Just a 90 minute train ride from Fukuoka is the historic and vibrant castle town of Kumamoto. It’s a great time to visit this town, nestled on the western coast of Kyushu, because it’s experiencing a steady growth not just in size, but in attractions and activities. Kumamoto is also the best place to go if you’re thinking of exploring the great Mount Aso. So, what exactly is there to do? Find out below.
1. Explore Lake Ezuko
Water sports? Check. Leisure? Check. Great big beautiful lake? Double check. A stunning lake in Kumamoto City, Lake Ezuko provides the perfect spot to relax and enjoy recreational activities in the area. You can also just stroll around the trails of the lake to take in the peaceful atmosphere. If you’re lucky enough, your trip to Lake Ezuko might even coincide with a festival or event.
2. Eat Regional Cuisine
Near Kumamoto’s volcanic Mt. Aso, in the town of Takamori, the regional cuisine is simple and yet incredibly delicious and exquisite. The food features ingredients that are staples in the past cuisine of farmers such as taro, konyac, tofu and river fish. All of these fresh ingredients are then skewered and smothered in a delectable pepper miso sauce and roasted over charcoal right on your table. It makes our mouths water just thinking about it!
3. Relax at Kurokawa Onsen
Can you think of anything better than sinking your travel weary body into a hot spring after a long day? Well, we can’t, and when you’re in Kumamoto, there’s no better place to go than the Kurokawa Onsen. It’s actually a small town blessed with magnificent hot springs and is reminiscent of old Japan. Definitely be sure to be pick up a Nyuto Tegata, or an open air bath tour pass to experience the top three open air baths in the onsen village.
- Price: ¥1200 (Nyoto Tegata)
4. Visit Kumamoto Castle
One look at the Kumamoto Castle is bound to take your breath away. It’s one of Japan’s most impressive castles and has an incredibly rich history. Hint? It has to do with samurais and the Seinan Civil War, but other than that it’s really best you go visit the castle and make your own discoveries. After all, that’s what makes a trip to the castle fun. Make sure to explore the castle’s underground passage, the Uto Turret and the lavish rooms in the Honmaru Goten Palace.
- Name: Kumamoto Castle
- Price: ¥500
- Access: 15 minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station
- Opening hour: 8:30 – 18:00
5. Taste Kumamoto Ramen
When in Kumamoto, eat as the locals do and enjoy a big heart warming bowl of Kumamoto Ramen. A famous style of ramen in the prefecture and the country as a whole, Kumamoto Ramen boasts an intensely flavored pork and chicken bone broth with firm and thick noodles. The best part of the ramen is arguable but we think that the sprinkle of garlic chips and topping of browned garlic oil really give it a great punch of flavor.
6. See the Yatsushiro National Fireworks Festival
See the night sky come ablaze with a dazzling display of fireworks at the Yatsushiro National Fireworks Festival. The festival is so popular and so well attended that seats with the best vantage point to the firework show actually go for ¥3,000 each. However, if you’re observing from a far and simply enjoying the festivities and atmosphere, spectating at the festival is free of charge.
7. Stroll Through the Suizenji Garden
Enjoy a relaxing walk through the spacious Suizenji Garden, a traditional Japanese style garden that was built in the 17th century by the Hosokawa family. Make sure to see the reproductions of the Old Tokaido Road’s post stations which are scattered all throughout the garden. In fact, you can even find a miniature Mt. Fuji.
- Name: Suizenji Garden
- Price: ¥400
- Access: 30 minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station
- Opening hour: 7:30 – 18:00 (Mar – Oct), 8:30 – 17:00 (Nov – Feb)
8. Explore the Former Hosokawa Residence
Ever wondered what the Samurai lived like? Satisfy your curiosity at the Former Hosokawa Residence, which once served as the residence of a powerful samurai clan that ruled Kumamoto during the Edo Era. The house is a sterling example of what high-class samurai homes were like and provides great insight to the lives of Japan’s elite samurai clans.
- Name: Former Hosokawa Residence
- Price: ¥300
- Access: 10 minute walk from the Kumamoto Castle Tower
- Opening hour: 8:30 – 17:30
9. Go Shopping at Shimotori Arcade
If you’re ready to go for an epic day of shopping at Kumamoto, look no further than the Shimotori Arcade. It’s the longest shopping arcade in Kumamoto and has a diverse range of shops, boutiques and products to choose from. Whether you’re shopping for new clothes, souvenirs or other Japanese products, Shimotori is bound to have what you’re looking for.
- Name: Shimotori Arcade
- Access: Walk from the Kumamoto Station
10. Try Basashi
Horse meat may not sound very appealing to many people, but in Kumamoto it’s considered a delicacy. If you’re an adventurous foodie, we definitely recommend you give this local specialty a try. It’s got a great nutritional value as a low fat and low cholesterol meat and is very high in protein. The best part is the marbled meat, which truly just dissolves and melts on your tongue.
