9 Reasons That Kitakyushu Is Unlike Anywhere Else You’ve Ever Been
While Fukuoka is a popular sightseeing destination, many just stay around famous tourist hotspots such as Hakata and Dazaifu. That being said, the northernmost city of Kitakyushu is a hotbed of hidden gems just waiting to be explored! Culture, history, food, and adventure - Kitakyushu has it all. However, if you only have a limited time in the gateway to Kyushu, here are the nine most worthwhile things to do in and around Kitakyushu.
Feb 15 2023
*This article was written in collaboration with the Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association.
Historically, Kitakyushu served as a major hub for transit, trade, and travel as its strategic location along the Straits of Shimonoseki connected the southern island of Kyushu to the Japanese mainland of Honshu. It is actually an amalgamation of the independent cities of Kokura, Moji, Yahata, Tobata, and Wakamatsu, which were merged together in 1963.
Kokura Castle - Past Meets the Present
Long ago, before the days of Kokura’s towering buildings and futuristic monorail, it was said that “all of Kyushu’s roads lead to Kokura.” This was in reference to Kokura’s strategic location on the very northernmost tip of Kyushu. In quite the literal sense, if you wanted to get to the Japanese mainland, it was almost inevitable that you would pass through Kokura. Traders, merchants, and travelers flowed in and out of this coastal city, and overseeing the flourishing city was Kokura Castle at the heart of the town.
The origins of Kokura Castle can be traced back to a castle built on the site in 1569 by the Mori clan. Afterwards, in 1602, a major improvement project by the Hosokawa clan commenced, and the castle tower was eventually completed around 7 years later. Kokura Castle served as a military base, however, much of it was burnt down by an internal fire in 1837, after which the clan set fire to it in 1866 while being forced to retreat during a battle with the Choshu Domain. In 1959, the castle tower was finally reconstructed owing to the support of locals, and the Kokura Castle Garden opened in 1998. In 2019, it received its first upgrade in roughly 30 years with an interior renovation and exhibition update.
Today, Kokura Castle not only houses the 6th tallest castle keep in all of Japan, but also is a reminder of Kokura’s rich history amongst the modern beat of the urban city. Kokura Castle is particularly popular in the spring as the surrounding gardens have an exceptionally beautiful display of cherry blossoms that, when paired with the backdrop of the castle, make for a truly special experience. The castle tower is illuminated from sundown to 10:00 pm every night, making it worth stopping by after dark too!
TOTO Museum - Japanese Toilet History in a Flush
While Tokyo’s Poop Museum may be one of Japan’s most unique museums, Kitakyushu’s very own
TOTO Toilet Museum is for sure a solid number two.
Latrine, lavatory, potty, the porcelain throne… It goes by many names, but no matter what you call it, chances are that if you’ve ever used a toilet, it's more than likely that it was manufactured by none other than Kitakyushu-based TOTO Toilets. Established by Kazuchika Okura in 1917, TOTO Toilets was originally founded under the name “Toyo Toki” meaning “Oriental Ceramics” in Japanese. At the forefront of modernity, innovation, and hygienic standards, TOTO has been a household staple now for more than 100 years and has made its way to become not only a universally recognized brand, but the number one manufacturer of toilets in the world.
See where it all started with a tour of the museum dedicated to preserving the history of TOTO’s faculty, and take a trip down toilet lane as you get to see the evolution of hygiene products in Japan. In addition to toilets, see the other high-quality products that TOTO prides itself on, such as sinks, washlets, ceramicware, and bathtubs.
Kawachi Wisteria Garden - Get Whisked Away by Wisteria
What can only feel like a fairytale is a reality here in Kitakyushu as you saunter through a tunnel of wisteria, only to be greeted by a striking view of sloping valleys and groves of bamboo. Kawachi Wisteria Garden is a private garden in Kitakyushu that is most popular during the late spring and then again during the fall, as it is a highly recommended spot to take in Japan’s autumn foliage.
In recent years, the two 100-meter-long wisteria tunnels have drawn in massive crowds, especially around Golden Week. If you are thinking of adding this dreamscape to your Kitakyushu itinerary, then a reservation is highly recommended.
Katsuyama Park - Castle Park Come to Life
Among the hustle and bustle of the city is Kokura’s premiere open space, Katsuyama Park. Sprawling well past the borders of Kokura Castle, Katsuyama Park is a breath of fresh air and is a great place to exercise, bring kids to play, or just enjoy being outside. For families, Katsuyama Park has a maritime-themed playground with a play structure that resembles an octopus.
