One of the most beautiful journeys through Japan’s countryside is the trip between Oita prefecture and Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu.
Kyushu has four very distinct seasons, much like most of Japan, but the trip through Kumamoto is arguably at its most beautiful in the summer months as opposed to the winter season, as we discovered on our tricky journeys through Kyushu. The winter can be bitterly cold and with much snow, so be well prepared – and that means if you are to drive through the prefectures, bring chains for your tires and/or request from the hire company that your car will come equipped with them.
The first stop of our trip took us through the south of Kyushu, traveling from Kagoshima into Miyazaki, up north into Oita and visiting Beppu and the other famous onsen of Yufuin.
Another excellent trip that we strongly recommend is our trip from Oita, through the centre of Kyushu into Kumamoto. This takes you a excellent tour through Daikanbo, a giant caldera that sits just outside of Kumamoto city; and through some of the most beautiful Japanese towns in the country, including Kurokawa Onsen, famous for its hot springs as well. Kyushu is famous for its baths, so a trip to any prefecture here should also have visit to onsen on your itinerary.
Starting off from Beppu, one recommended trip on the itinerary is a stop off at Yunohira Hot Spring resort. Yunohira sits on a mountain and amongst its stone pavements includes much history and onsen baths to be enjoyed. One recommended stop is the Nurukawa-onsen ryokan, which contains just 8 rooms but does have excellent onsen water which is said to be famous for healing damaged skin. This famous villeage has several hot springs which can be enjoyed for 200 yen.
From there, a trip to Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi is well worth a visit.
Yume, which means dream in Japanese, is a stunning footbridge right in the middle of Kyushu. One of the longest foot bridges in the world, your view here will depend much on the weather at the time, so prepare the time of your visit well. In the early morning you are likely to see more. This suspension bridge is 777 metres long and costs 500 yen for a visit, but you will really enjoy the view of the forest underneath as you head over. Whilst here, make sure you eat the Kokonoe Yume burger, famous to the locals. (Telephone: 0973-73-3800; Address: 879-4911)
As you move swiftly on, consider a visit to the Kongoho-ji temple, a truly magnificent place to stop off on the way into our next stop, one of our favourite places in the whole of Japan.
40 minutes away, the stunning Kurokawa Onsen (Telephone: 0967-44-0036), sits centrally in Kyushu and is a magnificent village full of small shops, restaurants, classy onsens and small roads. A truly magicial tourist show piece of Japan, it is worthwhile to visit here for at least two hours to enjoy everything on offer.
There are two onsens that we highly recommend here, the first is the famous Yamamizuki, located on one of the small roads just outside the village (be careful here, roads are small); and secondly Hozantei. This is again quite far away from the centre, nearly 3km to be exact, but the water is smooth and the surroundings are magical.
A 40 minute drive will then take you far and high into the mountains (be really careful, you can easily get caught out if your GPRS isn’t up to date and end up driving through the middle of nowhere) and eventually reaching Daikanbo. Our view was heavily restricted due to the snow, but what awaits you at the top of the mountain at Daikanbo Lookout (869-2313, Kumamoto) is one of the stunning views in all of Japan.
From Aso-san, make sure you have a chance to visit the stunning shrine. This is well worth an hour and is a great example of a beautiful temple.
A trip of approximately 30 minutes will take you to Komezuka (869-2313, Kumamoto) a 954 volcanic hill in the middle of the caldera. Again, during the summer months, this is best viewed.
From Komezuka, it’s time to head into Kumamoto city, on the west side of Kumamoto-ken. Whilst heading in, stop off at Suizenji Koen. This takes an hour from Komezuka, so leave enough time. In Japan it is important to at least visit one garden, such is the extravagence and delight of these parks. Suizenji is a great example of a very well kept garden and lies just a short walk away from Shin-Suizenji station.
A five minute drive will then take you to the famous Kumamoto Castle, from where you will be able to see one of the most beautiful Japanese castles.
Be sure to look out for Kumamon, he is a hero in Japan…
We then went on to drive into Nagasaki, so please viewour next blog post for more information about that; but we were so happy with our stay in these two prefectures we recommend a visit to everybody at some point.