Kyushu Awaits! Discover What Japan Has to Offer with This Fukuoka, Oita, and Kumamoto Travel Course
Kyushu is an island in the southwest of Japan. It’s an enchanting place that’s blessed by abundant nature, bounties from the sea and mountains, hot springs that heal the mind and body, and popular sightseeing spots like the island’s many historic buildings. In this article, we’ll present a recommended 2 day/3 night travel course around Fukuoka, Oita, and Kumamoto that’s perfect for first-time visitors to Japan! Everything in this guide is easy to understand for people who are just starting to discover the country, including ways to access points of interest as well as a treasure trove of information ranging from trivia to in-depth explanations. Additionally, we’ll present many little-known but wonderful tourist spots that will make you want to return again and again!
Nov 29 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
This guide primarily makes use of public transportation like trains and buses, which make it that much easier to move around Kyushu. Besides names of places worth visiting, you’ll also find information on local foods, accommodations, the most photogenic spots in the area, and much more! Get ready to discover the beauty of Kyushu!
* Written in collaboration with the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization.
Welcome to Kyushu!
Kyushu is made up of seven prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. Among them, Fukuoka is probably the most easily accessible, taking in direct flights from all over Asia, including Thailand, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, etc. The great thing about Kyushu is that it offers so much more than just amazing tourist spots. It also boasts many local cuisines which you won’t be able to get enough of. On top of that, the people there are some of the friendliest and kindest souls you’ll ever meet.
In this guide, we’ll kick things off by first talking about Fukuoka, a region popular across Japan and beyond for its easy access, then move on to spots like Yufuin in Oita, which boasts the second largest hot spring water output in all of Japan, or Kumamoto’s Kumamoto Castle, famous for its rare black color. We’ll also mention the Aso Caldera, one of the largest such formations in the entire world. The guide will focus on the names of all the destinations, photo spots, delicious local dishes, recommended accommodations, and anything else you’ll need to make your trip to Kyushu perfect! Simply follow this course and you’ll soon be making the memories of a lifetime!
First Day: Exploring Fukuoka (Dazaifu – Hakata)
Fukuoka Prefecture is located in the north of Kyushu. It’s one of the most popular areas in all of Japan, as well as the economic and cultural center of Kyushu. In a way, it’s the gateway to the island.
Needless to say, Fukuoka Prefecture is beloved by tourists. One of the reasons why is because the area lets visitors experience everything from the comfort of modern cities to traditional townscapes that are keeping history alive. It is also the place of origin of the thick tonkotsu pork broth ramen, the uniquely soft udon noodles, the spicy-caviar-like mentaiko (seasoned cod roe), and many other delicious dishes!
In our case, we reached Fukuoka Airport by flying in directly from Haneda Airport, which took 1 hour and 40 minutes, but there are also direct flights from various other cities in Asia. Travelers with the JR Rail Pass can board the shinkansen at Tokyo Station and reach Hakata Station in Fukuoka in 5 hours as well! Since Fukuoka has taken on the role of Kyushu’s terminal, it’s very easy to reach other prefectures from it. That’s why we recommend starting the exploration of Kyushu in Fukuoka.
Our tour starts in the morning! Many stores still won’t be open by then, so we’ll use that time wisely and head to Dazaifu, home to a famous shrine devoted to the deity of wisdom.
The Charming Old Town of Dazaifu (8:00 am)
Dazaifu is located about 14km southeast from the city of Fukuoka. It’s a popular international tourist spot as well as the old capital of Kyushu, boasting a rich history and a shrine that’s known as a spiritual spot to the local population. It’s also very easy to reach. Simply take the Dazaifu Liner bus from Fukuoka Airport's International Terminal (510 yen one way), and you’ll reach the city in just 25 minutes. Visitors can also take the train from the Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station and get off at Dazaifu Station on the Nishitetsu Dazaifu Line via the Nishitetsu Tenjin Omuta Line (410 yen one way), which should take about 35 minutes.
