25 Best Things to Do in Kumamoto, One of Japan's Most Picturesque Regions
- Published: Nov 13 2020
- Last updated:
If you ever find yourself thinking: "What is Kumamoto known for?" this article will answer your question and satisfy your thirst for knowledge! From its many forested mountains and clear sea to the charm of its shrines and hidden away hot springs, Kumamoto Prefecture is known for being home to a wealth of gorgeous scenery, all so picturesque you won't stop taking photos! Read on to discover the 25 best picturesque spots to visit while in Kumamoto Prefecture!
What to See in Kumamoto
1. Kumamoto Castle - Admire a Traditional Castle Surrounded by Cherry Blossoms
Kumamoto Castle offers one of the most complete castle experiences in Japan, thanks to the variety of its buildings and large castle grounds. The castle was originally built in 1607 and gives many historical clues on how feudal lords lived during the Edo Period, including examples of architecture of those days. Kumamoto Castle is distinguished by the fact it has two towers: both a smaller, auxiliary tower and a main castle tower, which appears from the outside to have three levels, but actually has six floors. Another unique feature of the castle is the Honmaru Goten Palace, which was reconstructed using original methods in 2008 and allows visitors a glimpse of the luxurious ambiance the feudal lord used to receive their guests in. The enchanting Kumamoto Castle was also the stage for many events in Japan's history, such as the Satsuma Rebellion, where samurai fought against the forces of the Meiji Government. Today Kumamoto Castle houses around 800 cherry trees and is a very popular spot for cherry blossom viewing during late March and early April.
*The castle is currently closed for reconstruction. On June 1, 2020, an elevated walkway was opened, allowing tourists to view selected areas of the inner castle grounds. The interior of the castle's main keep is scheduled to be reopened on April 26, 2021.
2. Sakuranobaba Josaien - Eat and Shop in a Historical Castle Town
Sakuranobaba Josaien Castle Town is located at the foot of Kumamoto Castle, and its streets and buildings are modeled on those of an Edo Period castle town. Sakuranobaba Josaien is divided into two different areas: the Kumamoto Castle Museum Wakuwakuza and the Sakura No Koji Shopping Area, and also includes a tourist information center. The first area offers a variety of interactive exhibits that are great for learning about Kumamoto's history and culture, such as the Kumamoto Castle samurai show or the kimono wearing experience. The second area features several traditional shops and restaurants, where visitors can find a wide range of souvenirs and food unique to the Kumamoto region.
3. Mt. Aso - Hike an Emerald-Green Active Volcano
Mount Aso is an active volcano with one of the world's largest calderas, reaching a diameter of 25 km. The Aso Gogaku are the five mountains found at the center of the caldera, among which Mount Nakadake is the only active one to be opened to the public. Mount Nakadake's spectacular crater is 130 m deep and 4 km large, constantly emitting white smoke in the air. The otherwordly surroundings of Mount Nakadake also include the Komezuka, a perfectly shaped volcanic cone covered in bright green grass. Not far from Mount Nakadake, visitors can enjoy one of the most iconic views of Kumamoto; the Kusasenri Plateau, a 785,000-square-meter prairie that grows inside the inactive crater of Mount Eboshi, another of the Aso Five Mountains. The emerald grassland of Kusansenri, and its crystal-clear pond reflecting the sky, is home to grazing cows and horses, making for an idyllic spot to stop for a walk. Finally, if you are thinking of admiring Mount Aso from a distance, Daikanbo is its prime viewpoint, thanks to a 360-degree view that allows visitors to see the entire caldera of Mount Aso.
*The crater area is often partially and sometimes completely closed off due to volcanic gases, bad weather, or the risk of volcanic activity. So, we suggest checking the official website before traveling there.
