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Top 10 Things to See and Do in Kumamoto City

With a stellar castle, world-class Japanese garden and delectable local food, Kumamoto City is a wonderful choice for your next vacation.

By 6 min read 1

Why not put Kumamoto on your travel map after its recent prominence as the host of the 2023 Badminton Japan Masters? As the home prefecture of many of Japan’s top badminton athletes, like women’s doubles Olympians Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa, Kumamoto was the ideal place for the tournament.

Despite this spotlight, Kumamoto is still a relatively unknown gem in southwestern Japan compared to Nagasaki and Fukuoka. Kumamoto City is very easy to access from Kyushu’s travel hub, Fukuoka City’s central Hakata station, with bullet train (30 minutes), local train (150 minutes) and bus (120 minutes) services running several times daily between the two locations.

Read below for more about the top ten things to do in and around this underrated prefectural capital!

1. Kumamoto Castle

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Head to the sixth floor to view the city from the observation deck.

Alongside Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle, Kumamoto Castle is one of the three finest in Japan, with its impressive defensive structures and daitenshu (main castle tower). Despite suffering extensive damage during the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, the site has since been restored and opened to the public. Today, visitors can stroll around the exterior walls and make their way inside to explore four floors packed with historical information about the castle.

1-1 Honmaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest tram stop: Kumamoto Castle/City Hall

2. Suizenji Jojuen Garden

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A garden tracing back to the early 17th century.

The roots of Suizenji Jojuen Garden lay in the early 17th century when members of the ruling Hosokawa clan ordered the construction of a temple and tea house. These structures would be the first in what would become a traditional Japanese strolling garden, complete with elements that represent the landscape of Japan. The paths that weave throughout the garden represent the 53 stations of the Tokaido Road. This historical route connected Edo and Kyoto, while the looming grassy mound at the east end of the garden symbolizes Mount Fuji.

8-1 Suizenji Koen, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto  - Map
Nearest tram stop: Suizenji Park

3. Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art

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Learn about the history of Kumamoto through art.

Located in Ninomaru Park on the grounds of Kumamoto Castle, the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art houses over 5,000 pieces of art across three collections. Highlighting the art and history of Kumamoto, the first collection contains sculptures, paintings and calligraphy up until the modern era. The Modern and Contemporary Art of Japan collection continues the story by engaging with the influence of Western art on the archipelago and the development of prints, photography and more throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, the museum’s Western Art collection spotlights masters from the 16th century to more recent contemporary prints from the second half of the 20th century.

2 Ninomaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest tram stop: Kumamoto Castle/City Hall

4. Kumamoto City Museum

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Don’t miss out on the museum’s planetarium!

Built in 1952, the Kumamoto City Museum is a great place to learn about the prefecture’s history, culture and natural environment. Explore the recreated Naminashi Maru, a ship that transported the powerful Hosokawa family from Kumamoto to Edo. From prehistoric times to the mid-20th century, you can take a journey into Kumamoto’s deep past and examine dioramas, visual media and more. Head up to the second floor to discover the region’s natural history, from the depths of Lake Ezu to its highest peaks. Also, don’t forget to check out the basement to explore the night sky in the museum’s planetarium!

3-2 Furukyomachi, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest tram stop: Sugidomo

5. Kumamoto Ramen

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A local delicacy.

Like many places in Kyushu, Kumamoto also has delicious ramen. Known for its pork and chicken bone base and medium-thick straight noodles, the crowning accent of this soup is the garlic oil and fried garlic on top. For a flavorful yet refreshing take with firm noodles made with egg, try Tamagomen-ya Ippuku Ramen. Their special noodles and gyoza (dumpling) wrappers are handmade daily! For a thick and strong garlicky bowl, head to the world-famous Ajisen Ramen main shop near Suizenji (see above!). Founded in 1968, it now has over 700 restaurants across 13 countries.

