Exploring Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu

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Exploring Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu
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Tags: accommodationscastlesdestinationsgourmetkumamotokyushumuseumsshoppingshrines

Located on the western part of Kyushu Island is the prefecture of Kumamoto, which is a well known mountain hot spring resort area. There are five main wards or districts that make up the prefecture of Kumamoto, and each of them hold their own unique tourism products.

Probably one of the least visited parts of Japan for many travelers, it is now the best time to start making plans to explore this unseen part of Japan. Kumamoto may not be your ordinary Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, hence you will be exposed to a whole new side of Japan when you visit this beautiful destination.

Kumamoto Castle, before the earthquake. Photo by Elminium on Flickr. CC by 2.0.

Kumamoto Castle

Known as one one of the finest and most beautiful castles of Japan, the Kumamoto Castle is indeed a sight to behold. The origins of this castle dates back to the yer 1461, which now has a rich 600 year history, and experience an earthquake in 2016. It is now undergoing major renovations,and will be fully restored by 2019 pr 2020.

Kumamoto Castle is also considered as one of three premier castles of Japan, making this one of the must-visit castles in this part of Japan. Currently due to the renovations and restorations, the inner keep is closed to the public, but you can still visit and see the castle from the outside areas.

Kumamoto Castle

Address: Japan, 〒860-0002 Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Chuo, Honmaru, 1−1

Phone: +81 96-352-5900

Hours: 8.30 AM to 5.30 PM

Tickets: ¥500 Adults, ¥200 kids

To Get Here: 20 minutes by train from Kumamoto Station, 20 minutes walk to the castle


Entrance to Kato Shrine in Kumamoto. Photo by Ladyous on Flickr. CC by 2.0.

Kato Shrine

One of the important shrines for the Kumamoto prefecture, the Kato Shrine is built around the Kumamoto Castle grounds, but only in 1871. Anyone who is visiting the castle, will also include the Kato Shrine as part of the visit.

When the shrine was built, it was named Nishikiyama Shrine, but after being destroyed in the Seinan War in 1877, the shrine was rebuilt and again in 1886, and in 1909, it was officially renamed to Kato Shrine after Kato Kiyomasa, one of the castle keepers in 1586. This shrine is also well known for the beautiful views of the Kumamoto Castle.

Katō Shrine

Address:2-1, Honmaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto, 860 0002

Phone: +81 96-352-7316

Hours: Always Open

Tickets: Free Admission

To Get Here: 20 minutes by train from Kumamoto Station, 20 minutes walk to shrine


Sakuranobaba Johsaien

Shopping street of Sakuranobaba Johsaien. Photo by Wikipedia. CC by 3.0.

Located next to the Kumamoto Castle is the tourism facility of Sakuranobaba Johsaien. This is a one stop center where you can get all the information about Kumamoto, the castle, shrine and other tourism products. Generally, this is a proper tourist information stop, which is built in a traditional Edo Japanese architecture.

One of the great things about Sakuranobaba Johsaien is that they offer an area for shopping, which consist of 23 shops that make up restaurants, cafes, food products, souvenirs and information. This means that you can visit here to experience the best of Kumamoto. This is a great place is you have limited time to explore the entire Kumamoto prefecture.

Sakuranobaba Johsaien

Address: 〒860-0008 Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Chuo, Ninomaru, 1−1-1

Tel: +81 96-288-5600

Hours: 9.00 AM to 10.00 PM

Tickets: Free Admission

To Get Here: 20 minutes by train from Kumamoto Station, 20 minutes walk to this place


The beautiful landscaped gardens of Suizen-ji Jōju-en. Public Domain CC0 1.0.

Suizen-ji Jōju-en Garden

For those who love parks, this Japanese garden in Kumamoto is highly recommended to visit. It is called Suizen-ji Jōju-en, created by Lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi in 1636 as a tea retreat. One unique feature here is the main Tsukiyama or man made hill, which is actually a representation of Mount Fuji.

Places of interest here include a beautiful pond, filled with large colorful Japanese Carps, a large arched bridge, the Izumi Shrine, and a beautiful Kokin-Denju-no-Ma tea house. There is also a large statue of Hosokawa Tadatoshi, the creator of this garden.

