Kyushu Island (九州)
Kyushu (九州, Kyushu) is the third largest of Japan’s four main islands . 12.4 million people live on Kyushu, which is surprising for the small size of the island compared to, for example, Hokkaido or Shikoku. The island was the birthplace of Japanese society and is known for its many historic buildings, beautiful nature, extensive agriculture, and modern cities. The tourist in Kyushu has a lot to do. You can walk, bike, and backpack in the mountains. In the cities on the island you can learn about Japanese culture, visit temples, or do some shopping.
Cities in Kyushu
There are several large, typically Japanese towns on Kyushu. In these towns you will find new modern architecture as well as old historic buildings and temples. They are ideal for walking, exploring the culture or shopping. The most important and interesting cities on the island are Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Beppu . Do you want an unforgettable experience? Take a trip around the island and visit all of them.
Fukuoka is the capital of the eponymous prefecture as well as the largest city in Kyushu. The city is home to at least 1.5 million people and has a typical Japanese center with many high-rise buildings and colorful advertisements. The Canal City area in particular is very popular for walking and shopping. In terms of attractions, Fukoaka also has a lot to offer. For example, they have the Fukoaka Tower, the Fukoaka Dome baseball stadium, and the Kokusai Center, which hosts daily sumo competitions. The Kokusai Center, in particular, is a must-see for exploring the city’s sports culture.
Kumamoto is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Kyushu. This is mainly due to the large castle (熊 本 城, Kumamoto-jō). It is probably the largest, most intact castle in all of Japan! However, there is one drawback: the castle was badly damaged in the 2016 earthquake and is currently closed to the public. Japanese authorities hope to reopen the castle to the public in 2021. Fortunately, this city has a lot to offer in addition to this castle. The city center is super modern, with stores and beautiful streets. You will also find the beautiful Suizenji Gardens in close proximity to the city. Are you really in an adventurous mood? The active Aso volcano is a few hours away from the city!
Kagoshima is a unique city. The city is also called the Naples of the East. In Kagoshima you will also find a mild climate, palm trees along the street and a volcano near the coast. Like other Japanese cities, the city center is very modern, but you will still find many historic buildings and museums. Typical Japanese gardens are outside the city. Near the coast is the Sakurajima Volcano and various beautiful islands.
Perhaps the most famous city on the island is Nagasaki. This is mainly because a tragic event occurred here during World War II. The Americans dropped an atomic bomb on the city, with all the ensuing consequences. Fortunately, Nagasaki is now fully on the upswing, and the city has much to offer travelers. You’ll find the wonderful Hashima Island , the VOC Deshima trading post (sometimes also Dejima) and Peace Park.
Beppu, compared to the aforementioned cities, is not a big city. What makes this city worthy of the top list? Beppu is one of the most famous and largest hot spring resorts in Japan. In Beppu you will find countless hot springs (thanks to Tsurumi volcano), spas and other traditional health centers. There is also much to see in the area of culture. For example, there is a large art museum in the city.
Nature in Kyushu
The nature and climate in Kyushu are very similar to Shikoku. The climate is mild, warm, and the landscape is hilly or even mountainous. You will also find many volcanoes on Kyushu, nine in fact! There are also many islands near the coast that are nice to visit.
There are many beautiful islands near Kyushu that are fun to visit. For example, there is the former Dutch trading post of Deshima, the well-known island of Linkor (Hashima), and other islands. Some are more culturally oriented, others are uninhabited and have beautiful nature to walk on, for example.
Kyushu has volcanism. All over the island you will find many active and dormant volcanoes, such as Sakurajima and Aso volcano. You can often go up to them if the volcano is not too active. These climbs are often organized by local companies or tourist organizations. Aso volcano in central Kyushu in particular regularly justifies rumors of the world’s most active volcano. But others such as Fukue-jima, Ibusuku, Kirishima (also very active), Kuju, Sakurajima (also very active), Sumiyoshi-ike, Tsurumi and Unzen can certainly be on the list of dangerous volcanoes, too. Almost all of them are active.
History of Kyushu
It is very likely that Japanese civilization as we know it today originated in Kyushu. Archaeologists and scholars have discovered countless historic villages, tombs, objects, and other historical artifacts on the island. It was also an area of Japan where contact was first made with other Asian countries, such as China and Korea, and later with European settlers. For example, the Netherlands was one of the few countries that traded spices with Japan. The Netherlands even had a trading post near the city of Nagasaki, which was called Deshima. Later, in the 19th century, Kyushu was the site of the famous Satsum Rebellion.