Tamagomen-ya Ippuku Ramen

221-1 Tamukaemachi Oaza Tainoshima, Minami Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest bus stop: Tamukae Shogakko Mae (from Minami-Kumamoto station)
Ajisen Ramen Main Shop

6-20-24 Suizenji, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest tram stop: Shogyokoko-mae

6. Unganzenji Temple and Reigando Cave

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Up for a challenge? Explore to Unganzenji Temple.

Situated on the side of Mount Kinbo and west of Kumamoto City, you’ll find Unganzenji Temple and Reigando Cave. Built in 1351, Unganzenji Temple is a small structure housing a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. From here, you can make your way to Reigando Cave, which has a long history as a site for meditation. About 500 statues of Buddhist worshippers line the path toward the cave made famous by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Known for wielding two blades in combat and never losing a duel, Miyamoto retired to the cave late in life and penned The Book of Five Rings about philosophy and swordsmanship.

589 Matsuomachi Hirayama, Nishi Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest bus stop: Iwato Kannon Iriguchi

7. Basashi

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Worth trying once.

One of Kumamoto’s most well-known local foods is basashi, thinly sliced horse meat served raw. High in iron, calcium and protein but low in fat and calories, basashi is often nicknamed sakura meat due to its similar color to cherry blossoms. Like other animals, such as pigs and cows, different parts of the horse can be eaten, including thighs, liver, tongue and fat beneath the mane. Pair your basashi with grated ginger, garlic and garlic before dipping in soy sauce for a slightly sweet yet gamey bite. If you’re looking for a restaurant to try this local specialty, stop by Kenzo for hand-selected premium cuts of horse meat.

Nanahikari Building B1F, 1-8-24 Shimotori, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest tram stop: Suidocho 

8. One Piece Statues

With its manga debuting in the summer of 1997 and anime in 1999, One Piece has been thrilling readers and audiences worldwide with its relatable and loveable cast of pirate characters seeking adventure on the high seas. Kumamoto is the hometown of its creator, Oda Eichiro, and the city has honored the artist many times. Since 2018, the city has unveiled statues of the story’s protagonists, the Straw Hat Pirates, starting with its leader, Luffy. Stop by the Kumamoto Prefectural Offices to strike a pose with this legendary character. Next, go to Kumamoto Zoological and Botanical Gardens to find the ship’s doctor, Chopper.

Luffy statue

6-18-1 Suizenji, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto - Map
Closest tram stop: Shiritsutaiikukan-mae
Chopper statue

5-4-2 Kengun, Higashi Ward, Kumamoto  - Map
Nearest bus stop: Doshokubutsu-en Mae

9. Mount Aso

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A must for nature lovers.

Accessible from Kumamoto City in about 90 minutes via car, Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan and a fantastic day trip for nature lovers. The Aso Volcano Museum displays the history of the last 30,000 years, while the Kusasenri grasslands area has opportunities for horseback riding, and the leisurely hiking trails of Komezuka are also worth visiting. There, you’ll find several volcanic peaks of Aso, including its tallest, Mount Nakadake. Visitors can trek to the crater for a memorable snapshot if conditions permit.

1930-1 Akamizu, Aso, Kumamoto - Map
Nearest station: JR Aso station 

10. Kurokawa Onsen Town

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For rest and relaxation.

With a history of over 300 years, Kurokawa Onsen is a hot spring town that catered to traveling Japanese elites during the feudal period and present-day tourists looking for rest and relaxation. With over two dozen hot springs to choose from and several traditional Japanese-style inns, Kurokawa Onsen is a great way to take a break from the big cities of northern Kyushu. If you plan to take advantage of the mineral-rich waters, consider a day pass to soak in several baths at a discounted rate.

Manganji, Minamioguni, Aso District, Kumamoto - Map
By bus: From Kumamoto station, take the Kyushu Oudan Bus for a direct route to Kurokawa Onsen Town
Have you been to Kumamoto? Where would you recommend visiting? Let us know in the comments below! 

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