After reaching Dazaifu Station, you will see a street lined with many shops, restaurants, and photogenic torii (shrine) gates that give the area a very old-timey feeling. You should arrive at Dazaifu at around 8:00 am. There shouldn’t be many people around at this hour, giving you the chance to take some amazing pictures. Once that’s done, walk across the boulevard to reach the first destination: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine!
A Visit to the Sacred Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (8:15 am)
Dazaifu Tenmangu, which boasts a 1,100-year-long history, is one of the most important shrines in Japan. The main shrine building was built atop of the grave of Sugawara Michizane, who’s enshrined at Dazaifu Tenmangu as the deity Tenjin.
After arriving at the destination, you will first come face to face with the famous red Taiko-bashi bridge, which stands above the Shinji Pond and leads visitors into the shrine. It is said that by crossing the waters of the pond, all of your past or future sins will be purged from your body and soul, allowing you to enter the domain of the gods at the other end of the bridge. The deep vermilion color of Taiko-bashi creates quite a contrast with the surrounding nature scenery, making it a very popular photo spot.
Once you pass through the two-storied gate, you'll arrive at the beautiful yet imposing main shrine. Since Dazaifu Tenmangu venerates the deity of wisdom, many students come here to pray for academic success, and it’s not unusual for the shrine to see 10 million worshipers in a single year. Inside the shrine you will also find the statue of the sacred ox, said to bless all those who pat its head with wisdom and intelligence.
The shrine sells many souvenirs such as ema, which are painted wooden plaques that people use to pray at shrines or temples, or which people offer to shrines or temples as thanks after their wish has come true. You can also buy talismans which ward off evil, attract good fortune, grant you divine protection, or bring you all other sorts of luck. Also, behind the Dazaifu main shrine, you’ll find the Tenkai Inari Shrine, another spiritual spot. It’s relatively unknown, but it has a hallowed atmosphere about it and its many, deep vermilion torii gates more than make it worth a visit.
Discover Tenkai Inari Shrine - Dazaifu’s Best Kept Secret! (9:00 am)
After passing by the teahouse at the back of the Dazaifu Tenmangu main shrine, you’ll see vermilion torii gates lining up an uphill road like signposts. This marks the entrance to the Tenkai Inari Shrine.
The road leading up to the shrine looks like it climbs up towards the heavens while being flanked by red torii gates and red-and-white flags. Midway, the stone steps get narrower and steeper, so please be careful as you climb up while admiring the surrounding nature.
You might be familiar with Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine and its vermilion Senbon Torii (the famous row of about 1,000 torii gates), and it just so happens that Tenkai Inari’s deity, Ukanomitama, said to be the oldest goddess in Kyushu who brings bountiful harvests, was divided and introduced to the shrine from Fushimi.
After praying at the shrine, go back the same way you came, and head on to get some invigorating coffee.
Admire the Beautiful Architecture at Starbucks Dazaifu Tenmangu Omotesando Branch (10:00 am)
After you finish things up at the shrines, there is one more spot you cannot miss: Starbucks' Dazaifu Tenmangu Omotesando Branch! Designed by famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the building embodies the idea of “natural materials coming together to merge tradition with modernity.” The store’s style is very modern but, interestingly, it actually mixes harmoniously with the traditional townscape of Dazaifu.
The Starbucks Dazaifu Tenmangu Omotesando Branch is a unique structure characterized by more than 2,000 pieces of timber laid out in overlapping layers stretching out from the front to the back of the building. This layout has made this Starbucks famous across Japan, and it’s now a popular place for tourists to relax. After a day of sightseeing, there’s nothing better than a delicious cup of coffee! Be sure to try their Espresso Non-Tea Yuzu Citrus (420 - 540 yen)!
Enjoy Dazaifu’s Famous Japanese Sweets at Kasanoya (10:30 am)
After relaxing at Starbucks, you might be in the mood for something sweet, in which case head on over across the street to Kasanoya.
