Experience Kyushu’s Rich Culture

11/03/2022

For those seeking a vacation spent tasting unique culinary creations, exploring nature and being immersed in Japanese culture, Kyushu is the ideal destination. Rich in history, this corner of Japan is ripe for both relaxation and exploration. 

As the southernmost and third largest of Japan’s four main islands, Kyushu is a destination all its own. The island, with its subtropical climate, lush greenery and heavy rainfall, is about a two-hour flight from Tokyo but direct flights are also available. ANA (All Nippon Airways) flies into eleven airports across the island — Fukuoka, Kitakyushu, Saga, Oita, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Tsushima, Iki, Goto Fukue, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima.

 

Steep in An Atmosphere of Relaxation

With its subtropical climate and onsens fed by Mt. Aso, the world’s largest active volcanic crater, Kyushu maintains a reputation for being laid-back. The island invites travelers and locals alike to slow down and appreciate the scenery — be it the verdant tropical surroundings (like the ancient cedar forests of Yakushima) or picturesque beaches (like the stunning Takahama Beach).

For those looking to dip into Kyushu’s onsens, the island has plenty to offer. Perhaps the best place to start is Kurokawa Onsen, a hot spring town located about 20 kilometers north of Mount Aso. This quaint town has kept much of its traditional architecture and an overall air of serenity thanks to its citizens working to protect the area as an escape from the hustle and bright lights of a typical city. Instead, the main roads are lined with shrines, public onsens, ryokans, small shops and cafes. 

Travelers have their pick of ways to relax in Kurokawa, but a tour of onsens, called a Rotemburo Meguri, may be the best option. Participating ryokans and the town center sell tegata, a wooden pass for about 1300 yen. This gives travelers access to three ryokans of their choosing — and there are over twenty participating ryokans throughout the town.

In Kurokawa, some onsens offer more than an opportunity to relax — they immerse you in nature. Set in the wooded hills just outside of town sit Yamamizuki and Hozantei, stunning riverside baths. Visitors can dip into the warm natural spring waters and gaze up at some of Kyushu’s vibrant flora.  

To make the most of Kyushu’s onsens, a longer stay at one of the island’s many hot spring resorts might be in order.  

 

Amane Resort Seikai (Shiosai No Yado Seikai)

Situated along Kyushu’s coastline, the resort’s open-air baths overlook the ocean — offering guests a truly rejuvenating experience. Guests can also schedule massages and dine in the resort’s restaurant. 

6-24 Shoningahama-cho, Beppu-shi, 

Oita 874-0023

 

Gosho Gekkoju

As one of Kyushu’s most popular ryokans, Gosho Gekkoju exclusively offers suites with private open-air hot spring baths. Serene mountain views add to the calm, inviting atmosphere. 

6777-2 Oaza Manganji, Minamioguni-machi, Aso-gun, 

Kumamoto 869-2402 

 

Oyado Nonohana

With just eight rooms and built in traditional style, each suite has a private bath and unique wooded views. If visiting in the winter, be prepared for snow — which only adds to the location’s incredible beauty. 

6375-2 Manganji, Minamioguni-machi, Aso-gun, 

Kumamoto 869-2402  

 

Savor a Burgeoning Food Culture 

In Kyushu’s largest city, Fukuoka, food is a destination all its own. Travelers and locals alike revel in the city’s burgeoning food scene, which is perhaps best measured by the fact that it is home to over 100 yatai or food carts, more than the rest of Japan combined.

While Fukuoka serves up plenty of seafood, the prefecture is also known for serving more chicken than is typical elsewhere in Japan. Many believe that this is because during the Edo Period the Kuroda Clan urged the area to focus on chicken farming. To this day chicken is more popular here than elsewhere in Japan, with yakitori, or skewered chicken, grilled fresh at many yatai. 

Foodies, dining enthusiasts and adventurers alike should be sure to taste some of the dishes local to Kyushu. 

