Kyushu Travel Bucket List

The Kyushu Bucket List: Things to do in Japan’s Southern Island

Kyushu is probably the most underrated island in Japan. Large, rugged, and filled with natural beauty, the southern island is still more popular among local tourists than foreign visitors. In this article, we’ll look at a bucket list of places to visit, things to do, and most importantly, delicious foods to eat in Kyushu.

Fukuoka Prefecture

Fukuoka is Kyushu’s northernmost prefecture and possible the most popular destination for foreign tourists. Famous across the country for its mouth-watering variety of ramen dishes, Fukuoka is well-loved as a modern, urban paradise for shopping and dining. Here are some of our favorite things to do, see, and eat in Fukuoka Prefecture.

✔️ Visit Kokura Castle for a scenic dose of history and culture

kyushu trip plan
Kokura Castle in the spring. Photo by Erin Himeno

Fukuoka’s only standing castle with a keep, Kokura Castle lords in splendor over the city of Kitakyushu. Festivals and events often brighten the scene even further, including German Oktoberfest and other international offerings. Kokura and its castle offer the perfect splash of intercultural celebration amidst its historical panorama.

✔️ Slurp your way to gastronomic bliss with Fukuoka’s famous ICHIRAN ramen

Kyushu Fukuoka Ramen
Ichiran’s famous pork broth ramen. Photo by 3096.

Rich, thick pork broth, noodles cooked to your preference of firmness, and toppings like stewed eggs, savory fat-dripping chashu—what more could you want? Fukuoka is well-known as a ramen location in Japan, and anyone from Fukuoka will direct you to the ICHIRAN ramen chain. You’ll probably have to wait in a sizeable long line, but this ramen delight is worth every second. Unlike most traditional open-bar ramen shops, ICHIRAN offers each guest their own private booth so they can fully immerse themselves in the ramen experience. Slurp to your heart’s content and at the noodle firmness and curl of your desire. ICHIRAN takes its ramen very seriously; you won’t be disappointed!

✔️ Go shopping and enjoy waterworks in Hakata’s Canal City

Kyushu bucket list: Fukuoka city trip
Canal City over on the Nakasu River. Photo by g-graphica.

This scenic commercial spot in Hakata City features an aquarium, various theaters, and over 100 specialty stores for you to splurge on. There’s a water park to cool down in the summer and dozens of unique cafes that you don’t want to miss. Themed attractions such as an Evangelion Store and a Kirby Café glitter like hidden gems in this metropolitan shopping zone.

Oita Prefecture – Hot Springs, History, and Beauty

Oita is associated with onsen, or Japanese hot springs. While the act of publicly bathing with a bunch of other people might seem daunting and strange, it is a respectful and highly relaxing practice. Oita happens to have one of the most unique collections of hot springs in its bayside town, Beppu. There’s even more to this scenic prefecture than its bathing resorts, though. Let’s check out some of the attractions, delicacies, and culture Oita has to offer.

✔️ Take a soak in Beppu, Japan’s onsen hotspot

Kyushu bucket list trip in Oita
One of Hell’s Springs. Photo by Erin Himeno

Enjoy a variety of affordable hot spring resorts that offer services like sand baths, natural mineral baths, electric baths, and more! Beppu has hundreds of hot springs; driving through the resort town results in smelling the sulfuric aroma of volcanic hot springs, but you get used to it. You can also take a tour around the “Hell Pools” which are too dangerous to bathe in but vividly colorful. Munch on steamed dumplings, puddings, and other delicacies as you relax in you yukata.

Beppu also has a bunch of opportunities to look at exotic animals. There are small zoos near the Hell Springs and even an African Safari outside of the main city.  If you want a chance to get in touch with our primate cousins, you should visit the monkey haven in Takasakiyama Park.

From Takasakiyama Park official website

✔️ Visit Kitsuki for samurai homes, castles, and more

Kyushu travel bucket list - Samurai town in Oita
Kitsuki Castle Festival, 2017. Photo by Erin Himeno.

Built amidst plateaus and hills, the cobbled streets of Kitsuki’s historically recreated samurai town are a rustic delight. Drink traditional tea and eat Japanese sweets beneath the thatched roofs of the Ohara Residence, the Noumi Residence, and other famous houses the Japanese samurai once lived in. We recommend that you rent a yukata or kimono to enjoy seasonal festivals like the summer Tenjin Festival or the colorful spring Kitsuki Festival. Each are lively celebrations of Kistuki’s culture packed with costumed characters, horses, and more.

Kitsuki is ruled over by the smallest castle in Japan, Kitsuki Castle. Snap some selfies atop the castle wall with the beautiful Beppu Bay behind you. If you check out nearby museums, you can even try on a samurai helmet! Who says you need to go to Kyoto to experience historic Japan?