No visit to the city would be complete without tasting some of their local specialties. If you look around, you’ll see many people in front of Kasanoya, eating their little sweets with gusto. But what are they exactly? Let’s go find out!
The sweets are the can’t-miss Umegae Mochi rice cakes (130 yen). Deliciously doughy and filled with just the right amount of sweet red bean paste, they are a Kasanoya bestseller. In a single weekday, the store sells over 3,000 of them, and during the New Year, that number can surpass 10,000! Most people eat the rice sweets in front of the store as soon as they buy them (please do not eat while walking), but it’s recommended you enjoy them inside the Kasanoya cafe!
The store’s interior has been decorated using antique Hoshino folk art furniture hailing from Hoshino Village in Fukuoka Prefecture. It makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time as soon as you enter the store. Kasanoya actually has a very long history, dating back to the 11th year of the Taisho period (1922). It originally opened as an inn, though it already sold Umegae Mochi back then, making these sweets the traditional taste of Dazaifu itself.
The store’s most popular menu item is the Matcha & Umegae Mochi Set (650 yen). Using only the highest quality matcha (green tea), the set creates the perfect harmony between the green tea’s bold flavors and the rice cake’s sweetness. There’s nothing better than drinking green tea while admiring Kasanoya’s beautiful garden.
Besides cafe items, Kasanoya also serves Japanese dishes, and sells the Umegae Mochi in packs of 5 and 10.
But that’s not all! The store also has cute souvenirs for sale, from Japanese-style sundries to dolls wearing silk dresses made from used kimono cloth. You’re sure to find some amazing mementos of your travel here!
Once you’ve enjoyed some Dazaifu specialties, why not take pictures around the boulevard and check out some of the local stores? There are more tourist spots in the area, but most places close at 5:00 pm, so please be mindful of the time as you enjoy yourself.
And this concludes the Dazaifu portion of today’s course. But we still have much to see, so let’s hop on the train and go to Hakata.
Fall in Love with a Charming Inn and the Local Food in the Lively City of Hakata (12:00 pm)
Hakata, located in central Fukuoka, is a lively place known for its many tourist spots, shopping destinations, its airport, and its port. But there is another thing that all guests to Hakata have to experience: the delicious local cuisine, like tonkotsu ramen, udon noodles, or tori nabe (chicken hot pot). Don’t miss out on any of those!
However, before we start, let’s leave our heavy bags at the inn.
Feel the Spirit of Japan at Kashima Honkan (12:15 pm)
When it comes to accommodations in Fukuoka, we recommend the warm, cozy, and hospitable Kashima Honkan" inn, conveniently located just a 7-minute train ride from Fukuoka Airport via the Fukuoka Kuko Subway Line, and within walking distance of many interesting tourist spots.
The inn doesn’t just look nice; it also exudes a certain Japanese charm. Once you step inside, you’ll instantly fall in love with the delightful architecture in the Taisho Roman style, which dates back to the Taisho period (1912 – 1926) and blends Japanese and Western aesthetics. Fun fact about Kashima Honkan: it was actually the first registered tangible cultural property in all of Fukuoka!
The rooms boast different interiors and you can choose the one that’s right for you, from the spacious Standard Japanese-style Room (2 - 7 occupants) to the 4.5 - 6.5 tatami Japanese-style Room (2 - 3 occupants). The above picture shows a 4-person room which comes with many amenities, including free Wi-Fi, and is the perfect place to clear your mind and relax.
Guests can make use of the complimentary yukata robes located in the back of the room to really get into the Japanese spirit. Male and female baths are located on the first floor and operate between the hours of 4:00 pm and 12:00 am. If, however, you aren’t a fan of baths, there is also a 24-hour private shower room available on the premises.
Additionally, you’ll find a complimentary drink corner in the lobby with coffee, tea, green tea, and cold water.
