You may have been to Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido, and may even proclaim yourself to be a true lover of Japanese culture, people or history — a Japanophile, or the Japanese equivalent, ‘shinnichi’ (親日). However, you wouldn’t call yourself a true fan unless you’ve been to Kyushu.
Earlier this year, AirAsia launched a new route to Kyushu. As we are now just in time for the city’s autumn and winter seasons, here are nine new ways to enjoy Japan’s third largest island at its most beautiful.
1. Go Nuts For Chestnuts And Gather Them
Take a trip to Sanze Village’s Ideno Sightseeing Chestnut Garden in Saga City, which is filled with 1,600 chestnut trees. You will be equipped with a pair of tongs and buckets (which is lent to you for free), so you can take a slow stroll whilst looking for sweet chestnuts with big grains on the ground. However, choosing to take home your chestnuts will cost about 700 yen per kilogramme.
Otherwise, feel free to enjoy some chestnut-related delicacies such as chestnut buns, shishi soup (with boar meat), salt-grilled rainbow trout, rice balls and steamed rice with chestnuts.
Clearly something fun and light for the family, but note that it is only open for a limited time — during the weekends and holidays in September.
2. Spot The Bunny And The Stars At Hoshinofurusato Nature Park
There’s only one specific window of time where you can view the moon at its most beautiful — in the fall, and at Hoshinomura. Literally translated to ‘Village of Star Field’, this spot is named after its prime location, where loads of stars are visible in the night sky.
There are two customary things to do here. First, go up to the observatory, which is open to the public at all times except Tuesdays, and marvel at the beauty of the universe. Second, take part in Japan’s old custom of viewing the full moon, an act called Tsukimi.
An extra adorable part of the moon-viewing ritual is that, if you’re lucky, you can see the Moon Rabbit. According to the Japanese, it is said that the pattern on the moon looks similar to a rabbit making Mochi, or sticky rice. Otherwise, this is a fantastic spot for a full-fledged romantic date under the stars.
3. Soak Up The Easy Stress-free Lifestyle At Kurokawa Onsen
Considered one of Japan’s most attractive hot spring towns, one thing you’d notice about this place is that it is completely without the typical neon advertisements, concrete hotels and loud colours that one would be accustomed to in other parts of Japan.
Here, the town maintains a traditional, rustic atmosphere filled with wooden buildings, stone stairs and even a river. The town is filled with public bath houses, so get your yukata and geta sandals on, and if you want, go on a tour of outdoor baths (Rotemburo Meguri), because there are that many to choose from.
Something might catch your attention; maybe a bath located next to a gushing river, or a really huge one that would allow you to fully enjoy your bath, or even historic baths that were once enjoyed by the feudal lords of the Kumamoto Castle.
4. Learn To Appreciate And Live Your Best Life At The Hojoya Festival
Autumn in Kyushu isn’t complete without a trip to Hakozaki Shrine. Here, witness millions of people who have come a long way to give thanks for all their blessings in life and business. Apart from the Shinto rituals that take place, one of the biggest highlights of the festival is the hundreds of stalls lining the path towards the shrine.
Celebrated every year between 12 to 18 September , the festival is said to have originated in the year 720, and was held to commemorate those who had died in wars, and to honour all living things, and above all, the gift of life.
Food-wise, have your fill of traditional festival food such as fried squid, cotton candy, sweets, and Instagram-worthy curly fried potatoes. The stalls will be lit up at sundown, adding to the festive atmosphere.
5. See Where Mother Nature Did One Of Her Best Masterpieces At Yabakei valley
As one of Japan’s Three Wonder Views, Yabakei valley is located in Yamakuni river and boasts a once-in-a-lifetime view. Thanks to multiple volcanic activities a million years ago, there are beautiful cliffs, caves and rock formations that make it a popular spot during fall.
There are more than 60 spots to discover, but the few notable ones include Honyabakei (the longest arched stone bridge in Japan constructed in 1923), Ao no Domon (a hand-carved tunnel through the cliffs made famous in a novel by Kan Kikuchi), the Rakan-ji Temple further downstream, and the most spectacular scenery at Hitomehakkei — a spot wherein eight scenic views can be seen.
Other views include the Keisekien Garden and the Yabakei Aqua Park, where you can give water skiing or wakeboarding a go. If you’re more of a cycler, rent a bicycle on the Maple Yaba, and cycle through a disused railway.
6. Follow God’s Footsteps At Takachiho-kyou
If you’re a fan of Japanese mythology, then the canyon on the Gokase River called Takachiho-kyou is a must-see. Legend has it that Takachiho is the land where Ninigi descended from the heavens, sent by Amaterasu, the sun goddess. It contains the Ama-no-Iwato shrine, which is, according to myth, the location of the cave where Amaterasu hid until Ame-no-Uzume lured her out.
Apart from its breathtaking autumn foliage, consider renting a boat so you can row through impressive columnar joints caused by previous volcanic eruptions, and catch glimpses of the Manai Falls (one of Japan’s 100 Most Beautiful Waterfalls). Otherwise, take a kilometre-long promenade and take in all of Takachiho’s beauty.
7. Pay Tribute To One Of The Best Mangas Ever Produced
If you’re a lover of Japanese comics, you might have come across the story of Hotarubi no Mori e. It tells the story of a six-year-old girl named Hotaru Takegawa, who gets lost in a forest inhabited by a yamagami (mountain spirit), as well as a yokai (strange apparitions based on Japanese folklore). She is found by a mask-wearing, human-like entity named Gin, who informs Hotaru that he will disappear forever if he is touched by a human.
Its setting in the manga, as well as its subsequent anime film, was based on a shrine in Kyushu, which is the Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine. So, if you’re a fan, be sure to stop by this shrine and take photographs!
To travel is to also taste, so when you’re in Kyushu during the winter season, be sure to stop by for one of Japan’s most luxurious delicacies: fugu (puffer fish) sashimi.
Known locally and internationally for being a deadly and highly poisonous fish, it is a dish that only exceptionally skilled chefs can master after having gone through years of studies as well as regular stringent certification processes. The word ‘fugu’ — closely resembling ‘fuku’ — means good fortune and is served as a lucky charm. Kyushu is famous for being one of the best fresh fugu-producing areas which sells them at a moderate price, so be sure to get a dose of luck when you’re here!
9. Horse Around For Some Cherry Blossom Meat
The Kumamoto Prefecture in western Kyushu is famous for the most unlikely of things: its horse meat, which is also known as sakura nikku (literally translated as cherry blossom meat). This mountainous area is home to rich grassland, ideal for breeding free-ranging cattle, horses and especially wild horses.
Here, you will find horse meat restaurants at almost every corner. Suganoya, the city’s most famous horse restaurant, has such an extensive menu that it might take a while to work through it, as it serves every kind of horse parts, from horse steaks to sukiyaki, horse sushi to sashimi.
For adventurous eaters, the heart, drained blood vessels, intestines and others may pique your interests. Just a gentle reminder that this is all raw, but it goes down nicely with the local Kumamoto beer, the Hinokuni ale.
If you’re up for more, head over to Ramu, where you can have horse tartar mixed with an egg and fermented natto beans. For a meal fit for a king, head to Osama Shokudo (King’s Kitchen), where they serve uma horumon teishoku — horse intestines in a miso broth with rice. It’s not that bad!