11. Climb Mt. Aso
If getting as close as possible to the crater of an active volcano sounds like your idea of fun, make your way to Kumamoto’s Mt. Aso. Mt. Aso’s volcano boasts one of the world’s largest calderas and is the singular place in Japan that offers an experience as unique as this. Navigate the various peaks and volcanic craters of Mt. Aso or make your way straight to the caldera without breaking a sweat via ropeway.
12. Buy Jindaiko
There’s no item more representative of Kumamoto nor more perfect to bring home as gifts and souvenirs than Jindaiko. It’s a sweet cake made with red beans that comes in packages of 6 cakes. They’re definitely very delicious and go well with a freshly brewed cup of tea. Your loved ones back home will go crazy for it!
13. Discover the Reigando Cave
Sitting quietly at the base of Mt. Kinpo is the mysterious Reigando Cave. The cave is actually most known for being the place where the famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, wrote his famous book, The Book of Five Rings. However, Reigando Cave is also home to a Kannon statue and features 500 stone statues called the Five Hundred Disciples of Buddha.
- Name: Reigando Cave
- Price: ¥200
- Access: 20 minute walk from the Iwato Kannon Entrance
- Opening hour: 8:00 – 17:00
14. Savor the Taste of Dagojiru
Traveling to Kumamoto in the winter? Be sure to fill your tummy and warm yourself up with a bowl of Dagojiru. One of the Kumamoto’s traditional dishes, it is a stew like a dish that features hand kneaded flat dumplings and a soy-miso broth. Seasonal vegetables like daikon and carrots are added to the broth to give it a hearty kick.
15. Visit the Lafcadio Hearn Residence
Lafcadio Hearn, or Koizumi Yakumo, was one of the first Western authors to write novels about Japan. His books are famous and fans of his work can explore the home in which he wrote these novels in Kumamoto City. Visit the Lafcadio Hearn Residence to see the way the author lived during his time in Japan from 1891 to 1894 and to view a small museum dedicated to him.
- Name: Lafcadio Hearn’s Residence
- Price: ¥200
- Access: 15 minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station
- Opening hour: 9:30 – 16:30
16. Watch the Yamaga Tourou Festival Take Place
One of the three greatest festivals in Kumamoto, the Yamaga Tourou Festival fills the streets with parade participants, spectators and performers alike. See groups of men carry huge intricately designed floats on their shoulders and a spot performing 1,000 women donning their yukatas and elegant lanterns. The festival typically takes place mid-August, so if this the highlight of your trip, be sure to plan your travel dates around the 15th or 16th of August.
17. Go Food Crazy at Foodpal
Foodies, prepare your stomachs for a food trip of epic proportions at Kumamoto’s Foodpal. At it’s core, Foodpal is pretty much a free amusement park that is dedicated to food. You can take part in various foodie workshops like sausage filling and full of cooking lessons or you can just go around tasting all the delicious food that the stalls have to offer.
- Name: Foodpal
- Address: 581-2 Mitsugu-machi, Kita-ku, Kumamoto-shi 861-5535
- Price: Free admission
18. See the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art
Nestled in the Ninomaru Park of Kumamoto Castle, the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art is home to ancient and modern works of art from paintings, sculptures, crafts and more. Admire the exhibits at the museum and spot an ancient tomb decorated in artwork, a featured permanent exhibition. You can also relax at the traditional Japanese stone garden at the museum.
- Name: Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art
- Address: 2 Ninomaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto-shi 860-0008
- Price: ¥260
- Access: 14 minute walk from the Hanabatacho Tram Stop
- Opening hour: 9:30 – 17:00
19. Taste Karashi Renkon
Please! We beg of you, do not leave Kumamoto without trying some Karasi Renkon. A definite favorite in the prefecture, Karashi Renkon is actually lotus root that has been filled with spicy Japanese mustard then deep fried until it reaches crispy perfection. It’s a truly unique culinary experience that shouldn’t be missed. Be warned, the mustard filling can get pretty strong so try taking little bites first.
20. Visit the Tomb of Musashi Miyamoto at Musashizuka Park
Visit the tomb of the famed master swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, who invented the deadly double-sword fighting technique. It was in Kumamoto that Miyamoto spent his final years and wrote the famous Book of Five Rings, and it’s also where you can visit his tomb. A beautiful bronze statue stands in the Musashizuka Park in honor of the famed swordsman.
- Name: Musashizuka Park
- Address: Yuge 1-1232, Tatsuda-machi, Kita-ku, Kumamoto-shi
- Price: ¥2900
- Access: Take a bus to the Musashigoaka Koen
- Opening hour: Always open
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to get a hike in, want to explore historic sights or enjoy Japanese culture. Which ever activity you’re after the most, Kumamoto will definitely have what you’re looking for. Pair this town with a trip to Fukuoka for an exciting and lively vacation to the land of the rising sun.
Have a good trip and travel!