 

Hakata tonkotsu ramen 

This local spin on a Japanese classic is wildly popular. Thin noodles are served in a hearty broth made from pork bones that have been stewed for at least a day if not longer. 

 

Karashi mentaiko

Made famous in Fukuoka and now popular throughout Japan, karashi mentaiko is a spicy cod roe marinated and matured in a seasoning liquid. No two chefs will make it exactly alike, with each shop altering the recipe for a fun flavor twist.  

 

Motsu nabe

While nabemono, or hot pot, is popular throughout Japan, motsu nabe is Fukuoka’s custom take on the classic dish. This nabemono features beef tripe, or stomach lining, along with vegetables like chives and cabbage. While every restaurant will offer different base soup flavors, soy sauce is the classic choice. The dish is served topped with garlic and chili pepper.  

 

Tetsunabe gyoza

This Japanese spin on Chinese dumplings is the result of local industry. Food carts in Yahata, home to Yahata Steel Works, started serving the dumplings in cast iron skillets. The method caught on quickly because the skillet added a delicious crunch to the dumplings and helped keep the quick, bite-sized meal hot. Today it is often served with yuzukosho, a citrus pepper paste.

 

Umegae mochi

While there is lore around the origin of this sweet treat, there is no mystery as to its popularity. A rice cake is filled with lightly sweetened red bean paste and then grilled before getting topped off with a plum blossom branding. Best eaten fresh, umegae mochi can be found at numerous shops leading up to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.

Revel in Rich Historical Sites 

Kyushu’s name is steeped in history, referring to the island’s nine ancient provinces — kuni. To understand the fullness of Kyushu’s history, travelers should visit the Kyushu National Museum located in Dazaifu. The museum is iconic in part because its contemporary architecture resembles a sports arena, but also because it became the first national museum created since the 1800s, making it the fourth national museum in Japan.

An important aspect of Kyushu’s history is that it has long been home to some of Japan’s most iconic pottery and porcelain. Arita and Imari in the Saga Prefecture have a long history connected to these fine works — with porcelain first coming into production about 400 years ago. Travelers from Korea brought with them the necessary skills and kaolin, a mineral essential in porcelain, was found in the local mountains. As a result, the wares became wildly popular in Japan and around the world. Porcelain pieces were mainly produced in Arita and the mountain village of Okawachiyama, and Imari became the port through which the delicate yet durable wares made their way into the world.  

Historical sites are plentiful throughout Kyushu, but these locations are worth adding to the itinerary of anyone interested in the island’s dynamic past.

 

Komyozenji Temple

A Zen temple belonging to the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism, Komyozenji was founded in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Visitors are drawn to its serene abstract gardens, one of which arranges rocks to form the Japanese character for “light” and another which incorporates more plant life like moss and maple trees.

Kumamoto Castle

Still being restored from damage caused by an earthquake in 2016, the castle is largely open for public tours. Originally built in 1607 and designed by local feudal lord Kato Kiyomasa, only a few of the initial buildings are still standing. Modern reconstruction has brought this impressive castle back to life. 

 

Udo Shrine

Set in a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean, the Udo Shrine is dedicated to Yamasachihiko, the father of Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan. Legend says that drinking the water that drips in the cave is beneficial for pregnant women and that visiting the cave will bring good fortune to young couples. 

 

Yoshinogari Historical Park

Perhaps the best place to learn about the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), the Yoshinogari Historical Park is an unearthed settlement of pit dwellings, elevated storehouses and over 2000 tombs. The area has been carefully preserved and reconstructed. 

 

Okawachiyama Village

Visit pottery workshops and stores in one of the towns responsible for producing Japan’s iconic porcelain. Worth a visit are the Imari-Arita Ware Traditional Crafts Center and the Imari Nabeshima Ware Exhibition Hall. 

 

Dynamic and beautiful Kyushu is an exceptional destination for travelers to Japan. Whether you desire to dip into the island’s relaxing onsens, if the yatai of Fukuoka are calling your name, or if you desire to walk through history at Kumamoto Castle — Kyushu welcomes you.