Japan’s oldest steam locomotive celebrates 100 years old anniversary

The Yomiuri Shimbun
No. 58654 locomotive is welcomed by fans as it arrives in JR Yatsushiro Station in Kumamoto Prefecture on Friday.

KUMAMOTO — The oldest steam locomotive still operating in Japan celebrated its 100 year anniversary with a special run between Kumamoto and Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Friday.

Locomotive No. 58654 was produced in 1922 and served various parts of Kyushu before being decommissioned in 1975, clocking up 3.34 million kilometers, equivalent to 84 times the circumference of the Earth. The train was revived in 1988 to operate on the Hohi Line under the name SL Aso BOY. The train was removed from service again in 2005 due to damage, but its operation resumed in 2009, as SL Hitoyoshi, after repairs to run as part of a sightseeing service on Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu)’s Hisatsu Line.

Torrential rain in July 2020 caused serious damage along the line, so services were unable to run until recently. The train now runs on the Kagoshima Line between Kumamoto and Tosu, Saga Prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A birthday cake for the 100-year-old locomotive No. 58654 is seen at JR Yatsushiro Station, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Friday.

JR Kyushu announced the company would discontinue the operation of SL Hitoyoshi in October due to difficulty obtaining spare parts for the train. Passenger numbers also sharply dropped because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

All 132 seats for the special run were fully booked. A 53-year-old homemaker from Saga recalled, “I remember riding this train with my child when they were small. I’m sad that it will be retired.”

A birthday cake was unveiled during a ceremony held at JR Yatsushiro Station to celebrate the anniversary. JR Kyushu President Yoji Furumiya said about 900,000 passengers had used the locomotive since its revival 30 years ago. Furumiya said, “We’d like to repay everyone’s kindness through full-fledged efforts to operate the locomotive before its retirement at the end of fiscal 2023.”