While staying at Kashima Honkan, you can gaze out the windows or the corridors and enjoy the Japanese inner garden to your heart’s content. The garden is lit up during the night, creating a whole other atmosphere than what you can experience during the day. Many foreign visitors stay at this inn, so you’ll find English signs everywhere. There’s no need to worry about language barriers at Kashima Honkan. Nowhere else will you be able to experience the kind of relaxation that this inn offers. And you just can’t beat their prices with one overnight weekday stay costing 3,000 yen per person for groups of two!
After leaving your bags at the inn, you might be feeling hungry, so let’s go try some of Hakata’s delicious dishes!!
Enjoy Udon in a Kettle at Hakata Akachokobe (1:00 pm)
After a 3-minute walk from the inn, you will arrive at the place where you'll have lunch: the udon noodle restaurant Hakata Akachokobe that’s simply overflowing with local charm! Hakata might be most famous for their tonkotsu ramen, but their udon is also very popular! However, Akachokobe is different than all other restaurants because they don’t serve their noodles in regular dishes. Instead, they use kettles!
We recommend going with the Zubora Udon (660 yen) which roughly translates to “sloppy udon noodles.” As you can see from the above picture, it’s noodles served in a kettle with a side of tsuyu soup with plenty of toppings. It’s just one example of the restaurant’s unique, original menu.
“In the past, there weren’t that many udon restaurants in Fukuoka that stayed open until late, so we are sort of pioneers for operating well into the night,” the manager of Akachokobe told us. Once it gets dark, the restaurant transforms into an udon izakaya (pub) that also serves other Japanese dishes and alcohol.
All the noodles here are handmade, and their unique doughy flavor comes from using a traditional stone mill in the process. You’ll never find udon as tasty or original as the one at Akachokobe.
The udon is served with a cold tsuyu soup with all kinds of toppings, including bonito flakes, green spring onions, or natto (sticky, fermented soy beans). You eat it by picking up a few noodles with your chopsticks out of the kettle and mixing them with the soup before slurping them down. Some people might not like natto, but this natto is actually not very sticky and works very well with the tsuyu.
If, however, you’re in the mood for something warmer, try the Motsu Zubora Udon (880 yen) which replaces the natto with motsu (beef and pork offal). Another popular menu item at the restaurant is the Genso (“Founder”) Keema Curry Udon (720 yen) which you can enjoy with or without soup.
Shop at Canal City Hakata (2:30 pm)
Once you've filled up on delicious udon, you can explore Canal City Hakata, located just a 7-minute walk from Akachokobe. It’s a gigantic shopping complex housing many shops, restaurants, souvenir stores, a cinema, a game arcade, and more. Whether you’re after shopping, food, or fun, Canal City has got you covered!
Although it is a shopping mall, it has so many photogenic locations perfect for Instagram! With its cool design, it doesn’t matter where you point the camera, you will always take a great picture. But the B1F Sun Plaza Stage fountain is especially recommended. Because it’s surrounded by a semicircle of buildings, you can take amazing photos there from pretty much any angle!
Canal City is divided into many areas, each housing all sorts of different stores. If you get turned around, simply visit the information desk on the first floor. And don’t forget to check out the duty-free counter next to it!
Once you’ve shopped all you can shop, sit down and enjoy the fountain show that combines a water display with music. The show takes place every 30 minutes between 10:00 am and 10:00 pm*, and each one is different. The best place to view them is from the second-story terrace in front of the fountain square. Other performances and special events are also held there from time to time.
*Between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, shows include music only at the “00” minute mark, not the “30” minute mark. Between 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm, the fountain show changes to 3D projection mapping. Note that this schedule is subject to change.
Find Your Favorite Noodles at the Ramen Stadium (5:00 pm)
On the fifth floor of Canal City, you’ll find the Ramen Stadium which gathers ramen restaurants from all over Japan. Naturally, this also includes those serving the famous Hakata tonkotsu ramen. Let’s take a closer look at two interesting restaurants there!