✔️ Challenge your fear of heights by walking across Japan’s longest pedestrian bridge

Kyushu trip Kokonoe Yume Bridge
Kokonoe Yume Bridge in the fall. Photo by コメット.

Kokonoe Yume Bridge is a little-known gem nestled in Oita’s natural landscape. 173 meters above the ground, this breath-taking, daunting bridge grants a stunning view of a valley dotted with waterfalls. This bridge is beautiful at any time of the year but especially when the autumn colors have begun to flood the valley. After you finish your journey across the bridge, try out a wild boar hamburger and other snacks at nearby food stalls!

Miyazaki Prefecture – Kyushu’s Rustic Beauty

Often forgotten even by native Japanese tourists, Miyazaki is by far the most underrated treasure in this list. Not only is it packed with delicious foods, but the amount of history and culture that comes from this scenic prefecture is staggering. While traveling Miyazaki’s many wonders might be harder for those who don’t know a lot of Japanese, it’s certainly worth your while. Let’s see what this gorgeous area of Kyushu has to offer.

✔️ Step into the fairytale that is Takachiho Gorge

Kyushu travel bucket list - Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki
Takachiho Gorge. Photo by acworks.

Sporting valleys of black volcanic rock that clash aesthetically with turquoise water, this gorge of myth and legend is nestled in the mountain town of Takachiho. While this entire area is in the Japanese inaka or “middle of nowhere,” it is teeming with culture, mythology, and natural beauty. Take a small boat through the ethereal gorge, explore the solemn temples and shrines surrounded by 800-year-old gargantuan trees, and build a rock pile in the cave that Amaterasu herself once hid in until other gods danced to coax the sun back out to shine upon Japan once more.

✔️ Enjoy Miyazaki beef, chicken nanban, and spicy ramen

Kyushu travel bucket list - Miyazaki beef

Fork out well-deserved cash for some succulent, tender Miyazaki beef. Whether it’s a burger, a steak, or classic Japanese barbeque (yakiniku), this beer-fed, massaged beef is gorgeously marbeled with fat and will melt in your mouth. It’s the world-famous delicacy wagyu at its finest.

Grade A5 Miyazaki Beef. Photo by フエキのり

Kyushu travel bucket list - special food

Chicken nanban, or “barbarian-style chicken,” is chicken breast or thigh breaded in a sweet and sour coating. This tender delight is then slathered in tarter sauce. While famous across Japan, it is native to Miyazaki Prefecture. If you don’t like tartar sauce, try the original, lighter style at Nobeoka City’s Naochan.

Naochan’s original chicken nanban. Photo by Erin Himeno.

Even if you aren’t a lover of spicy food, you can appreciate Miyazaki’s signature spicy Masumoto ramen dish. Masumoto uses a special type of ultra-chewy buckwheat noodle, tons of garlic, and a special spice for its famous noodle dish. The soup is packed with eggs, leeks, and ground beef.

However, Masumoto is skilled at serving vegetarian customers; simply ask to have the beef removed! The soup base is soy, so you can even remove the eggs if you want a vegan dish. The spice level can be adjusted between 0 and 25. Customized toppings are offered in great variety, from fatty meat called nankotsu to leeks, cheese, and more.

Kyushu travel bucket list - Spicy Ramen in Miyazaki
Spicy ramen. Photo by web36

✔️ Visit Aoshima and the Devil’s Washboard

Kyushu travel bucket list - Aoshima
The Devil’s Washboard. Credit: とりあし.

The Devil’s Washboard” is an eerily beautiful stone formation of along a beach in Aoshima. Search the cragged area at low tide for oceanic treasures like shells, starfish, and crabs. Visit the nearby torii-gate and shrine that hold a tropic sense of beauty, then take a walk down the quaint, beachfront town. Try some hyuga natsu citrus ice cream or if you have the budget, eat a mango so big it’s called a “Sun Egg.” Miyazaki is full of tropical delights, and the best can be found in Aoshima.

Kumamoto Prefecture – Kyushu’s Panoramic Paradise  

Many people think of Hokkaido when asked about wide, rolling plains in Japan. But like the northernmost island, Japan’s southern island of Kyushu has wide, panoramic plains that house dairy farms, outdoor adventure sites, and more. Kumamoto is best known for its creamy soft ice cream, it’s debatably creepy mascot, and the beautiful castle that is still being rebuilt after a fatal set of earthquakes in 2016. Here are some things to do in Kumamoto Prefecture.

✔️ Visit Kumamoto Castle

Kyushu travel bucket list - Kumamoto castle
The stones of Kumamoto Castle. Credit: ichico.

