Located in the central area of Kyushu Island, Kumamoto Prefecture is rich in nature with grand mountains and ocean. Due to the Kumamoto Earthquake of April, 2016, the entire prefecture was affected by devastating damage. However, recovery and reconstruction have been proceeding steadily and surely in Kumamoto. How about a trip to Kumamoto, filled with passion and strength, to restore your energy?
*Most construction scaffolds will be removed in autumn, 2019.
About 400 years ago, this symbol of Kumamoto was constructed by Kato Kiyomasa, a military commander who was considered an expert of castellation. Constructed using the state-of-the-art technologies of that time, this robust castle didn’t get destroyed even in the Seinan War in 1877 when the castle and its surrounding area was a battlefield, some 300 years after its construction.
Currently, some areas are off limits because of the damage to the castle tower and stone walls caused by the earthquake; however, you can see the castle under recovery from the Ninomaru Park and Kato-jinja Shrine.
A special opening of the castle (Stage One), is scheduled to start on October 5, 2019! You will be able to see a restored castle tower close-up. A special observation route will be completed in spring 2020. In spring 2021, a fully restored castle tower is expected to be open to the public.
*In principle, the castle will be open only on Sundays and holidays when there is no scheduled reconstruction work. From October 5 to 14, it will be open every day. Additionally, it will be open on some Saturdays. For details, please check the website:
Located only a short way from Ninomaru Park of Kumamoto Castle, Josaien has a recreated streetscape of the Edo period, where you can get delicious Kumamoto food items and souvenirs. “Kumamoto Castle Museum, Wakuwaku-za” offers an easy-to-understand introduction to the history of Kumamoto Castle with stage dramas and screen images.
The area has one of the world’s largest calderas and is surrounded by vast nature. The natural beauty including Aso Gogaku five peaks, which was created by continuous volcanic activity over hundreds of thousands of years, has been certified as one of the UNESCO Global Geoparks. You can enjoy the area in any season, but summer is especially recommended, when the mountains are covered in green. After the recovery from the earthquakes, many of the major roads have been re-opened, allowing easier access to the area.
Nakadake First Crater
Nakadake, one of the five Aso peaks, is an active volcano with volcanic smoke still coming out. You can go close to the crater to look at it, feeling the power of the earth.
*The entrance to the mountains may be restricted due to the volcanic alert level and/or weather conditions. Please find out the restriction level on site.
This vast field of grass with green grass growing all around also offers a place for horseback riding.
This strange stone used to be stuck in a crack of the cliff located halfway up the mountain surrounding the caldera in the Minami Aso area. Due to the earthquake, it fell to the ground. Then, someone found that the crack after the stone had gone looks like a silhouette of a cat, attracting many people to visit and talk about it. Join a trekking tour and go see “the cat”!
Located in the northern part of the prefecture, Yamaga City prospered as a post station along the major road since the 17th century and still retains the historical streetscape as well as traditional culture.
Yamaga Toro Matsuri (lantern festival)
Said to continue since the ancient time, this festival is held on August 15 and 16 every year. A large number of women dancing with a golden toro (lantern) create a fantastical scene just like out of a dream. The lanterns are traditional crafts of Yamaga made with washi paper. Outside the festival time, there are several hands-on workshops, including one where you can wear the festival costume and golden toro on your head.
Built more than 100 years ago, this playhouse is still hosting kabuki performances. It has colorful decorations along with the traditional style for a kabuki theater. Various programs are offered, including Yamaga toro dancing.
Yamaga Asobi (playing in Yamaga)
You can put a Yamaga’s “golden toro” on your head, put on an antique kimono, and stroll around the quaint town. There are also other, unique experiences, called “Yamaga asobi,” which are only available to enjoy in Yamaga, including playing table tennis with a traditional craft fan instead of a racket in a Yamaga toro dance costume.
Located in Aso Kuju National Park, Kikuchi Gorge is a scenic site, which has been selected as one of the 100 Great Forests in Japan For Forest Bathing, 100 Great Waterfalls of Japan, the Selected 100 Exquisite and Well-Conserved Waters, among others.
Serving as the source of the Kikuchi River, the area creates a great view with a contrast between the thick natural forests of broad-leaf trees and mountain streams running through the forests.
With the average temperature about 20 degrees Celsius even in summer and with a low average water temperature of 14 degrees, the area is referred to as a “natural air-conditioner,” making a perfect summer retreat. With vigorous lush green in spring and beautifully colored leaves in autumn, the area brings healing to visitors throughout the year.
Located at the center of the prefecture, among the mountains around Yatsushiro City, the Gokanosho area with small village communities scattered in the mountains is so isolated that it is even called a “hidden place of Kyushu.” There is still culture unique to this area along with intact natural landscapes.
Heike-no-sato in Gokanosho
Gokanosho has a legend of ochiudo densetsu according to which the Heike (House of Taira), which dominated politics in the late 12th century, lost in the civil war of that time and escaped to this area. It is home to vermilion-lacquered Heike Densetsukan (museum) and a noh stage. Kagura (sacred music and dance), noh, and Heike biwa music performance are performed on the stage.
Kureko Kodai Odori (ancient dance)
A local custom in which dancers dance wearing a hat made with tail feathers of the local Kureko chicken while beating drums and ringing bells. The dance is performed on the grounds of Kureko-jinja Shrine on August 15, September 1, and November 3 every year.
Among the mountains, there are some waterfalls, streams, and suspension bridges here and there, creating beautiful scenery. Especially, autumn foliage with its peak in October and November is just gorgeous.
Onsen in Kumamoto
Kumamoto has many onsen sites thanks to the volcano. There are various types of onsen water, including the one in the Yamaga, Kikuchi, and Tamana areas in the northern part of the prefecture that is called “hot spring water for beautiful skin.” In Aso, an open-air onsen is recommended, which allows you to have a great view of the vast natural landscape while immersing yourself in hot water. In Waita Onsen, you can enjoy delicious “jigoku-mushi,” various ingredients steamed by the heat of onsen. There are many drop-in bathing facilities, so you can enjoy various kinds of onsen at different places.
Akaushi (Japanese Brown)
“Akaushi” brand beef cattle are pastured in the Aso area. This breed is characterized by its tenderness and non-greasy taste. It is perfect for steak and hamburger patties.
Kumamoto Ramen and Tai-pi-en
Kumamoto Ramen is characterized by rich and mild tonkotsu pork-based soup, firm noodles, and a generous amount of deep-fried garlic. If you prefer a lighter dish, tai-pi-en is recommended, with its chicken-based soup, thin harusame noodles, and a bunch of vegetables on top.
Made with rice and high-quality water in the Hitoyoshi and Kuma areas, Kuma Shochu is one of the top brands of honkaku shochu. There are 28 shochu breweries, each with individual characteristics. Some breweries offer tours.
Kumamoto Gourmet Taxi
“Kumamoto Gourmet Taxi” is now in service, in which a taxi driver with extensive knowledge of Kumamoto guides you to local good-eating places as well as must-see sites. Various courses are available. If one reason you are in Kumamoto is to enjoy local dishes, it is a perfect service for you!
*The information herein is as of June 2019.