Local tourist come here to witness the sheer beauty and skillful landscaping of this gardens as it is well known among the Japanese people. Suizen-ji Jōju-en has also been declared by the Japanese national government as a historic site of scenic beauty in Japan.

Suizen-ji Jōju-en

Address: 〒862-0956 Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Chūō-ku, Suizenji Kōen, 8−1

Hours: 7.30 AM to 6.00 PM

Tickets: ¥400

To Get Here: 30 minutes by local train from Kumamoto Station


The main museum hall in Kumamoto. Public Domain CC0 1.0.

Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art

No visit is complete until you have visited a local museum, and the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art is one of the recommended places to visit. Located around the vicinity of the Kumamoto Castle, you can easily spend an entire day in this area, visiting the many attractions around the main castle area.

This museum focuses on the traditional arts and crafts of Kumamoto, while exhibits date back to prehistoric until the modern contemporary period. On occasion, there are are special exhibit, workshops and activities ongoing, hence when you visit, be sure to inquire on what is available.

One of the collections on permanent display is the Hosokawa Collection-Eiseibunko Gallery, which many local Japanese come to see artifacts, sculptures, traditional folding screens and paintings. Visit only if you love Japanese history and museums.

Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art

Address: Japan, 〒860-0008 Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Chuo, Ninomaru, 2

Phone: +81 96-352-2111

Hours: 9.30 AM to 5.15 PM, Monday Closed

Tickets: ¥420 Adults, Kids Free

To Get Here: 20 minutes by train from Kumamoto Station, 20 minutes walk to the museum


The beautiful Kurokawa Onsen in the Aso Area. Public Domain CC0 1.0.

Best Onsen or Hot Spring in Kumamoto

There are a total of nine reputable hot springs or Onsen found all over Kumamoto, and each of them providing a unique experience. However, to get to any of them, you need to travel out of the main Kumamoto city area.

In total, there are 1,420 hot spring sources all over Kumamoto, hence many places offer various types of Onsen. Most of them are located in hotels, but the real experience lies in the natural hot prince source and the landscape. For those serious about experiencing a proper and traditional Onsen in Kumamoto, below is a list of the recommended Onsen around Kumamoto prefecture.

  1. Yamaga Onsen (North)
  2. Kikuchi Onsen (North)
  3. Tamana Onsen (North)
  4. Uchinomaki Onsen (Aso Area)
  5. Tsuetate Onsen (Aso Area)
  6. Kurokawa Onsen (Aso Area)
  7. Ota Onsen (Aso Area)
  8. Minami Aso Onsen (Aso Area)
  9. Hitoyoshi Onsen (South Area)
  10. Kamiamakusa Onsen (Amakusa Area)

What an Onsen looks like in the winter. Photo Wikipedia. CC by 2.0.


Best Time To Visit Kumamoto

While it is possible to visit Kumamoto throughout the year, the best time is still from the end of February till August during the Spring and Summer period. This is when you can experience the Sakura or Cherry Blossom period, and the many summer festivals held around Kumamoto.

Why during these times is because the weather is perfect for traveling around, and the optimum time would be of course in the peak of the Sakura season.


Solaseed Air, one of the local airlines that fly to Kumamoto. Photo Wikipedia. CC by 2.0.

How to get to Kumamoto

As Kumamoto is located almost towards the western most part of Japan, the cheapest and best way to travel here is via the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo or Osaka. A journey from Tokyo will take around six hours and cost you about ¥26,000.

If you want to cut your travel time, there are numerous flights available from all over Japan. But if you are flying in from Tokyo, the Haneda Airport is your main gateway with airlines like JAL, Solaseed Air, and All Nippon Air or ANA operating flights to Kumamoto. Only Jetstar Japan flies from Narita Airport, and flights take around one and a half hours.

For more information about this beautiful destination in Japan, please visit the official Kumamoto Tourism website which is in English.

 

David Hogan Jr
David Hogan Jr
A multiple award-winning travel writer, blogger and social media enthusiast. He has been traveling to Japan since 1990 and all over the world for his work. His work has been featured on CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Lonely Planet and many other publications. David writes at: http://malaysia-asia.my and is on social media platforms as @MalaysiaAsia

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