4. Shirakawa Suigen - Refresh at Japan's Purest Wellspring
Shirakawa Suigen Wellspring is recognized as one of the 100 best natural waters of Japan by the Japanese Ministry of Environment, producing 60 tons of pure water per minute. The spring is part of a renowned cluster of mineral water springs in the southern part of the Aso region, called Minami Aso, giving rise to the Shirakawa River, the river then flows through Kumamoto City. This area is particularly blessed with natural springs thanks to the presence of Mount Aso's impermeable layer of clay and lava, which allows rainwater to collect underground and bubble up to the surface as spring water. The water can be bottled for free, but if this is not enough, know that the location of the Shirakawa Suigen itself is worth a visit. The crystal-clear wellspring is set in a green oasis, surrounded by floating water plants and the serene Shirakawa Yoshimi Shrine.
5. Nagabeta Seabed Road - Drive a Road That Emerges From the Depths of the Sea
Nagabeta Seabed Road is an undersea road that is accessible only at different times of day, depending on the tide. The road is visible during low tide, while it sinks into the depths of the sea during high tide, leaving only the utility poles and electric wires sticking out above the surface of the water. This mysterious undersea road was built in 1974 for the fishermen of the area who cultivate seaweed and shellfish in the Ariake Sea and has since then become one of the most photographed spots in Kumamoto. The best time to visit the Nagabeta Seabed Road is at sunset, when the water reflects the warm hues of the setting sun, offering a superb view of the Ariake Sea. The utility poles that emerge from the water are said to be the inspiration for the train line that appears in Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away.
6. Okoshiki Coast - Relax at One of Japan's Most Charming Seashores
The beauty of the Okoshiki Coast has been known since ancient times and even its name is linked to an old Japanese legend. The legend goes that even the Emperor was so captivated by the charm of this seashore that he wanted to stop his palanquin ("okoshi") when he arrived ("ki") to the area to admire the scenery. Living up to its name the Okoshiki Coast was selected both as one of Japan's best seashores and one of Japan's most beautiful sunsets, thanks to its unique characteristics. There is such a huge difference in the tidal range of this part of the Ariake Sea that visitors can witness a rare natural phenomenon every time the tide goes out and a crescent-shaped pattern of dunes appears from the bottom of the sea. The view of the beach is even more outstanding when this phenomenon overlaps with sunset and the sea glows orange, purple, or silver, making the perfect spot for a photography session.
7. Misumi West Port - Navigate a Meiji Period Historic Port
Misumi West Port is a historic port built in 1884 by the Meiji Government, which chose this location in Kumamoto because its naturally deep waters could accommodate large ships transporting coal from the nearby coal mines. The port flourished as a major shipping terminal for only ten years before the construction of a new railroad forced it off the commercial routes. As a result, instead of undergoing renovation works like other similar sites in Japan, the appearance of Misumi West Port has remained unchanged since the Meiji Period. Even the small town built during the economic boom of the area remained as it was in the 1800s, with many old buildings perfectly preserved for the visitors to explore. The Meiji townscape includes offices, a storehouse, a ryokan, a courthouse, and two cafes, providing a very unique atmosphere that will bring you back in time.
8. Hinagu Onsen - Spend a Day in Kumamoto's Oldest Hot Springs
Hinagu Onsen is a hot spring town with a 600-year history and preserved historical buildings, stone-paved narrow streets, and retro shops creating very nostalgic scenery. The origin of Hinagu Onsen is something of a legend. It is said that this hot spring was discovered as an answer to the prayer of a man in search of a cure for a sword injury his father was suffering from. Since then, the legend of Hinagu Onsen has grown in popularity, and in the Edo Period, it was even designated as the official onsen of Kumamoto's Hosokawa clan of samurai. Nowadays people from all over Japan come to Hinagu Onsen to benefit from its healing waters. A particular way to enjoy Hinagu Onsen hot springs and their benefits is the "banpeiyu" bath, a type of hot spring bath prepared during winter using banpeiyu pomelos (a type of citrus fruit) specially grown in the area.
9. Kuratake Shrine - Witness the Breathtaking View of the Amakusa Islands From Mt. Kura
The 360-degree view of the Amakusa Islands from Kuratake Shrine is probably one of the most beautiful scenes in Kumamoto, with the "torii" gate of the shrine that seems to float in the sky framing the peaceful sea and lush green islands in the distance. Mt Kura is the highest peak of the Amakusa Islands and has been considered a sacred mountain by the people living in Amakusa since ancient times. For this reason, a shrine was built on the summit at a height of 682 meters to pray for the safety of fishermen and voyages. Hiking Mt. Kura is a great way to fully experience and admire Kumamoto's magnificent nature.
