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From the cerulean waters surrounding the southern coast to the conifer-covered volcanic terrain in the north, the captivating island of Kyushu is a true treasure. As the third-largest island in Japan and the most southwesterly of its four main islands, Kyushu offers a bouquet of intriguing experiences that range from history and culture to food and nature.
Kyushu is more than a destination; it’s an embodiment of Japan’s rich history, abundant nature, and profound culture. A journey here is an invitation to a slower, more introspective pace of life where leisure is not just a pastime but a way of living.
Whether you’re soaking in a hot spring, strolling through an artisan’s ceramic workshop, or enjoying a multi-course kaiseki meal, every moment is an opportunity to embrace the richness of life in Kyushu, Japan.
A Palette of Regions in Kyushu
Home to seven diverse prefectures – Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima – Kyushu is an open book for travellers, awaiting to be explored and experienced. Additionally, the breathtaking islands of Yakushima and the Amami archipelago punctuate the surrounding azure waters, further adding to the charm of this area.
The Fukuoka prefecture, serving as the island’s gateway, is a buzzing urban hub that offers a blend of modernity and tradition. Amidst its bustling cityscape, one can witness the grand spectacle of one of the six Sumo wrestling tournaments that happen annually.
The Resplendent Gardens and Majestic Castles of Kumamoto
Nestled in the centre of Kyushu, Kumamoto offers an intriguing blend of majestic heritage and tranquil beauty. Kumamoto Castle, with its towering battlements and elegantly sweeping stone ramparts, stands as a testament to a bygone era. This architectural marvel effortlessly captivates visitors with its sheer grandeur.
In contrast, the serene Suizenji Garden, a gem from the 17th century, presents an enchanting vista of landscaped charm. Here, miniaturized representations of renowned sites offer an exquisite blend of nature and artistry.
Yufuin: A Hot Springs and Ryokan Paradise
When it comes to leisurely pursuits, few places on earth can rival the therapeutic nature of Kyushu’s hot springs. Yufuin, a town renowned for its onsens, offers a chance to unwind and rejuvenate amid the calming embrace of thermal waters. Stay in traditional ryokans like the Sansou Murata, offering rejuvenation through their private onsen baths.
Stretching beyond the horizons of Yufuin, nestled in the idyllic Tanoharu River Valley, lies the bewitching hot spring town of Kurokawa Onsen. It’s where tranquillity meets natural grandeur, creating an enchanting ambience of unparalleled allure. The town is adorned with twenty distinctive inns, each offering a distinctive blend of comfort, warmth, and traditional aesthetics.
Embracing the healing powers of the hot springs, Kurokawa Onsen serves as a sanctuary for the weary, a retreat for the body, mind, and soul. Stroll down its quaint, winding streets, lined with rustic, wooden ryokans that showcase an impressive harmony of traditional architecture and natural surroundings. The soothing sound of the river and the scent of the nearby woods permeate the air, providing a unique sensory experience.
Witness the steam rising from the communal hot spring baths nestled between trees and rocky outcrops, providing an authentic outdoor onsen experience. The warm, mineral-rich waters, renowned for their healing properties, beckon to the bathers, offering solace and rejuvenation.
Whether it is to bask in the therapeutic waters, appreciate the local artistry of the ryokans, or simply to soak in the tranquil ambience, Kurokawa Onsen provides a distinctive journey into the timeless charms of rural Japan. It is a place where traditional customs are not just preserved, but are a part of the daily rhythm of life, offering an authentic taste of Japanese culture in the heart of nature’s splendour.
Savouring the Flavours of Kyushu
Food, in Kyushu, is not merely a means of sustenance. It is an immersive journey into centuries of culinary tradition. In Fukuoka, the sight of local food stalls or ‘yatai’ adds to the city’s vibrant nightscape. Here, you can indulge in a hot bowl of Hakata ramen, a local favourite.
