All Aboard Kyūshū’s Designer Trains (Photos)Guide to Japan Travel Design
Mitooka Eiji Born in 1947. After working as a furniture designer and then studying in Osaka and Italy, Mitooka branched out on his own. In 1988, he was responsible for the interior design at a resort hotel in Fukuoka, which led to an offer from JR Kyūshū. He has been involved in the carriage design for almost all of JR Kyūshū’s trains ever since, including the new Kyūshū Shinkansen. Four-time winner of the Brunel Award for international railway design.
An increasing number of people are traveling to Kyūshū, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, to ride the trains there. In Kyūshū, trains are more than just a convenient means of getting from point A to point B—they have become a major attraction in their own right. Much of the credit for this goes to Mitooka Eiji, who has overseen design on all JR Kyūshū trains since the late 1980s. Despite the comfort and convenience of Japan’s high-speed rail network, trains struggle to remain competitive against airplanes for longer journeys. Once a trip takes more than three hours by train, many people choose to fly instead. Mitooka’s aim was to use attractive designs and passenger comfort to make travel by train an attractive option even for journeys of three hours or more. The use of wood in railway carriages has been frowned upon in Japan since 1972, when a train caught fire in the Hokuriku Tunnel, leaving 30 people dead and hundreds more injured. With his background as a furniture designer, Mitooka found the total absence of wood from Japanese trains difficult to understand. Believing that wooden fittings offered a sense of warmth and comfort that other materials could not match, Mitooka and his team employed a wide range of fire-retardants to ensure passenger safety and come up with passenger accommodations offering unparalleled levels of luxury and design sensibility. Other ground-breaking innovations they have introduced include decorating the interiors of trains using traditional Japanese craft materials such as gold leaf, Nishijin weaving, and Kurume-gasuri indigo fabrics from Fukuoka Prefecture. These are just some ways that Mitooka has helped make rail travel an experience to savor again. “When it comes to trains, I’m a total amateur,” Mitooka says. “Perhaps that’s why I was able to break the mold and come up with new ideas. To be honest, shapes and colors are not really that important in a design. It’s much more important to provide a pleasant, comfortable space in which passengers and employees want to spend time. Good-quality service comes from good-quality design. Comfort and coziness don’t come from fittings alone.” Jump on board Kyūshū’s designer trains and enjoy a travel experience available nowhere else!