Thursday, April 17, 2008

KYUSHU - Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Beppu.

For a first time traveller in Japan, the places covered so far, all on the main island of Honshu and within reasonable travelling distance of either Tokyo airport or Kansai airport, are plenty to choose from to make an itinerary for a great holiday in Japan.
However, if you have a lot of time, or want to see someplace a little different, I can recommend the southern main island, Kyushu.

Japan Railways has a cheaper version of its standard pass, the JR 3 day (Y13000) or 5 day (Y16000) Kyushu rail pass, valid on all the express trains and the new Shinkansen which goes down to Kagoshima. If you haven't time to get to the south, there is a cheaper pass, for 3 consecutive days, for Y7000. It is valid on all the express trains from Hakata to Nagasaki, Beppu, Aso and Kumamoto as well as other northern cities. These passes are excellent if you fly into Fukuoka.
The 7 ,14, 21 day ordinary JR rail passes which you buy for Honshu are also valid for these services on Kyushu, should you wish to pop down for a quick visit from Hiroshima, for example.

FUKUOKA ( called HAKATA on train timetables)

This is the terminus of the main Bullet line that starts in Tokyo, heading for Osaka and beyond. From here, lines radiate out to the major towns on Kyushu. Fukuoka is a medium sized modern Japanese city, with enough attractions to keep you busy for a few days, and is an excellent base for day trips. If you can fly directly into Fukuoka, this is one international airport which is only a few minutes by subway away from the centre of town.

I prefer to stay within walking distance of the main JR station (Hakata), so that I can get an early start on my day trips. There are many hotels in this area, the Toyoko Inn Hakataguchi ekimae is inexpensive and very convenient. (see "Is Japan very expensive?" in the Basics.)

Things to see in Fukuoka (pick up a Visitors’ Guide first):
*Canal City - a shopping complex with unusual architecture. It's on the Y100 bus route, which has a stop outside Hakata station.
Canal City, Fukuoka

*Kami Kawabata- across the overhead walkway from Canal City is Kami Kawabata, a very long covered arcade of interesting shops.

*Kushida Jinja- before exploring the arcade, step outside Kami Kawabata at the foot of the escalators to the walkway. This attractive shrine houses one of the colourful floats used in the annual street parade.

Festival float, Kushida Jinja, Fukuoka

*Machiya Folklore Museum - down a side street from the Kushida Jinja- Y200 entry fee. Heritage buildings housing a museum and a working loom which makes the local fabric. The old artisan there encourages you to have a go, though he doesn’t speak English. Working the loom, Machiya Folklore Museum, Fukuoka

*Tochoji- a temple about 5 minutes walk from the Folklore Museum, housing a beautiful Daibutsu (big wooden Buddha), free entry. In cherry blossom time, the tree in the courtyard is stunning.

*Shofukuji - a famous old temple in the lane behind Tochoji.

*Tenjin - also on the Y100 bus route, shoppers’ paradise and transport hub.

*Fukuoka Tower - 25 minute bus trip from Hakata station area (Y220 fare). Y800 for the tower, 20% discount if you have a Fukuoka city welcome card.

*Ohori Park - on the subway line. A large park near the ruins of Fukuoka castle, with a pond and pedal boats for hire, and a lovely traditional Japanese garden in the far corner. (Y240)
Fukuoka tower


About 150 kms from Fukuoka on the western coast is Nagasaki. It is a hilly city, famous for being the second city to be destroyed by an atomic bomb. If you have a JR pass, Nagasaki is only 2 hours from Hakata station on the LEX (limited express) Kamome, making a day trip a possibility. After stopping at the tourist information counter at the station for a map, don’t miss:

*The Peace Park

*The Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park

*The Atomic Bomb Museum. (Y200)

These 3 places are close together, catch a northbound tram #1 or #3, flat fare Y100, (or one day pass Y500) from the tram stop in the middle of the road outside Nagasaki JR station. Get off at the 8th stop, Matsuyama. The stairs up to the Peace Park are only a couple of minutes away from the tram stop, on the right. After the Park, head back down the stairs and the Hypocentre park is only a short walk south. In cherry blossom time, this area is fantastic for sakura. The Museum is a little further on, still heading back towards the station, up more stairs.

Back at the station (catch the tram) is a good place to have lunch, lots of eateries downstairs, and restaurants upstairs. For vegetarians, the Indian restaurant on the 5th floor of the building adjoining the station has quite a few options, and was very reasonably priced. I recommend the Naan bread rather than rice.

Other interesting things to see:

*Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan, uphill, across from the main station.

*Nagasaki Harbour (2 daily cruises from Ohata Pier, 11.40 , 15.15).

A common question from would-be travellers is which is the better city to visit - Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Having been to Hiroshima a few times and Nagasaki twice, I always say they feel very different, and their memorials to the victims of the bombing are very moving, but also different. My answer is - whichever is closer, but you won’t be disappointed by one after you’ve seen the other.

Thousands of origami paper cranes, Nagasaki


Located about 118km south of Fukuoka is the small Japanese city of Kumamoto, a favourite place of mine.
It is possible to visit on a day trip, with the limited express LEX Relay Tsubame taking about 1 hour 20 minutes from Hakata (Fukuoka), or the LEX Ariake a few minutes more. (Both services covered by the ordinary JR pass or the Kyushu JR pass, and the Tsubame has a good luggage area in the carriage). However, a day trip would probably only allow time for a visit to the castle and the garden.


