Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu is famous for the natural beauty of Mount Aso - an active volcano and recognised UNESCO World Geo Park - but also for its mystifying cultures and traditions that attract people from around the world.
This festival held at Omiya Shrine is one of the three greatest fire festivals held during summer in Kumamoto (a prefecture also known as the Land of Fire). The festival features Toro Odori - a folk dance conducted by one thousand women, each wearing a yukata (cotton kimono), while dawning lanterns on their head, for a uniquely elegant ambiance. There is also the Yamaga Lantern Museum in Yamaga City, where one can learn about this festival in depth.
The Yatsushiro Myoken Festival (held around the end of November in southern Kumamoto) is famous for its elaborately decorated, enormous Kasaboko umbrellas and a dance by ”Kida” (a 200kg turtle with the head of a snake). The decorations and performances are quite unique, and worth visiting.
Kurokawa is a small hot spring town, located to the north of Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture. Filled with lush nature, luxurious hot springs, traditional inns, and an overall Ghibli-esque atmosphere, Kurokawa earns its reputation as one of the best hotspring destinations in Japan.
Yamaga, a northern town in Kumamoto, Yamaga has been a prosperous, bustling agricultural town and a very lively onsen retreat since the Edo Period. With some building units recycled from the original town, the current town retains authentic beauty of Edo style architecture here and there.
Uchinomaki consists of about 100 hot spring sources which is surrounded by the volcanic crater at the foot of Mount Aso. This onsen has earned fame for being one of the places beloved by the famous Japanese novelist, Natsume Soseki. While revelling in the seasonal scenery of Aso Gogaku, you can enjoy various kinds of onsen spas.
Kumamoto boasts two national parks, which contain an abundance of scenic beauty. Witnessing their breathtaking landscapes would be the perfect build-up to one’s expereince, while visiting Kumamoto for the Rugby World Cup 2019.
Aso-Kuju National Park, which spans across the prefectures of Kumamoto and Oita, is a mountainous park with many volcanoes and the world's largest caldera basin - the circumference of which measures approximately 90 kilometers.
Mount Aso, in Kumamoto area, is a rare volcano among volcanoes anywhere in the world, in that regular tourists can walk straight up to the edge of the crater and peer in. Visitors can enjoy spots such as Mt.Naka-dake on the central crater, Komezuka - a crater so clean-carved that it resembles an inverted bowl, Sensuikyo Ravine where is especially famous for azaleas flowers blooming in May, and Shirakawa Suigen, a cluster of mineral water springs that bubble up in the southern part of the Aso mountain range.
Amakusa is a series of islands off the west coast of Kyushu, which are abundant with lush greenery and natural geological formations that have earned the islands a designation as national Geopark. Wild dolphins live amongst the islands, and can be seen on boat tours. Amakusa is the perfect island gateway to enjoy beaches, camping, marine sports, or any of the nearby hot spring villages that will await you there.
Kuma River flows through the southern region of Kumamoto Prefecture. As it is considered to be one of the three most rapid rivers of Japan, taking a traditional wooden boat to cruise down the river has been popular among tourists since the Edo Period (1603-1868.)
From the early 17th century to the end of the 19th century, Kumamoto was prosperous as a castle town, at the centre of which was one of Japan’s most beautiful and practical castles – Kumamoto Castle. Be sure to wander the area while you visit Kumamoto for the Rugby World Cup 2019.
Built by the daimyo Kato Kiyomasa, who governed this region at the beginning of the 17th century, Kumamoto Castle has been designated as an Important Cultural Property for its stone walls featuring 'musha-gaeshi,' a special defense designed to prevent enemy attacks. Although it was damaged in the earthquake of April 2016, the castle remains a symbol of Kumamoto’s resilience, and its recovery.
If you are a lover of Japanese gardens, Suizenji Park is a must-see. This tsukiyama-styled Japanese garden replicates Mount Fuji, and the 53 post stations of the Tokaido - the road which connected Edo ( Tokyo ) with Kyoto during the Edo Period. Strolling along Suizenji’s circular path will guide guests through the highlights of this scenery.
Located in Mount Aso range, Aso Shrine is believed to have been built in 281 before the accession of the Emperor Jinmu - making it one of the oldest and most prominent shrines in Japan. This shrine has been designated among the Japan’s Important Cultural Properties, including Ichi-no-shinden, Ni-no-shinden, and Romon (tower gate). Unfortunately, Aso Shrine was heavily damaged in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes - the Romon completely collapsed, however they strive to repair it fully as soon as possible.
Hitoyoshi, a 700-year-old castle town, boasts the ruins of Hitoyoshi Castle, and the ancient streets that surround them. Stroll around the castle town known as "Little Kyoto in Kyushu" to enjoy the nostalgic view, and sample some Japanese sake at the local brewery. Aoi-Aso Shrine is a branch shrine of Aso shrine where you can check out the gorgeous romon gate, which has been designated as a National treasure.
The Amakusa islands are widely known as a place where many Christians have historically lived - many of whom secretly kept their faith during the period when Christianity was banned in Japan. The Oe-Tenshudo church was built by Father Garnier, a French missionary, in 1933. Located nearby is Amakusa Rosary Museum, where you can learn the history of Christianity in this region.
Kumamoto, situated in the centre of Kyushu Island, offers unique local foods which you can enjoy only in the prefecture itself. Many tourists visit Kumamoto to try regional dishes for all year round. If you happen to be in Kumamoto for the Rugby World Cup 2019, be sure to try out these four representative dishes.
Compared to the Hakata Ramen found in Fukuoka, Kumamoto Ramen uses thicker noodles. The broth blends chicken stock with a tonkotsu pork-bone broth, creating a flavour that is mild, yet robust. Perhaps its most recognisable feature is the use of uniquely aromatic kogashi garlic.
Karashi Renkon are made by stuffing lotus root (renkon) with miso, and a spicy mustard that really hits the nasal passages. They were originally eaten for their nutritional value, but many now enjoy them with shochu, rice-based alcoholic beverage. The aromatic kick can be surprise at first, but try enough and you will be addicted too.
Ikinari dango is a local confectionary which consists of a slice of sweet potato topped with anko (sweet bean paste) that is then wrapped in a dough made from a lightly-salted flour, and steamed. Perfect for fall and winter, Ikinari dango are typically served warm, and are every bit as filling as they sound. They are one of the most famous regional treats from Kumamoto, and are enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Kumamoto is particularly well known for its production of rice shochu, Japanese rice-based alcoholic beverage. It is home of twenty-eight rice shochu distillers that collectively make “Kuma Shochu”. Kuma Shochu has reached global popularity - The World Trade Organization’s Appellation of Origin are given exclusively to rice shochu that are made with local spring water and that are fermented, distilled, and bottled in Kumamoto’s Hitoyoshi area.