Return to Wonder – Japan Endless Discovery
Being short on time doesn’t mean that you have to be short on experiences.
Kyushu might be Japan’s third-largest island, but there’s a lot you can see on a trip there that won’t require more than a couple of hours driving.
From vibrant cities that have deep cultural and religious histories to stunning landscapes and natural beauty, every area in Kyushu feels wildly unique and each one would be more than worthy of a place on your bucket list.
We spent a few days in Kyushu and, for some of our recommendations, take a look at some of the places we visited while we were there.
Fukuoka City is the fifth largest city in Japan, but it’s arguably one of the fastest growing in the whole country.
Geographically, Fukuoka is actually closer to both Seoul and Shanghai than it is to Tokyo. But it’s just a short flight from Tokyo, and we think it’s well worth a visit.
One of the things Fukuoka is renowned for is its good – and cheap – food. From ramen to sushi there’s a lot to tuck into, not least one of the area’s specialty dishes ‘goma saba’.
Another massive attraction of Fukuoka is that it’s home to one of Japan’s most important Tenmangu Shrines, the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
Tenmangu Shrines are dedicated to the scholar spirit Sugawara Michizane. If you see students tapping the head of a bull statue at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, it’s because they’re asking for good luck with their exams.
More than 400 years ago, the discovery of a certain type of clay – kaolin clay – in the town of Arita was the start of what the area is now famous for: ceramics.
When you walk through Arita’s old town now, streets are lined with store after store selling their own unique and beautiful ceramics. From tea pots and crockery, to chopstick holders, vases, and ornaments.
Twice a year, Arita is home to a renowned ceramics festival. When I visited, my guide for the day told me that she had even driven over an hour and a half to Arita earlier in the year to visit one of those festivals.
And if you’re looking for a unique experience, you can even visit a pottery studio and try your own hand at pottery-making.
Yanagawa is located in Fukuoka Prefecture, and it’s been dubbed ‘the Venice of Kyushu’.
Waterways that were originally built as irrigation channels run through Yanagawa, and span 930 kilometres. Once a year, the water is even drained so the waterways can be cleaned, before being put back in again.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Yanagawa is to ride along the waterways on a river cruise. A local guide punts you through the maze of water – which includes going under several low-hanging bridges that you need to duck – and, if you’re lucky, might even sing you a local ditty along the way.
Yanagawa is also home to Ohana, a beautiful hotel with magnificent buildings and stunning gardens. On the menu at Ohana is a specialty dish of steamed eel, which is absolutely worth trying.
One of the most impressive parts of Unzen is Unzen-Amakusa National Park – which was established back in the 1930s.
The national park is best known for Mount Unzen, an active volcano, and boasts diverse landscapes, a fascinating culture and history, and even gothic churches.
The Unzen Ropeway is a great activity to put on the bucket list if you’re planning on visiting Unzen. The three-minute cable car ride to the top of Mount Myoken is stunning from start to finish, and the views from the top are breathtaking.
Then there’s Unzen’s ‘Hell’ area. Here, sulphurous hot springs puff steam out of the ground against a backdrop of eerie-looking terrain (which explains the ‘Hell’ connotation).
If you head to the Kujuku Islands, you’ll find a little slice of marine paradise without even having to leave Kyushu.
This chain of islands is actually comprised of over 200 islands, even though the Japanese word “kujuku” translates to English as “99”.
Impressive ships – which have been suitably named things like ‘Pearl Queen’ – offer tours for visitors, where you ride along the water that meanders in between all of the different islands.
And if you’re still there later in the afternoon, the nearby Tenkaiho Observatory is the perfect place to take in all the beautiful colours of the sun setting behind the islands.
Nagasaki is a vibrant, port city where culture and history are in abundance.
Confucian temples and local restaurants are just some of the ways that the strong Chinese influence on Nagasaki can be felt.
Buildings like the Oura Church hark back to the city’s Christian history. Oura Church is actually considered to be the oldest standing Christian church in all of Japan.
And Dejima is an area in Nagasaki City where Portuguese missionaries and Dutch merchants once lived and carried out business with local Japanese people.