|Top > Major Destinations in Japan > Kyushu—Southern Island
Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four major islands, boasts a mild, subtropical climate, plenty of sunshine and natural beauty preserved in five national parks and eleven quasi-national parks. Kyushu abounds in hot springs, including unique "sand baths," and boasts numerous historic sights with ties to Europe and China, testimony to the island's long flow of international cultural exchange. According to myth, it was from Kyushu that Japan's first emperor began his efforts to unify Japan; Japanese, therefore, view the island as their nation's birthplace and there are many ancient sites associated with the legend.
Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Vicinity
with 1.4 million residents, is Kyushu's largest city and serves as the main gateway
to the island. During the feudal era, the port town was divided into two distinct
quarters: the samurai district in an area called Fukuoka and a district for merchants
called Hakata. Today, both districts are joined as Fukuoka (though the city's
main train station is called Hakata), a city known for its Hakata-ori textiles,
its refined Hakata clay dolls, and the Hakata Dontaku and Yamagasa festivals.
Tenjin is the heart of Fukuoka's shopping and business district. Nearby is Nakasu, actually an island sandwiched between the Naka and Hakata rivers and famous throughout Japan for its nightlife. Tenjin and Nakasu are particularly well known for their yatai streetside food stalls, set up at night to serve steaming bowls of ramen (Chinese noodles) and other simple fare. Across the river from Nakasu is Canal City Hakata, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex. Among the city's many sights, standouts include the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum with displays relating to the Meiji and Taisho eras and demonstrations by artisans engaged in the production of Hakata dolls, Hakata-ori textiles and other Fukuoka crafts, and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, devoted to contemporary and modern art from around Asia.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, reached in about 30 min. via train to Dazaifu Station, is dedicated to the god of scholarship, making it immensely popular among high-school students who flock here in hopes of passing tough university entrance exams. The shrine is also noted for its thousands of plum trees, which bloom around February.
Arita and Imari
Arita and Imari are two towns associated with Japanese porcelain. Arita is considered the birthplace
of Japanese porcelain, since it was here that a Korean potter by the name of
Lee San P'ing discovered kiln and began producing white porcelain 400 years
ago. After Dutch traders in Nagasaki began shipping Arita ware to international
markets, it became known throughout the world. In the late 17th century, the
ruling Nabeshima clan moved its kiln from Arita to Imari. Since ceramics produced
at Arita have also been shipped from Imari through the centuries, Arita porcelain
is known as Imari-yaki. Today Arita has about 150 kilns and is famous for its porcelain fair held April
29 to May 5.
Located on Hirado Island, Hirado was the first Japanese port officially opened to trade with the Portuguese in 1550, followed by the Dutch and English in the early 17th century. Today it's a pleasant town with numerous historic relics tied to its colorful past, including Hirado Castle, reconstructed in 1962 with a panoramic view from its three-story donjon; the Matsuura Historical Museum, occupying a feudal lord's former villa and housing items relating to Hirado's history; and the Hirado Kanko Museum, with displays on Christianity in Japan, international trade and Japan's policy of isolation during the Edo Period.
Nagasaki is one of Japan's most charming cities, hugging the shores of a U-shaped harbor and with steep, terraced slopes supporting neighborhoods with distinctive personalities. It opened its port to trade with the Portuguese in 1571, followed by the Dutch and the Chinese. Christian missionaries also came to Nagasaki, gaining many converts in the area. After the Tokugawa shogunate adopted a strict policy of isolationism in 1639, only Nagasaki was allowed to continue trading with the outside world, via a colony of Dutch merchants contained on a small island called Dejima and a group of Chinese merchants. Throughout the 200-some years of Japan's seclusion, information from the outside world filtered into Japan through Nagasaki, including information regarding medicine, botany and military arts. In 1858, after Commodore Perry sailed to Japan demanding trading rights, Nagasaki became one of several ports opened to international trade, which brought enterprising foreign businessmen to the city. Although suffering huge casualties as victim of the second atomic bomb dropped in 1945 during the last days of World War II, Nagasaki today is a pleasant cosmopolitan town with many historic places related to its fascinating past. It also serves as a base for visits to Unzen, a historic hot-spring resort.
