Perhaps it’s possible that some people are unaware of — or may have already forgotten — the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck the southern Kyushu region last April. Others may be unsure that an area affected by such a catastrophe could not only be up and running again but also more than ready to welcome them with open arms.
If you were thinking of visiting but canceled your plans due to the effects on the destination or have always thought about visiting, then now really is a good time to go. But what does one do in the rainy late fall and early winter in Kyushu? How about fly on Japan’s smallest airline, sample some crazy good regional food, try a few brews from the island’s only craft brewery, shop for holiday gifts and then participate in a massive sing-along concert with one of Japan’s most popular boy bands — followed by a gigantic Christmas-themed fireworks show — all on the same day.
That’s exactly what this Tokyo dweller tried on the final weekend of November. The BS Fuji television network, in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Industry (METI), originally scheduled an event called Kyushu One Fes for Sept. 18, which after an unfortunate cancellation due to an impending typhoon was rescheduled to coincide with Amakusa City’s fourth annual Amakusa Singing Christmas, also held in September.
Who knew that the easiest way to get to one of the most popular places in Kyushu involved Japan’s smallest airline? Amakusa Airlines (or AMX) uses one aircraft to serve its home airport in Amakusa, along with those in Kumamoto, Fukuoka and Osaka. On their website you can make reservations and find other info (in English). The single plane is actually named Mizoka and is painted as a family of dolphins.
Not only is the airline small, but the boarding process is almost longer than the flight itself. So, why fly when it’s such a short flight? Wouldn’t driving be just as easy? Only if you think driving for three hours is a good alternative to a 20-minute flight. The reality is that Amakusa is on a smaller island just across the water from Kumamoto. Many of the islands in the area are connected by bridges, but the roads are small and usually take some time to get from Point A to Point B.
Once you arrive in Amakusa, you can choose to explore any number of popular local sightseeing and cultural spots. Arguably one of the most popular, on the western side of the island, is dolphin watching. Check out the Amakusa Treasure Island Tourism site for more info.
This trip was all about seeing how well residents in the Kumamoto area have bounced back from the quake. And there was no better way to do that than to hit the marketplace for some regional eats and even local craft beer.
Specialty Japanese beef, or wagyu, vendor Aso Aka-Ushi LinkUp located in the specially designated area of the festival market for those vendors from the areas worst affected by the April earthquake, was one of about 100 in total that were at the event. This culinary sample fest featured many incredible traditional Japanese treats around every corner.
After making short work of an absolute mountain of eats, it was time to navigate the sea of people to try and grab one or two of the 10,000 glow sticks being handed out to
fans of mega-popular boy band Arashi, to participate in a massive sing-along of their hit song “Furusato” (Japanese for “hometown” or “roots”), singing along with the group in a video produced especially for the event.
The video finished with a very cool transition to scenes of the real-life harbor area behind the stage and an amazing 45-minute fireworks display that included some 12,000 shells — the most in Kyushu apparently and for the first time ever in winter. Usually, fireworks in the region are finished by late summer.
Even though this special event is over, it was only meant to open the door for the “re-welcoming” of all to Kyushu. Consider looking into a trip where you can take your time and explore other cultural elements of Amakusa, and be sure to check the Treasure Island Tourism site mentioned earlier. From the area’s renowned porcelain ware in Saga to performing arts and everything in between, it’s a good resource to start with.
Of course, there’s the rest of Kyushu, too — from Fukuoka to Kagoshima. A great, easy-to-use English resource is the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization’s official website. No matter where you go, not just in Amakusa, the people are unbelievably accommodating and just waiting to show you their own little slice of Japan.
Winter may be coming, but don’t let that stop you from a enjoying a true Japanese adventure around the eight prefectures of islands south of Honshu. If you’re looking for adventure over the holidays, Kyushu awaits.