Kyushu: Unveiling the Hidden Gems

japan travel kyushu

I’ve been candid with myself: the Kyushu travel guide on my website hasn’t been up to par. It lacked depth and authenticity, reflecting my piece-by-piece exploration of the island over the years. However, that all changed in November 2019 when I embarked on an extensive Kyushu trip. I visited every prefecture, discovering new destinations and reacquainting myself with familiar ones. This immersive experience transformed my understanding of Kyushu, and I have since returned many times.

Whether you arrived on this page through a search engine or stumbled upon my stream-of-consciousness Kyushu travel blog posts, I am delighted that you’re here. In the following paragraphs, I am confident that you will share in my enthusiasm.

Practical Matters

When to Visit Kyushu

Notice the clear blue skies in the pictures throughout this Kyushu guide? Most of them were taken during my November trip, which is one of my favorite months to visit Japan. If you want to witness Kyushu’s autumn colors or the sakura in late March, plan your visit accordingly. These “shoulder” months, free from typhoons, offer the best weather and experiences in Kyushu.

Where to Stay in Kyushu

The quality of hotels in Kyushu varies. While the city hotels like Tokyu Stay Hakata and Hotel Forza Nagasaki are comparable to Tokyo standards, accommodations in secondary destinations can be underwhelming. Guest houses at the foot of Mt. Aso and many onsen-ryokan properties in Beppu might not meet your expectations. It’s important to choose your accommodations wisely, especially in the lesser-known areas.

How to Get Around in Kyushu

Transportation in Kyushu is a mix of different modes. The Shinkansen operates between Fukuoka (Hakata), Kumamoto, and Kagoshima. To travel to cities like Nagasaki, Beppu, and Miyazaki, you’ll need to rely on ordinary express trains. Due to the 2016 earthquake, some destinations, such as Mt. Aso, can only be accessed by bus. Renting a car is another option, particularly for exploring secondary destinations in Kyushu.

Money, Costs, and Communication

In terms of money and costs, traveling in Kyushu is similar to other parts of Japan. On average, travelers spend around ¥10,000-25,000 per day (approximately $90-230). It’s important to note that cash is still widely used in Japan, so be prepared to handle cash transactions. Thankfully, Kyushu has improved its Wi-Fi infrastructure, and you can easily purchase unlimited data SIMs at Fukuoka Airport. Knowing some basic Japanese will be helpful but not essential for your travels in Kyushu.

Kyushu vs. Shikoku

If you’re torn between visiting Kyushu or Shikoku, let me summarize it for you. Both islands offer similar experiences, with medium-to-large sized cities and easily accessible natural attractions. However, Kyushu has more options for travelers due to its larger size. On the other hand, Shikoku is smaller and attracts fewer tourists. Regardless of your choice, both islands are amazing and worth exploring.

Where to Go in Kyushu

Fukuoka

Most journeys to Kyushu start in Fukuoka, especially for those arriving in Japan. This vibrant city has so much to offer, from the historical temples and shrines in the Gion district to the breathtaking views from Atago-jinja shrine. Don’t forget to visit the famous Fukuoka Yatai food stalls for a delightful culinary experience. If you have time, take day trips to nearby destinations like Nanzo-in’s reclining Buddha or the historical Dazaifu Tenman-gu shrine.

Nagasaki

Nagasaki is a must-visit destination in Kyushu and offers more than just World War II-era tourism sites. Explore the picturesque Oura Cathedral and Glover Garden in the southern part of the city. For stunning panoramic views, head to Mt. Inasa. Nagasaki also serves as a gateway to fascinating day trips, including the beautiful Yutoku Inari Shrine and the historical Yoshinogari Park, which brings ancient Japan’s Yayoi era to life.

Kumamoto and Mt. Aso

Kumamoto may not have been my favorite Kyushu destination in the past, but my recent trip changed my perspective. While the damage to Kumamoto Castle is disappointing, the city has other amazing attractions like Suizenji Park and Honmyo-ji temple. Additionally, Kumamoto is the starting point for exploring Mt. Aso, an incredible destination for a day trip or an overnight excursion.