First, Let’s Treat Ourselves to Delicious Tonkotsu Ramen at Shodai Hide-chan!
Not eating tonkotsu ramen in Fukuoka is basically the same as never visiting the prefecture at all! That’s why your first stop at the Ramen Stadium should be Shodai Hide-chan, a tonkotsu ramen place which boasts an extensive noodle menu with plenty of toppings. Buy your meal ticket at the machine and go inside!
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to operate a meal ticket machine. There are English signs available explaining the entire process.
This is the restaurant’s bestseller, the Hakata Ippon-Nose (1,100 yen), which roughly means “topped Hakata.” It’s tonkotsu ramen topped with a big piece of barbecued pork. It’s unbelievably delicious! The tonkotsu soup is so thick and rich because the restaurant uses pork legs, knuckles, and spine to make the broth. The noodles themselves are extremely fine, which is a Hakata specialty, and topped with bean sprouts and spring onions.
However, the best part of this dish is the great big piece of char siu. It's the size of an entire plate! But this isn’t the kind of barbecued pork you might be used to. It’s actually made from pork cheek meat, a cut that you don't find a lot of on a pig, which is then trimmed of fat and simmered until it’s soft and juicy. It’s one of the most delicious things ever!
Try the Healthy Tomato Ramen at Ganso Tomato Ramen Sanmi
The next destination is Ganso Tomato Ramen Sanmi, which boasts a special healthy menu! Their ramen is different than regular noodle dishes because it uses a tomato soup, which isn’t just delicious but is also good for the body.
This is the Cheese Tomato Ramen (780 yen), which comes topped with pork and potherbs. The pasta sauce-like red base and the white cheese create a delicious contrast as well as a delicious symphony of flavors! The secret is using authentic powdered Grana Padano cheese imported directly from Italy to create this top-of-the-line dish. The soup is also flavored with garlic, creating a unique taste that you won’t soon forget. Additionally, the dish only uses olive oil, making it the health-conscious customer’s choice.
The noodles contain no additives and work very well with the soup. As a bonus, you can choose the firmness of your noodles and get a noodle refill once you slurp them all down for just an extra 150 yen. Also, midway through your meal, you can experiment with different flavors by adding the restaurant’s original garlic oil to your ramen. Finally, you can order rice and cheese and turn the whole thing into a delicious risotto!
Ganso Tomato Ramen Sanmi has stores all across Fukuoka, not just in Canal City, and recently opened a new 24-hour Tenjin central location in October 2019!
Interestingly, the restaurant distributes discount cards to random customers, and all of our readers who want one only have to say so to the staff while mentioning this article! Just note that the number of cards is limited and the restaurant does not distribute them during rush hour.
Look Up at the Night Sky Over the Romantic Port of Hakata (7:00 pm)
Did you know that the night sky over Hakata is very beautiful? To find that out for yourself, simply take the No. 90 or 99 Nishitetsu bus to the Hakata Futo terminal (when arriving from the Kashima inn, get on at Gion-cho). Just be careful: the bus only has announcements in Japanese, so some people may want to take a taxi instead.
After a short walk, you should see the Bayside Place Hakata shopping center, housing many souvenir stores, delicious restaurants, and a market selling fresh produce and seafood. Nearby, you’ll also find the relaxing Namiha no Yu hot spring.
Shutterbugs should take this opportunity to head on over to the square at the opposite side of Bayside Place. Along the way, you’ll be able to relax by taking in the entire romantic atmosphere of the night sky over the beautiful Port of Hakata. Everyone should experience the calming quiet of this part of the city!
Once you’ve had your fill of the area, take the same bus to return to the inn, which will conclude your first day exploring Kyushu. Did you enjoy it? Be sure to get lots of sleep because the next day, you'll see just a little bit more of the city of Fukuoka before heading to Oita!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.