Kyushu, Japan’s third-largest island, boasts a spectacular wealth of natural attractions such as ancient cedar tree forests, imposing volcanoes, fabulous hot springs and forgotten-in-time quaint villages.
This beautiful Japanese gem’s fascinating meld of old and new, culture and awe-inspiring scenery offers an intriguing mix of charm and mystery all at once, and is especially alluring to those who appreciate the great outdoors and countryside.
The island’s main highlights — the burgeoning city of Fukuoka, the famous onsen town of Beppu and Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan — remain popular, but to completely immerse yourself in what this beautiful region has to offer, getting off-the-beaten track is a must!
Here are some lesser-known experiences in the land of “Nine Provinces” you may want to consider for your next holiday.
1. Discover historical gems in the ancient Higo Minkumura village
In Japan, you will often feel that time has stalled for decades, but at the Higo Minkumura village about an hour’s drive from Kumamoto, the experience is even more vivid. For history buffs, this ancient village provides an interesting and interactive introduction to how the locals lived in the past. Start by wandering through traditional Japanese houses with thatched roofs constructed without the use of any nails. In this open-air museum, visitors get to see up-close how locals made use of different materials and tools for their livelihood. For a more in-depth experience, it is even possible to participate in pottery workshops or spend a night here for a taste of life in the past.
2. Indulge in some of the freshest sushi in Saiki
While sushi is ubiquitous in Japan, it’s always exciting to find an authentic local joint, which promises to tantalise your taste buds. As you pull up in the sleepy little town of Saiki and slid open a traditional Japanese paper door to a small sushi restaurant, you will feel that you have literally walked right into sushi heaven. The Pacific Ocean feeds the city, strategically located at the mouth of the Bungo Channel between Kyushu and Shikoku, with some of the freshest fish in Japan.
Sushi restaurants here typically seat about 10 to 12 patrons, and diners huddle at the counter to watch the chef prepare their sushi right before their eyes. With meticulous precision, chefs gather some pickled ginger, knead sushi rice, slice fresh fish, and present their sushi creations one by one. The sushi is indeed amazing — so good, so sweet and so fresh that you won’t even feel the need to dip it into soy sauce or pair it with freshly ground wasabi.
3. Ride a hot air balloon in Saga
While Kyushu’s scenery is a view to behold on land, to admire it from above will provide you with a different perspective of the region. Every year from late October to early November, the prefecture tucked between Fukuoka and Nagasaki is home to the Saga International Balloon Fiesta, an annual competition that sees hundreds of participating countries and boasts an amazing visual spectacle. Whether you’re riding in one of the balloons or watching them soar above, you will be treated to an awe-inspiring sight! All you have to do is take to the skies in a bright-coloured hot air balloon and be inspired by the beguiling landscapes.
4. Stay in a restored train hotel in Hinokage
When a terrible typhoon destroyed the Takachiho railway tracks about 10 years ago, this section of the tracks soon became obsolete. So, in an attempt to keep a little slice of history and make good use of these trains, the local government decided to convert them into a unique hotel experience. Situated along the river bank and surrounded by the forests of Hinokage, the train hotel sits frozen in time. Cabins are fitted with double, twin or bunk beds, en-suite toilets, and comfort amenities such as air-conditioning, television and minibar. Various activities such as forest walks and bamboo handicraft-making, or experiencing the indoor and outdoor hot springs, can also be organised through the train hotel to enhance your experience in this area.
5. Soak in amazing hidden hot springs
It’s no secret that Kyushu is the land of high-quality hot springs all thanks to the island’s active volcanoes. What most travellers may not know is that there are also a myriad of affordable public hot springs dotted all over the island. One such example is the unassuming bath hut right by the tranquil Lake Kinrin — pay only a small fee to cross the wooden threshold and you will be treated to an almost ‘exclusive’ onsen experience that boasts amazing views of the lake.