[PR] Discover the Wonders of Miyazaki and Kumamoto With This 2-Day Kyushu Sightseeing Course
Located in southwestern Japan, the Kyushu region is home to a vast amount of nature and a unique culture. It has become more popular in recent years, partly due to it being one of the places where the 2019 Rugby World Cup will take place. Are you lost by how many sightseeing options there are in this amazing area? This article will solve that problem by introducing a sightseeing plan that will let you explore some of the nature and classic tourist spots of Kumamoto and Miyazaki - two prefectures within Kyushu that are extremely popular with tourists - by car! Of course, it also includes information on all the delicious foods and restaurants the region has to offer!
What are Miyazaki and Kumamoto?
Both of these prefectures are located in the center of the Kyushu region. Kumamoto Prefecture is home to a vast amount of nature, such as giant calderas, and Kumamoto Castle, which is known as one of Japan’s top three castles. Miyazaki Prefecture, on the other hand, is well known as the setting for many Japanese legends, and you can see traces of this throughout the region.
This article covers a sightseeing course that will take you to three areas within these prefectures: the city of Kumamoto, Aso, and Takachiho.
Day 1: Visit the Standard Tourist Spots in Kumamoto City
After departing from Kumamoto Airport (also known as "Aso Kumamoto Airport"), you will explore the city of Kumamoto before settling down for the night at one of Kyushu’s leading hot spring (onsen) destinations, Kurokawa Onsen. As a direct result of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, the region’s famous Kumamoto Castle is currently under reconstruction. However, it is still extremely famous and acts as a symbol of Kumamoto’s tenacity.
Start: Kumamoto Airport (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Once you arrive at the airport, your first priority is to rent a car for your stay. Head over to the Car Rental Counter that’s diagonally left from the escalator. The rental process will go a lot smoother if you reserve everything in advance.
Walk Through Sakuranobaba Josaien (Duration: Approx. 20 Mins)
The first place you’ll be visiting for the day is a tourist area near Kumamoto Castle called “Sakuranobaba Josaien”. It is lined with several retro-looking buildings, along with vendors selling souvenirs and foods made using local specialty ingredients. While you’re there, pick up pamphlets and maps (available in English, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese) from the Tourist Information Center to get the latest information on Kumamoto!
Learn About Kumamoto Castle at Wakuwakuza (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
One spot you can’t miss while you’re there is the museum named “Wakuwakuza”. It will teach you about Kumamoto Castle and its history through exhibits that make use of virtual reality and projection mapping! Tourists also love the dress-up corner, where you get to put on a kimono or ninja garb. For a fee, you can even walk around the area while all dressed up!
Entrance Fee: 300 JPY/Adult, 100 JPY/Child (elementary and junior high school)
*All prices include tax
Savor the Seafood at Amakusa Kaishoku MARUKEN Kumamoto Castle Branch (Duration: Approx. 40 Mins)
Head over to this restaurant for lunch. Their signature Bukkake Kaisenzuke-don (1,620 JPY (incl. tax)) comes with shrimp, squid, and other fresh seafood laid on top of a bowl of rice. It is accompanied by their homemade mixture of yuzu and kara-miso (spicy and salty miso), as well as a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce, so feel free to change up the taste as you like. For a truly satisfying end to your meal, add some broth to the remains of your rice bowl to make “ochazuke”!
Since you’ve come all the way to Kumamoto, however, why not try another one of the restaurant’s signature items? The Premium Sea Urchin Croquette (390 JPY (incl. tax)) is crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. You won’t be able to get enough of its rich flavor and melt-in-the-mouth goodness! It can be ordered as takeaway.
Foreign Language Menus: English, Chinese
Savor the Seafood at Amakusa Kaishoku MARUKEN Kumamoto Castle Branch (Duration: Approx. 40 Mins)
1-1-2 Ninomaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto
Explore Kumamoto Castle's Surroundings (Duration: Approx. 60 Mins)
After you’ve eaten all that you can, set out to explore the surroundings of Kumamoto Castle! This famous black and white castle looks imposing from afar. Famous for being impregnable, it has managed to withstand even the deadly 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, though it suffered some major damages. Although you cannot enter the castle due to reconstruction efforts, it is still possible to gaze at its major structures from afar. For example, from Ninomaru Park, you can get a clear frontal view of the Tenshukaku (castle tower) and the Uto Yagura (turret).
*The first picture was taken before the Kumamoto earthquakes.