If you visit the park in the spring, you’ll be in luck as Katsuyama Park boasts around 300 cherry blossom trees and holds a fairly renowned cherry blossom festival every year. The fun doesn't stop when the sun goes down, either. Paper lanterns add another layer of festivity to the pearly pink park, delighting locals and tourists alike.
Senbutsu Limestone Cave - Natural Art Created Over Centuries
Enter the mouth of the cave and stroll alongside the aquamarine-colored stream streaked with veins of yellow mineral composite as you twist along the narrow, winding path. As you dip further into the belly of the beast, a breath of chilly air whistles through the hollows and greets you as you step into the heart of the Senbutsu Limestone Cave, where stalactites hang like daggers. It is for this striking feature that the cave got its name, which translates to “Cave of One Thousand Buddhas.”
Formed tens of millions of years ago, the Senbutsu Limestone Cave was designated a National Natural Monument in 1935 and today can be explored year-round by those out seeking a bit of adventure. Navigating the cave will require you to get your feet a bit wet, quite literally. Rest assured, however, that the view is well worth the trek. It is a rock-solid experience that is sure to be unforgettable.
Mojiko Retro District - Take it Slow in Mojiko
Who said that history wasn’t hip and trendy? Mojiko is a port that opened in 1889 and served as a major hub of transport, trade, and cultural exchange for much of Kitakyushu’s history. Find yourself transported to the late 19th century, as much of the original architecture and infrastructure is still there and fully utilized.
The port faces Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi, and a convenient ferry between the two runs frequently. The true gem of Mojiko, however, are the hip and trendy cafes, many with live music and a vibrant retro atmosphere that brings the whole district to life. The local specialty of Mojiko is yaki-curry which is made by smothering rice with curry, egg, and cheese and then baking it in an oven. Just like the unique architecture of Mojiko, yaki-curry cannot be missed on your next trip out to Kitakyushu!
Wakato Bridge - An Iconic Landmark and Cultural Property
Built in 1962, when Wakato Bridge first opened, at a staggering length of 627 meters, it was the largest suspension bridge in all of Asia. While today that record has been broken many times over, it still doesn’t take away from how cool and scenic this bridge actually is and how impressive it looks. Being the origin of large-scale suspension bridge engineering in Japan, its historical and technological value earned it recognition as an Important Cultural Property of Japan in 2022.
In the summer, nearly 300,000 people from all over gather to see the fireworks by the bridge at the Kukinoumi Firework Festival.
Kitakyushu Manga Museum - Witness the Evolution of Japan’s Most Beloved Pastime
Located right next to Kokura Station, the Kitakyushu Manga Museum is flushed with information and exhibits regarding the history of Japan’s anime and manga! In particular, the museum goes on a deep dive into artists that hail from Kitakyushu and Kyushu in general, such as legendary mangaka Matsumoto Leiji, author of the Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 series.
The museum houses everything from figurines to games, idol collectibles, and even life-sized statues of certain famous characters. The highlight of the museum, however, is the Manga Time Tunnel, where you can take a trip down memory lane, seeing manga that was published as early as World War II. While the exhibits and manga are almost entirely in Japanese, even without any language ability, fans of Japanese anime and manga can easily appreciate what a fine testament to the art form this museum really is.
Yawata Steel Works - A Historic Relic Still Milling Today
During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Kitakyushu’s rapid march toward industrialization was paved by its frontline steel industry, and at the forefront was Yawata Steel Works, Japan’s first modern steel mill. Close to both a major seaport and with easy access to coal mines, at its peak, Yawata Steel Works was producing 90% of Japan’s steel. In 2015, Yawata Steel Works was registered as a World Heritage Site as part of the “Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.”
Over 100 years today, though the mill has passed into private ownership, it is still in operation as a living testament to the innovation and strength of Kyushu. This unfortunately means that visitors aren’t allowed to see it up close. However, the nearby Higashida Daiichi Blast Furnace, which was built in 1901 and has since been excellently preserved, can be explored in a bit more detail. Signs are also available in several languages for those keen to learn more about the steel making process.
Get More Kitakyushu and Fukuoka Travel Inspiration at “VISIT FUKUOKA”
Kitakyushu and the surrounding Fukuoka Prefecture are packed with plenty more picturesque greenery, fascinating historical sites, scrumptious local cuisine, and charming regional festivals to explore. VISIT FUKUOKA has all sorts of tips and ideas on how to enjoy the prefecture on their official website. Plus, their Facebook and Instagram share gorgeous photos flaunting the best of the region. If you’re planning a trip to Kitakyushu and Fukuoka, VISIT FUKUOKA is where you should start!
Official Website: https://visit-fukuoka-japan.com/
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.