Park commemorates the estimated 74,000 people who died in the atomic
explosion on August 9, 1945, with a black pillar marking the exact epicenter of
the blast. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum presents a moving
depiction of events leading up to that fateful day, the devastation, postwar restoration
and Nagasaki's subsequent role in the promotion of international peace.
Glover Garden, on a hill overlooking Nagasaki and the harbor, contains nine Western-style homes and buildings dating from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), many of them former residences of foreigners who flocked to Nagasaki when it reopened to international trade. Most famous is Glover Mansion, built in 1863 for Scotsman Thomas Glover and romanticized as the home of the fictitious Madame Butterfly from Puccini's opera.
Oura Catholic Church, near Glover Garden, is Japan's oldest Gothic-style church, erected in 1865 by a French missionary in memory of 26 Christians who were crucified in Nagasaki. The church is designated a National Treasure.
The Site of Martydom of the Twenty-Six Saints, on Nishizaka Hill, is where 20 Japanese and 6 foreigners were crucified in 1597, following a decree issued by shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi officially prohibiting Christianity in Japan. In 1862, the 26 martyrs were declared saints by the pope. A museum documents the history of Christianity in Japan and contains artifacts relating to the 26 martyrs.
Dejima is the small island where a small colony of Dutch merchants were confined during Japan's 200-some years of isolation, providing Japan's only window to the outside world. Dejima, now part of the mainland through land reclamation, has been restored, with several renovated warehouses open to the public, a large-scale model showing how Dejima looked when occupied by the Dutch, and the Dejima Museum of History with accounts of this fascinating time in Japanese history.
Sofukuji Temple, founded in 1629 by Chinese residents living in Nagasaki, is Nagasaki's most famous temple and features fine examples of Chinese architecture. Its Buddha Hall, designed in China and erected in 1646, is Nagasaki's oldest building and a National Treasure. The religious rites of Chinese O-bon, observed in mid-September, attract many Chinese residents throughout Japan.
Kumamoto, Aso and Beppu
Kumamoto, on the west side of Kyushu, has thrived as a castle town since the early 1600s. Today, capital of Kumamoto Prefecture with a population of 670,000, Kumamoto is known for its castle and delightful Suizenji Park.
Kumamoto Castle was a massive fortress when completed by feudal lord Kato Kiyomasa in 1607, with 2 main towers, 29 gates and 49 turrets. In 1877, much of it was destroyed in battles fought between shogun sympathizers and imperial forces. Reconstructed on a smaller scale in 1960, Kumamoto Castle still impresses, with the donjon housing a good museum documenting the castle's history.
Suizenji Park, a fine specimen of Japanese landscape gardening, was laid out in the 1630s by a member of the Hosokawa clan, who governed over this district during the feudal era. Incorporated into the garden are famous scenes in miniature taken from the 53 stages of the old Tokaido Highway connecting Tokyo and Kyoto, including Mt. Fuji and Lake Biwa.
Aso-Kuju National Park
Located in the center of Kyushu, between Beppu and Kumamoto, the Aso-Kuju National Park encompasses two groups of mountains, volcanic Mt. Aso and Mt. Kuju, as well as grasslands, forests and hot springs. While Mt. Kuju is the largest mountain on the island, the chief attraction of the park is Mt. Aso—it possesses the largest crater basin in the world. Measuring 18 km. (11 miles) from east to west, 25 km. (15.5 miles) north to south, and 119 km (74.5 miles) in circumference, Mt. Aso was a mighty mountain before blowing its top—larger even than Mt. Fuji. Today five volcanic cones sit in the Mt. Aso crater basin. One of them, Mt. Nakadake, is still active, constantly spewing forth high-temperature gas and sulfurous fumes. Hiking trails and cable cars bring visitors for a close look. The outer rim of the crater basin is formed by a series of undulating plateaus, where horses and cattle graze leisurely.
is an internationally known spa on Kyushu's eastern coast, with more hot springs
pouring forth here than anywhere else in Japan—some 130,000 kiloliters (33.8 million
gal.) of water every day. The waters are utilized in many enterprising ways: in
swimming pools, in hospitals, to cultivate plants, to cook food and even to breed
crocodiles. There are many Japanese inns with hot-spring baths, as well as public
hot-spring baths that specialize in various treatments. Most unique is the Takegawara
Bathhouse, a wooden structure built in 1879 and featuring hot-sand baths
in which customers are buried up to their necks in hot, relaxing sand.
A major tourist attraction is the Jigoku (the Hells), boiling ponds concentrated largely in the Kannawa hot-spring area. Each of the six Hells here has its own unique characteristic: one is colored red due to red clay, the largest, called Umi Jigoku, is the color of the sea, while another is used to breed crocodiles. A tour of the Hells is a must for visitors to Beppu. Another worthwhile attraction is the Japan Bamboo Museum, with excellent descriptions of this versatile plant and its various uses.
Miyazaki and Kagoshima
Miyazaki, capital of Miyazaki Prefecture, is famous in Japan for its many sites associated with Japan's first emperor, Jimmu. Dedicated to the emperor is Miyazaki Shrine, with origins purportedly stretching back to his reign some 2,600 years ago. Heiwadai Park contains the Peace Tower, built in 1940 to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the mythological foundation of Japan. Phoenix Seagaia Resort is a huge convention and resort area with hotels, golf courses, a zoo and hot spring.
Haniwa Garden, located in a corner of Heiwadai Park, takes its name from haniwa, clay figures that were produced in ancient times to accompany the deceased and were placed inside burial mounds. Many ancient burial mounds have been excavated in Miyazaki, replicas of which can be seen in this garden, with moss-covered mounds and 400 haniwa—warriors, animals, homes and boats—scattered among the trees.
Saitobaru Ancient Mound Group contains the largest number of ancient burial mounds in Japan. Some 300 mounds of all shapes and sizes dot the park-like setting, most dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. A museum displays the many objects excavated here, including haniwa clay figures.
Nichinan Coast Quasi-National Park
Nichinan Coast Quasi-National Park is a seaside park renowned for its exposed rock sea floor, eroded into rippling shapes that have earned it the nickname Onino Sentaku Iwa, the Ogre's Washboard. The park also boasts a profusion of tropical and subtropical plants. Aoshima, in the heart of the park, is a tiny islet connected to the mainland via walkway and covered in a dense forest of betelnut trees and 200 different varieties of plants. In its center is Aoshima Shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Jimmu's grandparents and considered a lucky shrine for those hoping to meet a partner and get married. Farther south on the Nichinan Coast is one of Japan's more unusual shrines: Udo Shrine, located inside a cave beside the ocean. Dedicated to Emperor Jimmu's father, it has long been popular among Japan's newlyweds, who come to pray for happiness.
Kirishima-Yaku National Park
Kirishima-Yaku National Park extends from the Kirishima Mountain Chain all the way to Yaku Island in the south sea. Known for its extraordinary beauty, the park contains 23 volcanoes, 15 craters and 10 crater lakes. The Kirishima Mountain Chain, which cuts through the border between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, stretches 16 km. (10 miles) between its two highest peaks, Mt. Karakunidake on the west and Mt. Takachiho-no-mine on the east. Both can be scaled by taking a bus and then hiking for 1.5 hours to the summit. Mt. Takachiho-no-mine is the legendary place where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson from heaven to found Japan. The Ebino Plateau is the highest hot-spring resort and a good base for exploring the park. Surrounding the plateau are three crater lakes, Byakushi, Rokukannon and Fudo, with a hike encircling the lakes taking about 1.5 hours.