Look at Kumamoto Castle's Tenshukaku from Kato Shrine (Duration: Approx. 15 Mins)
This is another well-known spot that’s located north of Kumamoto Castle. It is dedicated to the founder of the castle, Kato Kiyomasa (1562 - 1611), and is believed to grant good luck in business and competitions. If you want to get a really close look at Kumamoto Castle’s Tenshukaku, this is where you should view it from! Although the castle tower is currently covered with scaffolding, it is set to return back to its normal appearance in the fall of 2019.
Enjoy the Seasonal Scenery at Suizenji Park (Duration: Approx. 45 Mins)
When you’re done taking in everything that Kumamoto Castle has to offer, take your rental car on a 15-minute drive to the famous Suizenji Park (otherwise known as “Suizenji Jojuen Park”). You’ll be treated to a gorgeous sight of vivid green grass and pine trees surrounding a large pond. The man-made hill, which was sculpted to look like the sacred Mt. Fuji, is especially lovely. Many visitors like to admire this scenery from the entrance of Izumi Shrine’s office, which is near the front of the park. While you’re there, don’t miss out on sipping the “Water of Longevity” (Choju no Mizu), which flows out right next to the shrine.
Entrance Fee: 400 JPY/Adult (16 years or older), 200 JPY/Child (6 - 15 years old)
Check Out the Hot Springs at Kurokawa Onsen
You’ll be ending your journey for the first day at Kurokawa Onsen, a hot spring region that’s hidden deep in the mountains. Once you reach the area, you’ll find structures with old, traditional facades lining the banks of the mountain streams. This region is known for being home to seven different types of hot springs, such as sulfur springs and ones with carbonated water. You can also soak in baths that are more uniquely located, such as ones that are basically pools of hot water in caverns.
If you plan to dip your toes into all the baths in the region, don’t forget to purchase the Onsen-Hopping Pass (1,300 JPY (incl. tax)), which you can purchase from any inn or at Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association’s Visitor Center. It’s a great-value pass that will let you enter any three of the 28 hot springs in the area! You can also rent a yukata (light kimono used as a bathrobe) (1,500 JPY (incl. tax)) from Becchin-kan, which neighbors the Visitor Center, so why not dress up in traditional Japanese clothing and stroll down Kurokawa Onsen’s retro townscape?
Spend the Night at Ikoi Ryokan
You’ll be spending the night at one of the most popular inns in the area, Ikoi Ryokan. Thanks to the wooden corridors and irori (hearth), it gives off a traditional Japanese vibe that you will surely enjoy! It offers a total of 13 guest rooms that differ in style, from spacious Japanese-style rooms to Japanese-Western ones that will remind you of old Japanese townhouses.
Feast on top-class kaiseki (multi-course meals) of Japanese cuisine for dinner! Your dinner table will be decorated with beautiful and delicious treats that use only the best of Kumamoto’s specialty ingredients, such as basashi (horse meat sashimi). There’s also a wide variety of local shochu (Japanese distilled beverage) and sake (Japanese rice wine) to choose from. They go so well with the food that you might find yourself drinking more than usual!
The inn’s biggest appeal is, without a doubt, its baths. It has a total of 13 baths, including six private ones and the Beauty Spa (Bijin-yu), which is said to have beautifying effects on the skin. This means that you’ll get to try a variety of baths all in a single inn! The Water Fall Spa (Taki-no-Yu), which is mixed-gender and an open-air bath, is especially popular with guests. If you try the Hot Spring Falls (Utase-Yu), however, you’ll be able to feel solemnity brought about by the rushing water and rustic outdoor scenery. The hot spring water, which is extremely smooth and moisturizing, is actually said to have healing effects on nerve and muscle pain! Let the elegant scenery and relaxing baths take away the tiredness from a long day of sightseeing.
Day 2: Take in the Grand Nature of Aso
With an area of approximately 350 sq.km., Mt. Aso is one of the world’s largest calderas. It is located in Aso, which offers stunningly unique scenery, such as grassy fields and billowing smoke coming out of craters. The second day of this sightseeing course consists of driving through this amazing place before staying for a night at Takachiho.
Enjoy the Gorgeous Scenery from Daikanbo Peak (Duration: Approx. 60 Mins)
The first spot for the day is Daikanbo Peak, which many people head to for getting a great view of Aso. Nearby, there’s a grassy hill, and from far away, you’ll find ginormous mountain ranges extending as far as the eye can see. Aso Gogaku, which is comprised of five mountains that sprawl out far into the distance, is particularly famous with visitors. Take photos whenever you can, as the climate is quite temperamental.
Tired of walking? Why not take a breather by eating some ice cream in the local tea house? It gets its refined flavor from using local Jersey cow’s milk, and can only be found in Aso.