If you want to stay a few nights in a Japanese city because you’re tired of constantly packing up and checking out, Kumamoto could be rather good. It’s fairly compact, the trams (only 2 lines) are easy to navigate, there’s plenty of shopping and restaurants, lots of it in long covered arcades, and it’s possible to do day trips to Mt Aso and Kagoshima, using Kumamoto as your base.
There is plenty of accommodation, including 3 Toyoko Inn Hotels within walking distance of the castle, which itself is close to a very busy shopping area of town. The Daiei department store has a great basement supermarket, and a Y100 store upstairs. Remember to get maps and info from the Tourist desk at the station.

What to see in Kumamoto:
*Kumamoto castle (Y500)- especially beautiful in cherry blossom time. Catch #2 tram from JR Kumamoto station, Y150.

*Gyobu-Tei residence (Y300)- Residential Mansion of a powerful Hosokawa lord, only a few minutes walk from the castle. Combined ticket, castle and residence, Y640

*Traditional Handicraft Centre, close to castle, free entry.

*Suizen-ji garden (Y400), board any tram from in front of castle, a few stops further on. Lots of souvenir shops near the entrance, one offering samples of foodstuffs and local wine.
Suizenji Koen, Kumamoto

Possible day trips :

*Mt Aso - 70 minutes by LEX KOT from Kumamoto, covered by the JR passes. Aso-san is an active volcano in incredible scenery. Ask for bus information at the tourist desk in the little station, the long ride up cost Y540. If the volcano is behaving, (which it wasn’t when we visited) you can catch a cable car to the crater’s edge. If not, you can check what’s happening down the crater on the surveillance camera whose live pictures are screened back at the Museum (Y840). Be aware that it can be much colder up there than down in Kumamoto.



With the opening of the first Kyushu Shinkansen service about 2 years ago, travel times down to Kagoshima at the very south of the island are much improved. The Relay Tsubame continues south past Kumamoto to Shin-Yatsushiro, where passengers make an easy transfer to the opposite side of the platform to join the new Bullet Train, down to Kagoshima. Travel time from Fukuoka (Hakata) to Kagoshima is around 2hours 25minutes, making Kagoshima only a little over an hour further on than Kumamoto.

The Bullet arrives at Kagoshima-Chuo station. Get your maps and tram guide from the tourist info office, and use the tram (flat fare Y160), to ride down to the pier where you can catch a ferry (Y150) across to Sakurajima, another active volcano. You can walk around to the lava fields on the shore, or join an organised bus tour of the island. Ask at the ferry terminal. The volcano was quiet on the day we visited, but can spew ash on the city anytime.


Back on the mainland, the Tenmonkan area, a few stops back towards the station on the tram, has good shopping and eating possibilities. for information on other attractions.


186km by train from Fukuoka (Hakata) on the LEX Sonic, taking about 2 hours, or 3 hours 40 minutes from Kumamoto on the LEX KOT (via Mt Aso), Beppu lies on the east coast of Kyushu. Its claim to fame is thermal activity - hot springs (onsen) for bathing, boiling springs of water or mud (jigoku) for sightseeing, and hot sand on the sea shore for being buried.

Eggs boiling in the Umi no Jigoku, Beppu

Beppu is not an attractive town, and has been described as tacky, but if you haven’t seen thermal activity before, you may want to visit. Check the “Welcome to Beppu” website and “Beppu City Guide”at

After looking around the town from the station to the sea, we returned to the station to catch a bus up to see some of the “Hells” -jigoku. There is a one day bus pass available for Y900, the fairly long trip up to three of the jigoku, which are all together, costs Y320 one way. These are the blue and red pools of the Umi no jigoku , and the mud pools and steam vents of the Boozu no jigoku, both of which I recommend, and the exotic animals at the Yama no jigoku, which didn’t appeal. Each jigoku costs Y400, or you can get a combined ticket if you want to go searching for them all, in which case the bus pass would be a must. Organised tours are available as well, but not cheap.

Bubbling mud, Boozu no Jigoku, Beppu

Back at the station, we caught a local train one stop to Beppu Daigaku station, where the sand baths are located right on the shore, about 2 minutes walk from the station. Bring your own towel, a Yukata (Japanese robe) is provided, and locker hire for your valuables is available. There is a hot spring bath in the change room area if you’d like a soak as well as being buried in the warm, black sand. (Y1000)

There is an ATM on the outside of JR Beppu station which accepts foreign cards. Ask at the tourist desk for directions.

Be aware that there are two Boozu no jigoku, both very similar inside. One seems newer and is right beside the Umi no Jigoku, the other, with a slightly different title and older buildings, is about 700 metres further up the hill on the main road. Best to get off the bus at Umi no Jigoku, even if you hear the Boozu one announced on the bus. This had me confused for a while.

Sand bath Beppu


Marilyn said...

I was sitting at home tonight and for fun did a search for Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan. I was born there November 29, 1952, on Itazuke Air Force Base. I was only a few months old when we sailed back to the USA. I just wanted to thank you for this cyber travel experience. I will never get back to see where I was born so this was a real treat. I only have a few black and white photos that my mother left.

Anonymous said...

hi, I'm Paul; we are in Japan for a month in March-April and I have just spent 2 nights planning EXACTLY the trip you describe. We have 2 weeks to travel before going to Tokyo to see family and I would just like to know if 2 weeks is long enough to do justice to Kyushu-I would hate to feel rushed so your experience would be appreciated

Fumi said...
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Fumi said...
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Fumi said...

I'm so glad that U visited Kyushu.

geo said...


jason said...

hi, I"m a veteran Japan traveller, and have been to Kyushu before. ( had a great time )
I may be going back again for a short 4 day trip. However, that means I'll only have 2 full days to spend. I"ve been to Karatsu, and Kumamoto, and Aso. Not sure what to see this time. Any recommendations?

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