10. Nabegataki Falls - Enter a Magical Aquatic World
Nabegataki Falls offers a serene aquatic environment with fresh air and thick forests to explore. A relaxing hiking trail winds through the trees, at the end of which visitors are rewarded with a view of the 20-meter wide Nabegataki Falls suddenly appearing in front of them. The Waterfalls are not only famous for this first, surprising scene, but it is also because it is possible to walk up around the falls and look out from behind the flowing water. This second unexpected viewpoint is why Nabegataki Falls is considered one of the most picturesque spots in Japan. The waterfalls were created by the eruption of the nearby Mt. Abe, from cooled and hardened streams of magma, so, many Japanese people think of it as a prominent power spot.
11. Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine - Unveil the Mysteries of a Shrine in the Forest
What makes Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine so special is its location in a dense forest with a long staircase of 270 steps decorated with 50 moss-covered stone lanterns. The stairs lead up through a pathway of tall cedar trees, interrupted just by some moss-green "torii" gates that give the shrine an otherwordly atmosphere. At the top of the staircase there is a small shrine dedicated to two of the most important shinto "kami", Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto, the deities that according to the legends created the Japanese islands. The current shrine building dates back to 1722 but it's clear that this location has been venerated since ancient times due to a special geological feature that can be found in the shrine's grounds. Looking up behind the shrine, visitors will see the Ugetoiwa, a sacred rock with a 10 meter-large natural wind hole. It is believed that going through the hole will make a person's goals come true.
12. Kurokawa Onsen - Hop on a Bath Tour in a Traditional Hot Spring Village
Kurokawa Onsen is one of Japan's most attractive hot springs, thanks to the effort of the locals to preserve the very traditional atmosphere of the village. Kurokawa Onsen's streets are lined with wooden buildings, "ryokan" inns, and bathhouses, and a river flows through the secluded valley that the village sits in. This gem of Kyushu is the perfect spot to experience a "rotenburo meguri" (a tour of the outdoor baths) since it gives visitors the option of purchasing a "tegata" (a wooden pass) for 1300 yen that allows for entrance into three rotenburo of choice among the twenty-plus participating locations. This means you won't be limited to just the bath at the ryokan where you are staying, but will have the chance to relax in a variety of baths in town during the daytime. The best part is that you get to go around in your "yukata" robe and "geta" sandals, truly dipping yourself in the traditions and history of this charming onsen village.
13. Yamaga - Discover the Spirit of Kumamoto's Kabuki Theater
Yamaga is just a small town in the Japanese countryside, but it so rich in traditions you would not believe it. Centuries ago, Yamaga was a major stop on the Buzen Kaido, the route that connected northern and southern Kyushu and thrived as a wealthy rice center. Part of the wooden buildings, ancient warehouses, sake breweries, and rice dealers shops still stand today perfectly preserved and retaining the Edo Period atmosphere of the town. Two buildings are particularly notable. The first one is the beautiful Yachiyoza Kabuki Theater built by local merchants over 100 years ago. Here you can either enjoy a kabuki performance or visit the building and learn more about the art of kabuki and the secrets of its revolving stage and trapdoors. The second building is linked to the very long history Yamaga has as a hot spring resort. The Sakurayu Bathhouse is Kyushu's biggest wooden Onsen facility, and its Edo-Period style is reminiscent of the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away.
14. Suizenji Jojuen Garden - Travel the Whole Tokaido While Strolling Just One Garden
Suizenji Jojuen Garden is a tranquil Japanese garden built in 1632 by Tadatoshi Hosokawa, the first lord of the Kumamoto domain. At first, it housed Suizenji Temple, but when the latter was relocated and a tea house replaced it, the garden became a retreat for the Hosokawa family members. Suizenji Jojuen is laid out so that it reproduces in miniature form the 53 post stations of the Tokaido (the road that connected Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo Period,) including a small version of Mt. Fuji and a little Lake Biwa. The garden is also a joy for all visitors who love flowers, offering a variety of bloomings throughout the year. Suizenji Jojuen Garden is particularly prized for its delicate plum and cherry groves.