Nagasaki, on the other hand, offers a culinary adventure shaped by Chinese and Portuguese influences, giving birth to a fusion of flavours that intrigue the palate. Dining in Kyushu is a sensory journey, one that is best enjoyed slowly, savouring each bite and every unique flavour.
Saga: A Nurturer of Ceramics
Kyushu’s culture isn’t only witnessed in its tradition and food; it also vibrantly blossoms in its arts and crafts. The island boasts a unique array of artistic expressions, deeply woven into its society. Take a journey to the towns of Karatsu and Okawachiyama in the Saga region, famously known for their exquisite ceramics.
Observe the artisans’ meticulous craftsmanship, painting and firing their works, creating pieces that stand as testimonies to the age-old tradition. Each piece, shaped by the hands of these master craftsmen, tells the story of the land, the people, and the enduring spirit of Kyushu.
Engaging with Events and Traditions
The diversity of Kyushu extends to its seasonal events and age-old traditions. Nita Pass is known for its spectacular display of Autumn leaves, while the delicate cherry blossoms of Chikkoen Park herald the arrival of Spring. Join the locals as they celebrate the Nagasaki Lantern Festival and the Kumamoto Castle Festival, both a testament to the deep-rooted traditions that bind the community together.
Awe-inspiring Cruises and Train Rides
The leisurely pursuits in Kyushu persist, seamlessly transitioning between the vibrant landscapes and the rhythmic journeys aboard trains. Consider a picturesque cruise down the Yanagawa on a ‘Donko’ boat or embark on a journey aboard the scenic Yufuin No Mori train. The Aso Boy train, with its panoramic views of the serene rural town of Aso and surrounding peaks, provides a unique vantage point.
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For the ultimate luxury experience, there is the opulent 14-suite Seven Stars sleeper train that takes you on an epic journey across Kyushu’s diverse landscapes. Coupled with a stay in a traditional ryokan overlooking the East China Sea or a luxury one nestled within a serene national park, the comforts of travel in Kyushu are boundless.
The Epitome of Authenticity: A Stay in a Traditional Ryokan
A sojourn in a traditional ryokan, a classic Japanese inn, offers more than just a comfortable stay; it provides a rich and profound immersion into the timeless Japanese way of life. With an ethos grounded in hospitality and serenity, these establishments offer not only a haven for rest but also a profound cultural exploration.
Imagine a secluded ryokan perched on a hill overlooking the expansive East China Sea, or perhaps a luxury one cocooned within a serene national park; the settings are as varied as they are captivating. The tranquil atmosphere of these abodes, paired with their bespoke service and genuine adherence to tradition, blend seamlessly to create an unforgettable travel narrative. Each ryokan stay is a unique tapestry woven with threads of cultural heritage, tranquillity, and refined elegance.
Exploring Kyushu’s Natural Landscapes
Kyushu’s charm also lies in its diverse natural landscapes. The thrill of hiking up Mount Karakuni or exploring the Kirishima mountain range offers a closer encounter with Kyushu’s diverse flora and fauna. Beppu, with its unique hot springs known as Jigoku, “hells”, offers a different kind of experience, a testament to the island’s geothermal activity. Apart from the hot springs, you can also enjoy mud baths, sand baths, and steam baths, offering various ways to relax and rejuvenate.
Kyushu is a testament to the art of leisurely pursuits, a place where every moment is an invitation to immerse, engage, and experience. The island offers a multitude of experiences, each narrating the story of the land, its history, culture, and people. From the traditional crafts in Saga to the culinary wonders of Fukuoka and Nagasaki, from the soothing hot springs in Yufuin and Kurokawa Onsen to the grandeur of Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu compels you to pause, absorb, and appreciate the richness of the Japanese way of life.
As you partake in these leisurely pursuits, you don’t just visit Kyushu, you experience it in its full authenticity, leaving with a deep appreciation and lasting memories. Travelling to Kyushu is more than a journey, it’s an exploration of life’s simple and profound pleasures, each moment a treasure in its own right. ◼
© This article was first published online in July 2023 – World Travel Magazine.