World War II
Together with Honshu, Kyushu is the island most affected during World War II. The war left deep traces both in the cities and in the landscape. Nagasaki, a large city on the island, was one of two Japanese cities that were attacked by the atomic bomb. 40,000 people died, and the entire city was swept away by this atomic bomb. Hundreds of thousands were stricken with radiation sickness. It is believed that the U.S. killed the Japanese to intimidate the USSR. Other cities in Kyushu were also destroyed by U.S. bomber attacks during the war.
When you’re traveling, it’s important that you can find suitable accommodations. Fortunately, this is not a problem in Kyushu. There are plenty of hotels and hostels in the big cities, and there are plenty of accommodation options outside the cities. Whatever you choose, make sure you make your reservations on time. It’s cheaper, and you can be sure you have a place to spend the night.
KYUSHU ATTRACTIONS: TOP 20.
If you’re looking for things to do in Kyushu, don’t forget to add destinations to other parts of southern Japan to your trip! Kyushu (九州) is the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, so summers are hot and winters are mild. Attractions on Kyushu Island include beautiful scenery and magnificent structures. There are some of Japan’s most beautiful beaches, mountains, and the country’s most active volcano, Mount Aso.
Kyushu Island is not far from other spectacular places like Hiroshima and Tokushima, and is also a reasonable distance from Osaka. We have included the most popular places in Kyushu and other small southern islands of Japan. The following places are between Fukuoka and Kansai international airports, making it easy to create your perfect itinerary!
1. HIMEJI CASTLE.
Kyushu Attractions: Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle, also known as the “White Heron,” is one of the finest examples of classical Japanese engineering and architecture. Its imposing size, elegant appearance, and well-preserved complex attract travelers from all over the world. Himeji is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan’s “Twelve Original Castles. Unlike most castles in Japan , Himeji’s buildings have never been demolished and have been preserved in their original form for over 400 years.
Himeji Castle is one of the most famous places in Japan where you can see cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. At this time of year the spectacular white walls become even brighter. The number of visitors to Himeji Castle increases significantly in spring and autumn, as well as during the summer vacations and Golden Week.
2. ITSUKUSHIMA SHRINE
Attractions in Kyushu: Itsukushima Shrine
Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island is best known for its iconic torii gate. At high tide, water from the Seto Inland Sea surrounds the shrine and its torii, making them appear to float. There are several buildings at Itsukushima Shrine, including the Noh Theater stage, where performances are held periodically throughout the year.
Miyajima Island is also one of the most picturesque places in Japan . From the top of Mount Misen you can enjoy a magnificent view of the bay and the surrounding foliage. A short walk is especially attractive during the cherry blossom season .
3. HIROSHIMA PEACE MEMORIAL MUSEUM.
Attractions in Kyushu: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park tells the stories of the victims and survivors of that tragic day. The 120,000 square meter exhibit area is at the epicenter of the explosion.
The Peace Memorial Museum illustrates the history of Hiroshima, but its main focus is on the events surrounding August 6. Some of the exhibits, such as videos of survivors telling their stories firsthand, are not easy to experience. However, they serve to remind us that peaceful times cannot be taken for granted.
Attractions in Kyushu: Dejima
Dejima is an artificial island in the port of Nagasaki where Portuguese missionaries lived in the early 1600s. In 1637, however, Japanese Christians rebelled against the Tokugawa shogunate, causing the government to expel all Portuguese residents. They also ended trade relations with most Western countries, with the exception of the Netherlands.
Dutch residents moved to Dejima in 1641, and the island was the only place where direct trade between Japan and the Western world took place for centuries. Today, Dejima is a testament to that time with reconstructed houses, warehouses, walls, and gates.
5. NAGASAKI PEACE PARK
Kyushu Attractions: Nagasaki Peace Park
Nagasaki Peace Park commemorates the atomic bombing of the city on August 9, 1945. Two parks and a museum make up the complex, which commemorates the thousands of residents who died that day. One of the most sobering sights is Hypocenter Park, where a black monolith marks the site of the bomb’s fall. You can still see debris from the blast around its foundation here.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is located on the hill above Hypocentre Park, which works to inform the public about the horrors of war. Nearby is the Victims Memorial Hall, which is mostly underground and uses water and light in its decoration. To the north of Hypocenter Park is the iconic Peace Statue and monuments donated to Nagasaki by countries around the world.
