Kyushu is Japan’s southernmost main island and the third largest after Hokkaido. There are seven prefectures that make up the island: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. These prefectures are home to a handful of active volcanoes (26 to be exact), world-class hot spring towns and great local cuisine.
While not as popular as Okinawa or Kyoto there’s an undeniable charm to each prefecture that make up this island. From Kokura Castle in Kita-Kyushu down to Sakurajima in Kagoshima, many other destinations await the eager explorer.
Here are our top five spots to get you started on planning your Kyushu adventure.
1. Nagasaki City
Nagasaki City is mainly known for its tragic atomic bomb history. Limiting Nagasaki to the 20th century would be unfair, though, because the history of this city goes back a long time. Nagasaki was not only the backbone of Meiji restoration and modernization but also home to the Hidden Christians.
Appreciating Nagasaki fully and learning its history might be a laborious task, but here are five places for a good start: Oura Catholic Church, Dutch Slope, Peace Park and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Dejima and Glover Garden.
You can discover most of the main sightseeing spots in two days because the city is not so big. Besides, the must-see spots are within a few minutes of walking distance from each other. Brace yourself for a hike, though, because Nagasaki is one of the hilliest cities in Japan. And do reward yourself with its famous castella cakes after that.
- Peace Park: A beautiful public park commemorating the atomic bombing of the city on August 9, 1945
- Oura Catholic Church: A church dedicated to the 26 saints of Japan
- Dutch Slope: A slope and stone steps that were built during the former settlement period
- Dejima: A former Dutch trading post that was once an artificial island
- Glover Garden: The former mansion of the Glover family and other foreign residences from the days of the Nagasaki foreign settlement
2. Aso-Kuju National Park
Aso-Kuju is a central Kyushu national park that straddles Kumamoto and Oita prefectures. Volcanic plateaus are formed by volcanic ash and other materials in their north and south, offering magnificent grassland views. The contrast between the volcano and grasslands is one of the major attractions for visitors to this park.
One of the iconic scenes is Kusa-senri, a large and majestic green grassland plateau with horses and cows. You can go horseback riding or walk around it. Highlands are high elevation areas, so the weather can be unpredictable during your visit. Also, don’t forget to bring your rainy day items and sunscreen.
3. Cape Toi
Cape Toi is in Kushima City, Miyazaki Prefecture. Although it isn’t one of the more famous tourist spots in Miyazaki, Cape Toi is a place worth visiting. It’s home to wild Misaki horses and has been designated a national natural monument.
It’s believed that these wild horses were first raised in the Edo period by the military but later became semi-wild. The horses running freely, the vast and peaceful ocean and the lush green pastures will take your breath away. You can enjoy a light meal and a drink while watching them at a visitor center. Horses are friendly, but you are advised not to touch them from behind.
Sakurajima is an active volcano in Kagoshima Bay, and it’s an island with residents on it. Sakurajima is a small island that can be explored within a day. You can walk around it or choose biking while observing the volcano closely. The ferry between Kagoshima and Sakurajima runs 24/7 with high frequency, so there is no need to book a ticket.
Sakurajima is intriguing because its residents learned how to live with an active volcano. Visitors can feel the power of past eruptions while strolling through the arid lava fields. If you are lucky, you might even witness an eruption and watch an awe-inspiring display with a large amount of ash and sulfur smell. You can also join a seasonal harvesting experience and interact with locals while seeing enormous radishes and the world’s most miniature peelable oranges while interacting with locals.
5. Beppu City
Beppu City is in Oita Prefecture, in the northeastern part of Kyushu and is famous for its over 2,000 hot springs. Beppu Jigoku Meguri is a sightseeing tour of the city’s eight famous and distinct hot springs called jigoku (hells). Due to the high temperatures, these hot springs are strictly for viewing. The main draw to this area is that each hot spring is completely different from one another, their colors, textures and smell vary.
These are some of the most famous hot springs in Beppu:
- Umi Jigoku: This cobalt blue pond of boiling water emerged 1200 years ago after a volcano explosion.
- Oniyama Jigoku: This onsen shelters crocodiles happily chilling next to each other.
- Oniishi-Bouzu Jigoku: This is an onsen with large and small bubbles of hot gray mud that look like monks’ shaven heads.
- Chinoike Jigoku: This is Japan’s oldest natural “hell” with red clay.
Visitors can eat onsen tamago (eggs) and other local delicacies at these hot springs. After the onsen tour, stroll through Beppu’s narrow and nostalgic streets and sample foods such as chicken tempura, marinated sashimi and ryukyudon (marinated sashimi) unique to Oita Prefecture. If you have time, go to Mount Tsurumi via ropeway to enjoy the panoramic views of the city and Mount Yufu.
The island of Kyushu is a place worth visiting and exploring. If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the beauty of the Japanese country and seaside and historically significant sites along the way, give Kyushu a chance. You never know what kind of adventures await.
Have you been to Kyushu before? Where’s your favorite spot? Let us know in the comments.