Eat Aka Beef Bowl at Imakin Shokudo (Duration: Approx. 50 Mins)
By the time you finish enjoying the sights, you’ll probably be ravenous. In that case, hit up Imakin Shokudo, which is so popular that it often gets lines of people waiting outside its doors! If there’s one dish you shouldn’t miss while in Aso, it’s the Aka Beef Bowl (1,680 JPY (incl. tax)). It is made with locally grown ingredients like Aka beef, which comes from naturally raised cattle, resulting in lean, healthy meat. You’ll be able to enjoy several flavors in this one dish, as there are pickles underneath the layer of meat.
Gaze at the Unique Scenery of Aso Shrine (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Next on the travel list for the day is the iconic Aso Shrine. It is a roughly 15-minute car drive from Imakin Shokudo. Its object of worship is actually the mouth of Mt. Aso. This shrine worships 12 different deities, with a particular focus on Takeiwatatsu no Mikoto (the grandchild of the first Emperor of Japan). Not only does it have over 2,000 years of history as a revered shrine, but it is also said to grant blessings in things like romance and marriage. Due to the earthquake, many of the shrine’s structures, such as the front hall and the two-storied gate, are currently under reconstruction. However, you can instead get an upfront view of the three smaller shrines that were previously hidden by the front hall!
Stare at the Distinctive Appearance of Komezuka (Duration: Approx. 15 Mins)
Once you’re finished with worshipping at Aso Shrine, follow Prefectural Road 111 to the upper part of Mt. Aso. If you look down along the way, you should see Komezuka. This small mountain stands at a height of around 80m and was created roughly 3,300 years ago by a volcanic eruption. It is unique because of its beautiful cone shape and sunken peak. Some people even call it a spiritual spot, saying that the deities of Aso Shrine created it! Take a short detour off into Prefectural Road 298 to get a good, close look at it.
Gaze Out Into the Beauty of Kusasenrigahama (Duration: Approx. 40 Mins)
Designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government, Kusanserigahama is an iconic area that you’ll spend most of your second day exploring. 78.5 thousand square meters of grassland, along with a hill at the center and ponds located to the east and west, make up this vast and gorgeous vista. Instead of just looking at it, why not explore it on foot or horseback? Many visitors also like heading to the nearby Aso Volcano Museum to learn more about the history of the Aso Volcano.
Parking Lot Fee (Passenger Vehicle): 410 JPY (incl. tax)
Visit the Nakadake Crater to Feel Impressed by Nature (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Near Kusasenrigahama, you’ll find a mountain with smoke rising from it. This is Nakadake, an active volcano that erupted back in 2016. Before April 2018, people were forbidden from going near it. If you go near it, you’ll get a faint whiff of sulfur and an exciting view of the billowing smoke rising from the crater. A pool of boiling hot, emerald green water lies within. Why not take a picture of this majestic scene?
Mt. Aso Park Road Toll Fee (Passenger Vehicle): 800 JPY
Visit the Nakadake Crater to Feel Impressed by Nature (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
808-20 Kurokawa, Aso-machi, Aso-gun, Kumamoto
Visit Shirakawa Suigen and Tonneru no Eki (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Finished with admiring Nakadake Crater? Make your way to the city of Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture, which is where you’ll be spending the night. Along the way, you’re sure to stumble into even more wonderful views! For example, there’s the beautiful spring water of Shirakawa Suigen and the impressive Tonneru no Eki, which is a shochu storehouse that makes use of a 1,115m tunnel. If you have some spare time, do pay these places a visit!
Day 3: Surround Yourself with Takachiho's Lovely Scenery
Takachiho is known for being the setting of many Japanese legends. Fittingly, it is brimming with “power spots” (places full of spiritual energy) and natural beauty. The third and final day of the sightseeing trip will focus on the famous spots in Takachiho Gorge and end with you returning to Kumamoto Airport.
Get on a Boat at Takachiho Gorge (Duration: Approx. 120 Mins)
With an average height of 80m, this roughly 7km long valley is held in esteem as one of Kyushu’s most popular sightseeing spots. There are many things to see there, such as the spiritual Manai Falls that has appeared in Japanese legends of the past and beautiful, jagged rock walls formed through columnar jointing. The best way to see all of this and more is by renting a boat! It will let you view the impressive Manai Falls at such a close distance, you’ll actually get splashed with water! Just make sure to arrive as early as you can to rent it, as it is an incredibly popular activity.
