Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors
Visiting Kyushu, Japan
Kyushu, the third-largest island of Japan's four main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu), beguiles visitors with its warm climate, beautiful scenery, dynamic and historic cities, and unique natural attractions. The island is just a 110-minute flight from Tokyo or, if you want to take a more scenic route, five hours by train. Here are some of Kyushu's must-see destinations and a great video of the area to get you started.
Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture
Kyushu's largest city blends the old and new, from an ancient castle and Japan's first Zen temple to modern shopping malls and the futuristic Fukuoka Tower. To get oriented, take a stroll in centrally located Ohori Park, or enjoy the view from the top of the ferris wheel in the huge Uminonakamichi Seaside Park. In the evening, stop by the yatai, Fukuoka's famous outdoor food stalls. If you visit Fukuoka in July, be sure to take in the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, where teams race elaborate floats along a track through the city.
Today, Dazaifu is a small city near Fukuoka, but it used to be the ancient capital of Kyushu and a center for diplomatic relations with nearby countries such as China and Korea. In Dazaifu, you'll find many historic attractions such as the Tenmangu Shrine, the Komyozen-ji Temple with its renowned Zen rock garden, and the Government Office Ruins. You can learn more about the history of Kyushu at the huge, ultramodern Kyushu National Museum.
Although its name is synonymous with nuclear destruction, Nagasaki in Nagasaki Prefecture actually has a unique history as one of Japan's historic points of contact and trade with the outside world, particularly the Dutch during the 17th century. It was also an early center for Christianity in Japan. Today, Nagasaki is a vibrant port city that has recovered from its World War II-era destruction, but it also acknowledges its past. For example, at the Atomic Bomb Museum and the nearby Peace Park, you can see artifacts from the old Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed by the atomic bomb. You can also visit the rebuilt cathedral, the home base of Nagasaki's present-day Christian community.
One of the major hot springs destinations in Japan, the small city of Beppu in Oita Prefecture offers blissful indulgence at its many onsens, or hot spring facilities, as well as a unique spa treatment: the sand bath, where participants are buried up to their necks in hot sand. The jigoku, or "hells," are another steamy attraction in the Beppu area. The jigoku are natural springs that are too hot to bathe in. Some of these jigoku are very photogenic, with water of different colors, and at one of them, you can even eat food that has been cooked with the steam from the hot springs.
At Aoshima Beach, with its row of palm trees lining a long crescent of sand, you might feel like you're in California. However, this famous surfing beach is actually in Miyazaki Prefecture, on the east coast of Kyushu. Aoshima Beach is known for its chilled-out atmosphere, with yoga studios, food trucks, hammocks to lounge in, and live music concerts in the summer. Aoshima Shrine, located on an island that you can walk to via a pedestrian bridge, is worthy of a visit if you're ready to explore beyond the beach.
As Japan's most massive volcano, with one of the biggest calderas in the world, Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture is a place to witness the fierce power of nature up close. There are hiking trails to the summit of the smoking crater, and you can also reach the area by bus or car. Mount Aso is part of a national park with opportunities for many activities, such as horseback riding and camping. However, sometimes sections of the park close because of increased volcanic activity, so be sure to check the park's status before visiting. Also, if you have extra time while you're in Kumamoto, check out the Kumamoto Castle.
Why would you want to visit the rainiest place in Japan? For starters, the wet weather on the island of Yakushima has nurtured lush forests with huge cedar trees, some of which are thousands of years old. A good part of the island's forests are now preserved in a national park, where hiking trails allow visitors to immerse themselves in the grandeur of the ancient trees. Yakushima, about 40 miles south of southern Kyushu from the city of Kagoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture (the southernmost prefecture on the island), is accessible by ferry and will give you a nice view of Sakurajima on the way out. It's also served by regular flights from Osaka, Fukuoka and Kagoshima.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Kyushu, Japan
Of course, we've barely scratched the surface of all you can do in Kyushu. If you have the extra time, here are several more options to consider:
- Head over to Saga Prefecture to checkout Karatsu Castle and buy some Imari porcelain while you're there
- Take some time to explore Yufuin while in Oita Prefecture
- Travel to Kitakyushu in northern Kyushu to visit Kokura Castle
- Walk through Okawachiyama Village in Arita
- Stop by Huis Ten Bosch, an amusement park modeled after a Dutch town, in Sasebo in western Kyushu
- Visit the hot springs in Kurokawa Onsen
- View the Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture
- Take a flight out to the Amami Islands to see the Mangrove Primeval Forest
- Eat a Satsuma Mandarin in Satsuma
- Do some sightseeing in Amakusa
From an active volcano to primeval cedar forests, and from ancient Dazaifu to modern Fukuoka, Kyushu offers an intriguing blend of natural and man-made attractions. Use these destinations as a starting point to plan your own Kyushu adventure. You'll be speaking Japanese in no time.
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“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir