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1 Week Kyushu Itinerary - Unmissable Trip in the Southwest Japan Island

1 Week Kyushu Itinerary - Unmissable Trip in the Southwest Japan Island

I always imagined Kyushu, the sizable island in southwestern Japan (there are others southern islands like those in the Okinawa prefecture) known historically as 'Saikaido'(่ฅฟๆตท้“) or the 'West Sea Circuit,' would be impressive. But having the chance to experience it firsthand, I was blown away by its beauty and charm, surpassing even my high expectations.

Why is this area of Japan famous? Well, for one, here in the south, the temperatures are always milder than in the north. As you know, Japan is a thin and elongated ๐Ÿ—พ country, much like Italy. There's a significant distance from its southern edge to the mountains in Hokkaido ๐Ÿ”๏ธ (By the way, if you didn't know, Hokkaido is next to Russia!). We also ventured up there, so if you want to learn more about Hokkaido, check out this other itinerary.

Check out our similar Northern Region of Japan (Hokkaido) post or 2-Week Itinerary in Central Honshu, as well to discover our other favorite parts of Japan.

But there's much more to this region! Get ready to immerse yourself in the rejuvenating hot springs called onsen โ™จ๏ธ and breathe in the smoky air of volcanoes ๐ŸŒ‹. Most importantly, you can find the best Kyushu food in Japan right here! ๐Ÿœ

enter the ninjas ๐Ÿฅท Enter the ninjas ๐Ÿฅท

Are you not convinced yet why Kyushu is an unmissable destination? It's steeped in rich history, featuring ancient castles, shrines, and a cultural legacy that has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation. Its diverse landscapes, from volcanic mountains to serene coastlines, offer a visual feast. Kyushu is renowned for its therapeutic hot springs, captivating the senses with rejuvenating experiences. The region's culinary scene, boasting specialties like Hakata ramen and Kagoshima black pork, provides a delectable journey through Japanese gastronomy. With a perfect blend of tradition and modernity, Kyushu promises an immersive and unforgettable exploration for any avid traveler interested in the essence of Japan.

Last but not least, another compelling reason to visit this area is to immerse oneself in the world that inspired the Hoenn region in the third generation of the Pokรฉmon game, Ruby and Sapphire. If you've played the game, you'll find some references when visiting here. The Hoenn region draws significant inspiration from Kyushu, a Japanese island renowned not just for its mountainous terrain but also for being home to Japan's largest active volcano, Mount Aso. This correlation is logical, given that Hoenn also showcases a prominent volcano known as Mount Chimney.

living in a theme park Being in Japan is like living in a massive theme park

In this detailed itinerary, tailored for both those with a week to spare, like us, or for those who can indulge in a slightly longer Kyushu itinerary of 10 days (including Yakushima), you'll uncover our comprehensive exploration of Kyushu. We'll not only share our week-long escapade but also shed light on what we regrettably missed, providing valuable insights to enhance your own travel plans. But before we embark on this exhilarating adventure, let's jump into essential logistical details that you absolutely need to know.

feeling instagrammers in the shrine Feeling like instragrammers in a Kyushu shrine

Best time to visit Kyushu

So the idea was to visit Japan in April because of the sakura, the delicate and iconic pink flowers ๐ŸŒธ that bloom on cherry trees in spring, symbolizing renewal, beauty, and the ephemeral nature of life in Japanese culture. Viewing cherry blossoms during hanami (flower-viewing) season is a cherished tradition in Japan. However, we must admit we were a bit late for that. The cherry blossom viewing season is really short, lasting less than two weeks, so be sure to plan well if you want to see it. We basically saw only one cherry tree with pink petals on the whole island. We had to chase the blossoming throughout Japan, but in the end, we made it! We were able to see a full forest of peach trees in Hokkaido!

Apart from this, the best time to visit Japan is generally in spring or the beginning of September. Otherwise, it might be too humid and hot, especially in the south where it can be uncomfortably hot or excessively rainy, for example, at the end of September. If you don't want to miss the sakura in Kyushu, go before April 8th (when we arrived). I would recommend mid to late March! But keep an eye on the Sakura calendar for more accurate information.

onigiri Stuffing our faces with a daily onigiri

How long to stay: Duration of Visit in Kyลซshลซ

Well, it depends on what you are more interested in... I would suggest at least a week; that's what we did, and we had to skip the entire southern part of the island.

The initial plan included a visit to Yakushima National Park (the inspiration for the setting of Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki), but that requires at least 3 days. You have to travel to Kagoshima, the fascinating city built in close proximity to an active volcano, which is quite distant from all the most famous cities in the northern part (Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Beppu). Then, you need to take a boat or a plane from there to reach Yakushima. Once in Yakushima, hiking is essential for getting around, and that also requires time.

If you are short on time, I would say you definitely can't miss Nagasaki, enjoying an onsen experience in Beppu, and seeing the caldera of Mount Aso. However, this would take you at least 4 days.

yogi boys in aso Pretending like we know how to do a tree pose in Mt. Aso

Where We Stayed ๐Ÿก

How to go: Navigating Kyลซshลซ and Kyลซshลซ Airports

Our choice: Flying to Fukuoka airport ๐Ÿ›ซ

Navigating your way to Kyushu is straightforward with several transportation options available. The region is serviced by multiple airports, including Fukuoka Airport, Kagoshima Airport, and Nagasaki Airport, offering domestic and some international flights. Additionally, you can reach Kyushu by train via the extensive JR Kyushu railway network, which connects major cities like Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima. For those exploring from within Japan, the Shinkansen bullet train offers a swift one-hour journey from Hiroshima to Fukuoka.

Our journey began with a flight from Vietnam ๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ, a convenient option for international travelers, while excellent flight and boat connections from South Korea ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท offer additional travel choices. Alternatively, buses and ferries provide convenient travel options, especially for accessing remote areas or connecting with neighboring islands. While buses are extremly reliable, we recommend them primarily for short trips to maximize your holiday time efficiently.

hot springs of beppu The hot springs of Beppu

Getting around Kyลซshลซ: Utilizing Public Transport

Public transportation in Kyushu, Japan, is exceptionally efficient and well-connected, surpassing even the high standards set by Japanese mobility.

Kyushu's transportation network is even more impressive, offering seamless navigation without the need to rent a car. All the cities are interconnected by trains, buses, and ferries, including luxurious vessels with lounge areas, music, and stylish decor reminiscent of scenes from popular 80s manga series like "City Hunter". With such comprehensive transportation options, getting around Kyushu is a breeze, ensuring a hassle-free and enjoyable travel experience.

Our Kyushu Itinerary

This was our itinerary in brief:

  • Landed at Fukuoka International Airport (FUK).
  • Took a 3-hour bus ride to Nagasaki.
  • Boarded the ferry from Taira Port ๅคšๆฏ”่‰ฏๆธฏ (near Nagasaki).
  • Rode the cute train from Kumamoto to Aso Station.
  • Took a shuttle bus to the crater.
  • Traveled by train to Beppu and then Oita.
  • Used a regional train to reach Kitakyushu.
  • Continued the journey with a Shinkansen to Hiroshima.

random station covered in mascottes

Day 1 - Fukuoka and its Street food

Okay, to be frank, I have a Japanese friend I met during my Erasmus in Germany, and he is originally from Fukuoka. This is one of the reasons why I really wanted to come. We were hosted by my him and his family, so the first two days were quite indulgent and relaxing. On the first day, he took us to the best ramen place in his area, where I had my first taste of authentic Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork), and it was absolutely delightful.

Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen Kyushu-style Ramen

Then, he took us to the Hakozaki Shrine (็ญฅๅดŽๅฎฎ) in Fukuoka. Since it was a festive day, the shrine was bustling with activity. Here, you can participate in activities like offering prayers by bowing, clapping, and tossing a coin into the offering box called "saisenbako." You may also ring the bell to gain the deity's attention and make a wish or request. I purchased a prayer and hung it for prosperity, as is customary.

shrine prayer 1

shrine prayer 2

We then indulged in street food, as Fukuoka is famous for it. One of the highlights was trying Umegae Mochi, a sweet dumpling filled with red bean paste and wrapped in mochi rice cake. After cooking together with Italian, American, and Japanese cuisine, it was time to leave the nest and begin our Japan adventure.

2 Days - Nagasaki and Hashima Island

I invite you to read my full post about this surprisingly stunning city. The main reason we came was to visit Hashima Island, an abandoned site resembling a battleship โ›ด๏ธ, and I was pleasantly surprised by the city itself. So I definitely recommend spending at least 2 days here. With its rich history, Nagasaki is one of the most fascinating cities in Japan. Situated on the western coast of Kyushu, it has been a hub for international trade and cultural exchange throughout history. Nagasaki was once the only port in Japan allowed to conduct trade with foreign countries, leading to the establishment of various foreign settlements. There is even a with kinda Dutch-style buildings . Additionally, Nagasaki has a significant history as a center for Christianity in Japan. During the 16th century, Portuguese missionaries introduced Christianity to Japan through Nagasaki, which subsequently became the center of the country's Christian community, including the famous Oura Church, considered one of the oldest surviving Christian churches in Japan. The city is also home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the iconic Nagasaki Peace Park. Overall, our experience in Nagasaki was incredibly enriching and eye-opening, and I highly recommend visiting this historic and culturally diverse city when in Japan.

Hashima Island The closest we got to Hashima Island that day, as it was too windy to dock ๐Ÿ˜…

On the Kyushu food side, don't miss Taichi Sushi, where the chef was born on Hashima Island and will be pleased to share his history with you. Additionally, I had the best ramen ever at a restaurant in the Nagasakiminato Terminal, where we took the boat tour to Battleship island. It was just part of the lunch menu, so it was very cheap.

Nagasaki also has one of the most beautiful Kyushu beaches. Check out Takahama Beach if you're there during summer.

1 Day in Kumamoto as Ninja Zen: Exploring the Historic Castle and Tranquil Gardens

Kumamoto is a pleasant city, although not the best; it reminds me a bit of the more popular Kanazawa, the samurai city in the central region of Honshu. t's renowned for its majestic Kumamoto Castle ๐Ÿฏ, one of the country's most impressive historic landmarks. The castle offers a nice view from the top, but all the information inside is only available in Japanese. It recently reopened after being damaged in a recent earthquake last year. Nearby, Sakura-no-baba Josaien is a cultural complex offering shops, restaurants, and workshops where visitors can experience traditional crafts, cuisine, and activities. However, it appears a bit artificial.

ryan carrying things The good old days when we didn't know how to properly pack

There is a lovely authentic Japanese garden called Suizenji Garden. This meticulously landscaped traditional garden is renowned for its serene ponds, miniature landscapes, and tea houses, offering visitors a peaceful retreat and a glimpse into the beauty of Japanese landscaping and architecture. Additionally, there is a large beautiful shrine nearby, making it a quiet and picturesque spot, perfect for capturing amazing photos โ€“ especially for you Instagrammers and TikTokers!

Suizenji Garden

Me and Kumamotoman, every province has a mascot and he was elected the favorite of all in japan Me and Kumamotoman, every province has a mascot and he was elected the favorite of all in japan

feeling fancy in the ferry with papercup coffee Feeling fancy in the ferry with papercup coffee

2-4 Days for the Mount Aso and Kurokawa Onsen

This was definitely one of the top 3 highlights of Kyushu, along with the Onsen and the food. We took the charming Hohi Line train to Aso Station, a quaint village with an amazing onsen right in front of the station. We stayed at the best ryokan in Kyushu, ้˜ฟ่˜‡ใณๅฟƒ Asobi Gokoro, with an owner who made us drip coffee every morning, but you can also stay at the spa resort nearby . You can see everything in the video we made of Mount Aso. Aso-Kuju National Park, where Mount Aso is located, offers various activities, and visitors can spend a full day exploring its many parts. It boasts one of the largest active volcanoes in the world and the expansive Aso Caldera, one of the largest calderas on Earth. The park features rugged volcanic terrain, lush forests, and picturesque valleys, perfect for hiking and cycling. Additionally, there are many restaurants in the area to enjoy.

mt aso

mt aso

The plan was then to go to Kurokawa Onsen, but then we realized we didn't have enough time. Nestled in the lush valleys of Kyushu, Kurokawa Onsen offers a serene escape with its picturesque hot springs and traditional ryokans. While not easily accessible, the journey is worth the effort for those seeking tranquility amidst nature. Renowned for its rustic charm, this onsen village is a popular retreat, albeit pricey, inviting visitors to unwind in its therapeutic waters amidst stunning surroundings. Despite its remote location and limited connectivity, Kurokawa Onsen promises an unforgettable experience and is arguably the best onsen Kyushu has to offer. Regrettably, I couldn't make it during my travels due to its challenging accessibility, time constraints, and the need for advanced bookings, but its allure remains undeniable, beckoning travelers to immerse themselves in its rejuvenating ambiance.

2 Days - Beppu the Onsen Capital

Beppu city, renowned as the onsen capital of Japan, envelops you in a surreal landscape where steam wisps from the earth, infusing the air with an ethereal charm. Tucked between the coast and lush hills, Beppu enchants with its harmonious blend of coastal serenity and rugged hiking trails. Even on rainy days, the mist swirling along the coast adds to the city's mystical allure, beckoning you to explore its thermal wonders. ๐Ÿง–โ€โ™‚๏ธ

Our journey then led us to the historic Takegawara Onsen, where echoes of ancient eras lingered in the air, offering sand baths (We tried one!) and a glimpse into tradition.

enter the sandbath! Enter the sandbath!

Next, we ventured to the hells of Beppu, a collection of seven boiling pools (Kyushu hot springs that you cannot actually bathe in). These natural hot springs offer a guided tour where you can witness each of them. Highly recommended! While combo tickets are available for viewing all seven, we chose to explore just three. In one of them, we encountered crocodiles, likely drawn to the area due to the ideal habitat provided by the hot springs. However, seeing them confined in cages was quite disheartening, so we do not recommend this experience.

welcome to hell Welcome to hell!!

Amidst these explorations, a hidden gem awaited us - Shibaseki Onsen ๆŸด็Ÿณๆธฉๆณ‰, nestled in a bamboo forest beyond the city limits - this was the best onsen in Kyushu we experienced. As rain cascaded from the heavens, we sought solace in the warm embrace of its waters, surrounded by the laughter of locals and the gentle rustle of bamboo leaves. It was a moment of pure serenity, etched in our memories amidst nature's symphony. Unforgettable!

on our way to the best Onsen ever On our way to the best Kyushu Onsen ever

3-4 Days Extra - Kagoshima and Yakushima Island

Originally, I planned to take a train to Yakushima National Park (the location that inspired Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki) and spend a night in Kagoshima, home to Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes, continuously spreading ash into the sky. I remember seeing in a documentary that small kids had to take the time to clean their school courtyard every day before lessons started because of the ashes. However, there is no bullet train from Kumamoto to Kagoshima, so the fastest way is a 3-hour journey by train.

Once in Kagoshima, it's not quick to reach Yakushima either. At this point, it's even faster to fly there from Tokyo, which is also an option. You can take a plane from Kagoshima or a high-speed boat from Kagoshima Port to Miyanoura or Anbo Port on Yakushima (2-3 hours), or a slower car ferry from Kagoshima Port to Miyanoura Port (4 hours). We realized we didn't really have enough time to see it, considering all this traveling. Anyway, you need to know that the coastal road around Yakushima is lined with hotels, hot springs, and tourist facilities. Development is concentrated around the two seaports and the airport, with plenty of car rental options. The famous forests are inland, accessible by two bus companies with limited service. Renting a car is the quickest way to explore, except for the Arakawa Trailhead leading to Jomonsugi, Japan's oldest tree, accessible by a shuttle bus from Yakusugi Museum (35 minutes) between March and November. Guided hikes are also available, often with pickup service, offering an alternative to car rental. Surely, we want to go next time! We plan to visit in the summer when it's good to take relief from the heat and also when there's less risk of too much rain.

I finally found the tanuki I finally found the legendary tanuki!

Conclusion of A Journey Through Time, Tradition, and Taste

Kyushu, the captivating island in southwest Japan, exceeded all expectations with its rich history, diverse landscapes, and unparalleled culinary delights. From the soothing embrace of therapeutic hot springs to the rugged beauty of volcanic mountains, Kyushu offers a myriad of experiences that resonate with both tradition and modernity. Steeped in cultural heritage, the region's ancient castles, shrines, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites narrate tales of a bygone era, while its picturesque coastlines and lush hills invite exploration. Indulge in the region's gastronomic treasures, from Hakata ramen to Kagoshima black pork, and embark on a culinary journey unlike any other. Beyond its tangible wonders, Kyushu's allure lies in its ability to immerse travelers in a world where nature and tradition coexist harmoniously, leaving an indelible mark on all who venture to this enchanting island. Whether you have a week or ten days to spare, Kyushu promises an unforgettable odyssey that transcends time and space, inviting you to go deeper into the heart of Japan.

outside Kumamoto castle Cheesing outside Kumamoto castle

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