15. Unganzenji Reigando Cave - Explore a Mysterious and Sacred Cave
Reigando Cave is a sacred cave located on Mt. Kinpo, an extinct volcano near Kumamoto City. The cave is well-known as the place where the famous philosopher and swordsman Musashi Miyamoto spent his last years in meditation and created his famous martial arts treatise, The Book of Five Rings. Reigando has a special atmosphere, thanks to its forest setting and the zen ambiance of the Buddhist temple Unganzenji which stands right in front of it. The Uganzenji Temple itself is worth a visit as it was founded in the year 1351 and has since attracted monks, poets, and warriors over the centuries. The path that leads from the temple to the cave enhances the mysterious aura of the spot, as it is dotted with the fascinating carvings of 500 disciples of the buddha.
16. Former Hosokawa Residence - Walk Along the Corridors of a Samurai Villa
As the former residence of a branch of the Hosokawa Clan (the lords who ruled over Kumamoto in the Edo Period), the Former Hosokawa Gyobutei Residence is a great example of a high-rank samurai family mansion and offers a peek into the daily life of the higher classes of Japanese society in the past. The 900-square-meter Hosokawa Residence was built in 1646 and features an ornate Chinese-style main entrance, gardens that are particularly beautiful during the foliage period, and the Kiyutei tea house, where visitors can experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
*Closed to the public until further notice.
17. Laputa Road - Enjoy the Real-Life Location of Studio Ghibli's Castle in the Sky
If you are familiar with the beauty of Studio Ghibli's famed Castle in the sky, you will instantly recognize this landscape as one of the most iconic of the movie. Kumamoto's Laputa Road, and its winding silhouette right on the side of the mountain, resemble the Ghibli floating castle especially when the clouds roll into the plain below completely hiding it so that the road looks like it’s floating on a sea of cloud. For this reason, it is also often referred to as Road to Heaven. Laputa Road's appearance changes drastically throughout the seasons and it is particularly beloved during summer when it's possible to snap panoramas of its vibrant grasslands.
*The road is partially under reconstruction.
18. Lafcadio Hearn Reasidence - Learn About the Life of a Western Writer in Japan
Lafcadio Hearn immigrated to Japan in 1890 and was among the first Western authors to write books about Japan, becoming a pioneer in exposing the West to different aspects of Japanese culture. After living for a year in Matsue, Hearn spent several years in Kumamoto City. Today, his former residence, known as Lafcadio Hearn Residence or Koizumi Yakumo Kumamoto Residence (Koizumi Yakumo was the Japanese name of the author,) is open to the public and contains a small museum providing abundant information on Hearn's life and works.
19. Aso Shrine - Find Mindfulness in the Caldera of Mount Aso
Aso Shrine is believed to have almost 2000 years of history, with its foundation traced back to 281 AD. Twelve different deities are worshipped at Aso Shrine, including the one who is believed to have created the Aso area, Takeiwatatsu. Takeiwatatsu is said to be the grandson of Emperor Jimmu (the first legendary emperor of Japan) and the deity who taught the local people how to cultivate Aso’s land, which is why many of the shrine rituals are related to agriculture. For these reasons, Aso Shrine has been regarded as one of the most important shrines in Kumamoto Prefecture. Particularly notable is its "Romon" Gate (two-storied gate), which is one of the three largest gates of its kind in Japan.
20. Kikuchi Castle - Wander Through a 1,300 Year-Old Archeological Site
Kikuchi Castle is a hill fort built about 1300 years ago during a warring period in East Asia. In preparation for a possible invasion, the Imperial Court constructed several hill forts throughout Western Japan, of which Kikuchi Castle was one, with the task of providing supplementary weapons and food for the lords that protected and ruled over Kyushu. Kikuchi Castle is mentioned in many historical texts and is preserved as a national historic site. Excavations have discovered valuable architectural remnants that offer an interesting look into the Japan of the past.