Row Boat Rental Fee: 2,000 JPY/30 minutes
*Each boat can hold up to three people (or four if one of the passengers is below school age). Service is suspended when the river level is high.
Pray at Takachiho Shrine (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
There are several power spots around Takachiho Gorge that are easily accessible by car. Built roughly 1,900 years ago, Takachiho Shrine is one of the more popular power spots in the area. It is a place of high acclaim, having been visited by the Imperial Family in the past. The Wedded Cedars within the shrine’s compounds are particularly popular with visitors, as they are said to improve relationships and keep your family safe. All you have to do is link hands with your significant other or friend and circle the pair of cedars three times.
Shop for Shrine Trinkets at Amanoiwato Shrine (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Another famous power spot in the area is Amanoiwato Shrine, which is an approximately 15-minute drive from Takachiho Shrine. It takes on the name of the cave that Amaterasu Omikami (sun deity) hid in after she couldn’t take any more of her brother’s rudeness in the legend “Amanoiwato Kakure” (Hiding in Amanoiwato). The shrine itself is separated into two buildings, the West Main Shrine and the East Main Shrine, both of which give off a solemn air. One unique characteristic of this shrine is the wide variety of shrine trinkets it has up for sale! The Magatama Bell (800 JPY), made of golden ceramic, is especially popular with tourists. It takes on the shape of a magatama (comma-shaped jewel), which is believed to ward off evil, making it a great souvenir.
Take Photos at Amanoyasukawara (Duration: Approx. 15 Mins)
There’s a stroll path following the gorge that’s right by the West Main Shrine of Amanoiwato Shrine. If you follow that path, you’ll eventually come across Amanoyasukawara. It is believed to be the cavern where several deities gathered in the legend detailed earlier, Amanoiwato Kakure. One thing in this grand space that will definitely stand out to you is the torii (shrine gate). Also, don’t forget to pay attention to the area around your feet - you’ll find rocks piled everywhere! This is because of a rumor that states if you pile rocks on top of one another in the area, your wish will come true. The arched bridge of the stroll path is another power spot that’s famous to a lot of people.
Try Out the Extravagant Chicken Dishes in Araragi no Chaya (Duration: Approx. 50 Mins)
Head over to Araragi no Chaya for lunch after you’re done exploring all the power spots in Takachiho Gorge. The Roasted Whole Chicken (3,400 JPY (incl. tax)), which is extremely popular with customers, is prepared with a secret method and slow-roasted for four hours, resulting in a juicy and delicious chicken dish that isn’t too oily or moist. It’s seasoned simply with salt, allowing you to thoroughly savor the deliciousness of the chicken. The Araragi Set Meal (1,430 JPY (incl. tax)) is also highly praised by customers. Through it, you can savor several local flavors all at once, such as rainbow trout that has grown up in the waters of Takachiho Gorge and chicken nanban (deep-fried chicken served with tartar sauce), which is a Miyazaki Prefecture specialty.
Go on a Short Trip with the Amaterasu Railway (Duration: Approx. 30 Mins)
Last on the travel itinerary is the Amaterasu Railway, which is extremely popular with both local and foreign tourists. This attraction makes use of a previously abandoned railway line. While riding in an engine-powered cart, you will get to enjoy a short 30-minute ride through fields and valleys. The view from Japan’s highest (105m) railroad bridge is especially exhilarating! The entire attraction is filled with surprises, such as illuminations inside tunnels!
Boarding Fee: 1,300 JPY/High school student age or above, 800 JPY/Junior high or elementary school student, 400 JPY/Below elementary school age
*All prices include tax.
Photo Credit: Hiroyasu Kudo
Return to Kumamoto Airport for a Shopping Adventure (Duration: Approx. 60 Mins)
This marks the end of the sightseeing course! Head over to the airport to buy some souvenirs. One possible option is a Kumamoto specialty known as “ikinari dango”, which is a sweet that is made by enveloping sweet potatoes and sweet red bean paste in a dough made from wheat flour, and then steaming the whole thing. There are a wide variety of these dango being sold in the airport, so you can sample them before choosing the version to purchase. “Karashi renkon” (spicy lotus root) is another Kumamoto specialty. A combination of karashi miso (spicy and salty miso paste) and crispy, firm lotus root, it has a really nice crunch that you will love!
Comment from the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization
The Kyushu region is full of untouched nature, history, delicious food, and alcohol. It offers a full hot spring experience, which is something unique to Japan. When exploring the region, please make sure to take in everything wonderful that it has to offer.
If you plan to visit Kyushu, check this article out for travel ideas. There’s so much to see and do there that the possibilities are literally endless!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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