6. Takachiho Gorge.
Attractions in Kyushu: Takachiho Gorge.
Kyushu is home to some of Japan’s most scenic national parks, and one of its hidden gems is Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture. The Gokase River cuts a narrow gorge of volcanic basalt that resembles the scales of a dragon.
You can rent a paddle boat to explore the gorge on the river or walk the trails above. Along the way you will find the 17-meter-high Minanotaki Falls. During the summer, spotlights illuminate the lush foliage and waterfall from sunset until 10:00 pm.
7. SHIMANAMI KAIDO.
Attractions in Kyushu: Shimanami Kaido
Shimanami Kaido is a toll road that connects the islands of Honshu and Shikoku over a series of bridges on the smaller islands. Driving along it, you can admire a magnificent view of the Seto Inland Sea, but that is not the only thing you can do here. Shimanami Kaido also has hiking and biking trails.
The bicycle route is 70 kilometers long, but without steep climbs. Intermediate level cyclists can complete it in about a day. If you want to bike only part of the route, you can use the “regular rental system”. It offers tourists bikes to ride for a small fee and has many terminals where you can catch a bus.
8. Glover Garden.
Attractions in Kyushu: Glover Garden
At the end of Japan’s period of isolationism, many Westerners settled in Nagasaki. The place where they used to live and work is now called an open-air museum called Glover Garden . The main attraction is the Glover House, built by Scottish merchant Thomas Glover in the 1850s. He would later assist the revolutionaries who overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate.
Glover Garden is an estate consisting of several mansions and buildings in the Western style of the era. You can explore the well-preserved rooms and learn about the lifestyle of the wealthy elite. The garden also has a great view of the city of Nagasaki and its harbor.
9. AD BEPPU
Attractions in Kyushu: Beppu Hell
The so-called “hell” ( jigoku in Japanese) of Beppu is the seven hot springs that are open for viewing. Five are in the Kannawa district and two are in the Shibaseki district. All of them are inside easily accessible centers, not in nature. Each “hell” is markedly different from the last, and some places offer foot baths and specialty snacks.
Two of the most photogenic hells are Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku. Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) is a hot spring with sky-blue water. Its spacious garden has another pond with lotus flowers that can accommodate small children. Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell) is a strikingly bright red.
10. SHIKOKU MURA.
Attractions in Kyushu: Shikoku Mura
Shikoku Mura is an open-air museum featuring traditional buildings from the Edo and Meiji periods. Among the buildings are farmhouses, workshops, warehouses, and a kabuki theater that hosts occasional performances. One of its most famous landmarks is a bridge of vines similar to those found in the Iya Valley.
What sets Shikoku Mura apart from other similar museums is that all the exhibits are original artifacts of their time. You can touch and explore the same places and things people used hundreds of years ago. The natural forest surrounding it adds to the atmosphere and makes you feel transported to another time.
11. AVA ODORI FESTIVAL
Attractions in Kyushu: Awa Odori
According to local legend, the first Awa Odori Festival took place over 400 years ago to commemorate the opening of Tokushima Castle. From August 12 to 15, thousands of spectators and dancers flock to the town to watch the festivities. Although there are some events during the day, the main show runs from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
In the evenings, groups of dancers perform in a parade on the blocked streets in downtown Tokushima. Some are amateurs who formed their team the night before, and some are professionals who rehearse year-round. The style is a live dance that grew out of Buddhist traditions. It is based on the way a drunk or silly person moves and includes live music and colorful vintage clothing.
12. OURA CATHOLIC CHURCH.
Attractions in Kyushu: Oura Catholic Church
Oura Catholic Church is a cathedral in Nagasaki and the oldest permanent church in Japan. A French missionary built the building in 1864 to commemorate the 26 martyrs executed by Japan’s ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1597. Hideyoshi banned Christian missionaries at this time and ordered the act as a warning to the public.
Today the church is an attractive example of cathedral architecture and the first Western-style building in Japan recognized as a national treasure. Next to the church entrance is the entrance to the adjacent museum, which chronicles the history of Christianity in Japan.
13. AMANO IWATE TEMPLE
Kyushu Attractions: Amano-Iwate Shrine
The Amano-Ivate Shrine is the site of one of the most famous Shinto legends. According to the myth, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, was so disappointed in her brother that she hid in a cave and shrouded the world in darkness. Eventually the other gods lured her back when Ame-No-Uzume performed an amusing and revealing dance.