Kagoshima is southern Kyushu's largest city, capital of Kagoshima Prefecture and with a population of more than half a million. With a profusion of flowering plants and palm trees and embracing Kinko Bay, it ranks as one of Japan's most attractive cities and boasts one of the world's most impressive sights: Sakurajima, an active volcano, facing the city from across the sea. The volcano, along with Kagoshima's sister-city relationship with Naples, has earned the city the nickname "Naples of the Orient." Kagoshima abounds in scenic spots and hot springs, as well as historic sites, many of them tied to the remarkable Shimazu clan who ruled over Kagoshima for almost 700 years.
once an island, is now a peninsula thanks to a powerful eruption of Mt.
Sakurajima in 1914 that joined the island with the mainland. Lava fields
flank the sides of Mt. Sakurajima, making for a lunar-like landscape. Mt. Sakurajima,
which rises magnificently above Kinko Bay facing Kagoshima, still emits fumes
of steam and occasionally soot and ash.
Senganen Garden is Kagoshima's most popular attraction. It was laid out some 300 years ago by the Shimazu clan as the grounds to their countryside villa. The garden, with Sakurajima and Kinko Bay forming a dramatic backdrop, is exquisite, with a bamboo grove and a stream where poem-composing parties were once held. In addition to the villa, which is open daily for tours, there's the Shoko Shuseikan Museum, housed in a building constructed by the Shimazus in the mid-1850s as Japan's first Western-style factory, producing cannons, glass, ceramics, farming tools and other goods. The museum houses personal items belonging to the Shimazu clan, including heirlooms and objects used in daily life.
Other worthwhile attractions include the Kagoshima City Aquarium, which concentrates on sea life from local waters, and Nagashima Museum, which contains works by Kagoshima artists and an impressive collection of Satsuma pottery for which Kagoshima is famous.
Chiran, reached by bus from Kagoshima in 1 hr. and 20 min., is a former castle town recommended for seven small gardens, clustered along a picturesque road nicknamed Samurai Lane. The gardens were commissioned by local samurai as ways to embellish their modest estates and are considered masterpieces in "borrowed landscaping" techniques, in which surrounding scenery such as mountains are incorporated into garden design. Also in Chiran is the Peace Museum, dedicated to kamikaze pilots who trained here for World War II suicide missions.
Ibusuki, located at the southernmost tip of Satsuma Peninsula, is one of Japan's most celebrated hot-spring resorts. It boasts a balmy climate, lush subtropical vegetation, a pretty seashore and fashionable inns and hotels. Yunohama Beach is famous for its Natural Sand Bath facilities, in which guests are buried up to their necks in sand that utilizes natural steam. Lying on the beach covered with soothingly hot sand and listening to the roar of the sea is considered not only delightful but beneficial to both beauty and health.
Lake Ikeda is Kyushu's largest lake, a caldera formed after the collapse of a volcano. But its main claim to fame is its transparency, ranked 7th in the world, with a view of a volcanic cone visible below the depths. Mt. Kaimon, with a beautiful conical shape rising 922 m. (3,000 ft.) above sea level and often called "Satsuma-Fuji," makes a beautiful sight reflected in the lake's waters. The lake is also famous for its giant eels, some as long as 180 cm. (6 ft.), and for its own legendary Loch Ness monster.
Yaku Island, part of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park, is almost perfectly round, with the 1,935-m. (6,395-ft.) Mt. Miyanoura towering magnificently at its center, along with a dozen other high mountains. Although the island is subtropical, snow sometimes accumulates on the summit of Mt. Miyanoura, earning the island the nickname of "Alps of the Sea." The island, designated a World Heritage Site, is famous for its groves of ancient, virgin cedars (called Yaku-sugi), most more than 1,000 years old. Much of the island's coastline is blessed with fine, sandy beaches, fringed with swaying palm trees and popular for their camp sites and natural, outdoor seaside hot-spring baths. Giant sea turtles also come ashore to lay their eggs.