Oita and Beppu Onsen

In my previous Kyushu travel guide, I focused on the Beppu Onsen hot springs that you can actually swim in. However, during my latest visit, I had the opportunity to explore the Seven Hells of Beppu, including the fascinating Chinoike Jigoku and Umi Jigoku. Another highlight of my trip was driving northward to the Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita prefecture, where I discovered hidden gems like the castle town of Kitsuki, the deep forest temple Futago-ji, and the vibrant Usa Jingu shrine.

Miyazaki and Takachiho Gorge

If you time it right, Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki prefecture is a fantastic place to witness Kyushu’s autumn colors. Even if the timing isn’t perfect, this underrated region in southeastern Kyushu is worth a visit. Don’t miss the chance to explore Udo Shrine, dedicated to Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu. It’s a well-kept secret and one of the most beautiful spots in Japan.

Kagoshima and the Satsuma Peninsula

During my November trip, I hadn’t planned on taking a Kyushu road trip, but I ended up renting cars on five separate occasions. One of the highlights was my day trip to the Satsuma Peninsula from Kagoshima. I explored Chiran Samurai Village, the matcha fields of Ei, Cape Nagasakibana, and experienced the unique “sand bath” in Ibusuki. These attractions perfectly complemented the city’s main attractions, including Sengan-en garden, Sakurajima volcano, and Kagoshima’s version of Fukuoka’s Yatai food stalls.

Yakushima Island

I have had the privilege of visiting Yakushima twice during my Kyushu travels. This enchanting island, with its moss-covered forests at Shiratani Unsuikyo that inspired the anime classic Princess Mononoke, offers an unforgettable experience. You can even enjoy natural hot springs by the sea. Renting a car made my second trip to Yakushima much more convenient, and I highly recommend it if it’s within your budget.

How Long Should You Spend in Kyushu?

To truly immerse yourself in the wonders of Kyushu, I recommend spending as much time as possible. Things move at a slower pace here compared to Honshu, so you can’t squeeze in as much within a short period. Ideally, a one-week or two-week trip would be the perfect length to enjoy the blend of city experiences, natural adventures, and unexpected surprises that Kyushu has to offer.

The duration of your stay in Kyushu will also depend on your overall trip to Japan. If Kyushu is the sole focus of your journey, you can afford to spend more time exploring the island. However, if Kyushu is just one part of a broader Japan itinerary, a few days or a week will likely be the maximum time you can allocate to Kyushu.

Is Kyushu Worth Visiting?

Without a doubt, Kyushu is worth visiting. I wouldn’t have written a travel guide and returned to the island multiple times if I didn’t believe in its value. However, there is a common misconception: many people know very little about Kyushu, aside from the well-known cities like Fukuoka and Nagasaki, and Beppu’s quirky spa-musement park.

If you’ve read this guide thus far, I hope you share my excitement for the countless things to do in Kyushu. If not, it’s challenging to convince you otherwise. All I can do is reaffirm my love for this island and express my desire to delve even deeper into its wonders during future visits.

Other FAQ About Travel to Kyushu

When should I go to Kyushu?

I recommend visiting Kyushu during the “shoulder” months of May and October, when it is less crowded. However, regardless of when you travel, the advice presented in this Kyushu travel blog remains relevant.

What is famous in Kyushu?

Kyushu is famous for many things, including the ramen of Hakata in Fukuoka, the atomic bomb-related sites in Nagasaki, the historic Kumamoto Castle, and the unique onsen hot springs of Beppu. These are just the beginning, as Kyushu is truly a land of treasures.

What is the climate of Kyushu?

Kyushu experiences a mild and sunny winter, a hot and rainy summer, and unpredictable spring and autumn seasons. Regardless of the weather, there are plenty of enjoyable activities to curate within Kyushu.

The Bottom Line

Your enjoyment of Kyushu will depend on the depth of your exploration, rather than the specific length of your visit. Ideally, a week or two in Kyushu will provide you with enough time to blend urban experiences, natural wonders, and perhaps a few unexpected surprises. If you need assistance planning your Kyushu adventure, feel free to commission a custom Japan itinerary tailored to your interests.

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