21. Gorogataki Falls - Catch a Glimpse of Rainbow at a Massive Waterfall
Gorogataki Falls offers a unique view of a massive amount of water roaring down a 50-meter high cliff face. Visitors can admire the Falls either from a viewpoint on top of the promenade or enjoy a panoramic view from the nearby suspension bridge. Sunny weather often crowns the waterfall with a rainbow as the water crashes down onto the rocks, spraying up to catch the light perfectly.
22. Sakitsu - Hide in a Secluded Fishing Village
Sakitsu is a remote fishing village hidden in the southern tip of Shimoshima, the largest of the Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto. It was registered in 2018 on a list of 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites related to the hidden Christians of Japan in recognition of those who kept their faith alive through centuries of persecution. The Sakitsu Village Guidance Center offers one of the best views of this lovely little hamlet. Tucked on the edge of a cove opening out onto a calm sea and with a gothic-looking church located in its center standing out against the small fishermen's houses, Sakitsu not only provides visitors with a peaceful retreat but also a unique window on the history and culture of Japan’s ancient Christian community.
*Due to religious events the church might be temporarily closed
*Photography inside the church is prohibited
*Prior reservation is necessary to visit Sakitsu Church. Apply on the Hidden Christian Sites official website to make a reservation.
23. Takamori - Feel the Charms of 400-Year Old Cedars and 1,000 Cherry Trees
The Takamori area of Kumamoto is well known for its majestic nature. Among its natural wonders, it boasts the Takamoridon Cedars, two 400-year old cedar trees located in the Minami Gairin Mountain. The trees have a very unusual appearance, with many branches twisting from the trunks in different directions. These large cedars are a popular power spot, considered especially effective when it comes to matchmaking and love wishes. Another breathtaking natural spot in Takamori is the Takamori Senbonzakura, the Thousand Cherry Trees of Takamori, sometimes referred to as Sakura Road (Cherry Blossom Road). While there might not be 1000 cherry trees as the name claims, visitors will still find themselves in awe of an entire hillside covered with pink sakura blossoms.
24. Tsujunkyo Bridge - Take a Stroll on Japan’s Largest Stone-Arch Aqueduct Bridge
Tsujunkyo Bridge is Japan’s largest stone-arch aqueduct bridge, constructed in 1854 to supply water to the people living in Kumamoto's Shiraito Plateau, a place that suffered from water shortage at the time. The total length of the waterway is 30 kilometers, and the bridge is capable of pouring out 15,000 square meters of water in 24 hours to irrigate the surrounding paddy fields. Tsujunkyo Bridge releases its water during the Hassaku Festival, a traditional celebration held every year at the beginning of September.
25. Tsuetate Onsen - Rediscover Ancient Japan in a Hot Spring Town
Tsuetate Onsen is a vintage-looking hot spring town frozen in time and nestled in the mountains of northern Kumamoto. It is said to have over 1800 years of history and was particularly popular during the early Showa period when the high society of Japan came here to soak away their worries. The "sedoya" (backstreets) of this once-prosperous onsen town create a fascinating maze to explore and are a true sample set of everything Showa, with a rustic and unique atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. Tsuetate Onsen is particularly beautiful during the colorful Carp Streamer Festival between April and May when carp decorations float over the river that passes through the center of the town.
Ready to Discover Kumamoto and Its Many Picturesque Wonders?
We hope that after introducing some of the most photogenic spots in Kumamoto you'll add this prefecture to your bucket list. Through these unique spots, you'll be able to experience the superb nature of Kumamoto, as well as learn about the history and culture of Japan's most picturesque region. Whether it is an otherwordly emerald volcano, a far-away hot spring town, or an ancient and sacred cave, these places have unique charms that can only be experienced in Kumamoto!
Explore the Kyushu Area!
Kumamoto is magical, but it's not the only prefecture hiding in Kyushu, the region that Kumamoto Prefecture is a part of. Kyushu includes 7 prefectures, each with something unique to offer, so if Kumamoto sounds incredible to you, we think you'll love what the rest of Kyushu has to offer. Check out the official Kyushu tourism website for more information on what's out there in the region.
Visit Kyushu Official Website: https://www.visit-kyushu.com/en/
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.