The shrine stands on the opposite side of the river from the cave where Amaterasu hid. Although you cannot enter the cave, a Shinto priest will guide you to the observation deck. Along the way you will see the piles of stones that previous pilgrims built to commemorate their visit.
14. YOKOGUR EXHIBITION
Attractions in Kyushu: Yokagura
Yokagura reproduces the legend of Amaterasu with actors in traditional clothing and masks. The full Yokagura performance consists of 33 episodes that take place on Saturday nights between November and February. The location of the show changes every week.
If you don’t travel to Kyushu at this time of year, you can see an abridged version of Yokagura at Takachiho Shrine. The hour-long show consists of selected scenes with live musical accompaniment. The performances take place every night during the year from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.
15. TAKASAKIYAMA MONKEY PARK.
Attractions in Kyushu: Takasakiyama
Mount Takasaki is a 628-meter-high peak that is home to about 1,500 wild Japanese macaques. Takasakiyama Monkey Park is a sanctuary at the foot of the mountain, so visitors can watch monkeys interact with each other in their natural habitat. The park opened in the 1950s as a travel destination and to keep the monkeys out of local farms.
The monkeys live in two groups of 700 to 800 individuals, making them one of the most populous groups in the world. Although they are used to seeing humans, keep in mind that they are still wild animals. Please do not touch them or look them directly in the eye as you walk.
16. KITSUKI SAMURAI DISTRICT.
Attractions in Kyushu: Kitsuki
Kitsuki is a sleepy but notable town in northern Kyushu. It is home to Japan’s smallest castle and a well-preserved samurai district . In most historic cities in Japan, the castle is surrounded by samurai districts. However, the layout of Kitsuki is markedly different because its samurai district borders the city center.
Some of the samurai houses are open to the public. The best preserved buildings are the O’Hara and Nomi residences. Inside you will see rooms covered with tatami, traditional Japanese gardens and artifacts related to the daily life of the military elite of old Japan.
17. RITSURIN KOEN PARK
Attractions in Kyushu: Ritsurin Koen
The spacious Ritsurin Koen Park is one of Japan’s most beautifully landscaped gardens . At the beginning of the Edo period, local feudal lords built the park with many ponds, groves, and gazebos. Those who are familiar with Ritsurin Koen often say that it deserves a place in Japan’s “Big Three” gardens, which include Kenrokuen (Kanazawa) , Kairaku-en (Mito) and Korakuen (Okayama).
Inside the park there are several facilities, including a folk museum and teahouses where you can relax and have a snack. You can also take a guided ride on traditional Japanese rowboats on the ponds. Ritsurin Koen Park is especially impressive in the fall when the autumn leaves change color and in the spring when seasonal flowers like the sakura bloom.
18. KURASIKI CANAL.
Attractions in Kyushu: Kurashiki Channel
Kurashiki is an unusual city located in Okayama Prefecture. Its name roughly translates as “city of warehouses.” During the Edo period, Kurashiki was an important rice distribution center in Japan, and the old warehouses still stand in the historic district of Bikan .
You can explore the warehouse area on foot or by boat. Gondola drivers wear traditional clothes and headdresses and tell the history of the city. The facades of the warehouses still look as they did hundreds of years ago, but no longer contain rice. Most are converted boutiques, cafes and museums.
19. MIFUNEJAMA RAKUEN.
Attractions in Kyushu: Mifuneiama Rakuen
Measuring 150,000 square meters, Mifuneiama Rakuen is one of the must-see places on Kyushu Island. Mifune Mountain resembles the shape of a large ship, and the park surrounding it offers visitors stunning views year-round.
In winter, the frozen park comes alive only at night during the lighting and illuminations . From February to mid-May, thousands of plum trees bloom throughout the area. Cherry blossoms and colorful azaleas add brightness in March and April. In the fall, maples color the park in stunning shades of red, gold, and orange.
20. KOSANJI TEMPLE
Attractions in Kyushu: Temple of Kosanji
If you only travel to southern Japan, you might be disappointed to miss the northern temples and shrines . At Kosanji Temple, however, you can see some of the structures that make these places so impressive. Kosanji’s buildings and decorations echo some of the country’s most popular spiritual sites.
Although Kosanji is a collage of different architectural styles and colors, they form a single complex. Some of its replicas include the Yomeimon Nikko Toshogu Gate and the Phoenix Byodoin Hall . Another highlight of Kosanji is the large walkway above the temple, where you will find abstract structures and a restaurant made of Italian marble.