scenery steeped in tradition.

The designer added that he regards the train as being a “stage” where high-quality services are created for crew members and passengers, while it also serves as a “mikoshi” portable shrine for which residents living in areas along the line can work together and play a collective role.

“I hope it helps them realize again how beautiful their communities are and gain confidence in their hometowns,” Mitooka said.