Although it sustained damage in the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes, Kumamoto Castle is still a lofty site to visit. The park surrounding it remains open, and the main area of the castle is set to re-open for visitors in 2021. Kumamoto Castle is the pride of its prefecture and remains stunningly beautiful, especially in the spring when the surrounding cherry blossoms burst into cloud-like blooms in the surrounding parks.

✔️ Explore Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano

Kyushu travel bucket list - nature and hiking
The green plains of Aso. Credit: ヒゲオヤジ.

Mt. Aso is Japan’s largest active volcano and provides a jaw-dropping view at how nature continues to grow and shift around volcanic activity. Fertile plains give way to ominous yet beautiful calderas. Visit the volcanic museum to study up on Aso’s eruptive history, ride horses around the nearby plains, and even ride up to the most actively steaming caldera if conditions permit.

Kyushu travel bucket list things to do in Kumamoto

Near and around the volcano are the rolling, panoramic plateaus and plains known as Daikanbo. The bold can take a paragliding session with professionals to get a more intimate experience of Daikanbo’s 360 panoramic splendor. Enjoy ice cream and other locally provided dairy products at the nearby shops and food stalls. Daikanbo also has quite a few famous ryokan, or traditional inns, if you feel like settling in for an authentic experience in the rustic plains.

A paraglider sails over the Daikanbo Caldera. Credit: kankanmama

Kagoshima Prefecture

✔️ Visit the volcanic Sakurajima

Kyushu travel bucket list - Sakurajima in Kagoshima
Sakurajima, 2017. Credit: Erin Himeno

Just a ferry ride away from Kagoshima City, Sakurajima is an active volcano considered the pride of Kagoshima Prefecture. Considering the frequency of eruptions, Sakurajima’s peaks aren’t always accessible, but they are still gorgeous. Even when the volcano’s peaks are closed, you can visit a shrine half-buried by in volcanic ash, explore the three major peaks of Sakurajima’s 1,117-meter splendor, or relax in the tranquility of Sakurajima’s nature trails.

✔️ Try Kagoshima’s Famous Black Pork

Kyushu travel bucket list Kagoshima food
Kurokatsutei’s Signature Pork Cutlet Meal. Credit: Erin Himeno.

Relish Kagoshima’s pride from an era dominated by the Shogunate with kurobuta, or black pork. Tender and lavished in soft fats, this pork is truly a cut above the rest. It’s always best eaten in the prefecture that birthed it, and Kagoshima offers a variety of restaurants and eateries that specialize in kurobuta. We personally recommend Japan’s famous tonkatsu, or deep-fried pork cutlet, as a way to experience kurobuta for the first time. Kagoshima’s beloved Kurokatsutei restaurant is a great place to settle in for a delicious meal of black pork cutlets, miso soup, and savory sauces.

Nagasaki Prefecture

Known for its history as Japan’s first open door to various cultures and beliefs, Nagasaki shines today as a dynamic hub of international activity. From seasonal festivities to a hodgepodge of unique architecture, Nagasaki performs the near-impossible task of reflecting the influence of different countries while at its roots remaining elegantly true to Japanese ways. Here are some to-dos if you’re visiting this vibrant prefecture.

✔️ Remember those lost to the atomic bomb in Nagasaki’s museum and peace park

Kyushu travel bucket list - must visits in Nagasaki
Peace Park Memorial Statue. Credit: kazu0957.

Contrasting to the Hiroshima Dome and Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park stand in a more positive note, offering a display on the steps made towards the elimination of nuclear weapons after the grim exhibit of Nagasaki’s tragic history. Visit the Peace Park for a tranquil, solemn tribute to the lost and the aging survivors…you might meet a few, as those who are still able like to visit and speak with tourists about their lives.

✔️ Immerse yourself in the glow of the Chinese New Year

Kyushu travel bucket list things to do in Nagasaki
Nagasaki lanterns over a river at night. Credit: Erin Himeno.

Nagasaki’s festive celebration of the Chinese New Year during the February Lantern Festival is a wonder to behold. Over 10,000 lanterns and illuminated decorations light up the city with a rich and ornate gala of Chinese culture. Parades and carnival events create a dynamic, joyful atmosphere as you weave through crowded streets for savory festival food from Chinese, Japanese, and Dutch origins.

Saga Prefecture

✔️ Check out Karatsu Castle

Kyushu travel bucket list Karatsu Castle in Saga
Karatsu Castle as viewed from the castle bridge. Credit: popolomoro888.

Rising from the waters of Karatsu City like a magnificent crane, Karatsu Castle spreads its wings to honor the Edo Period and all the cultural beauty that has come and gone since. Climbing to the top of the castles recently refurbished tower will give you a grand 360-degree view of Karatsu City, as well as an interactive experience of the castle’s gorgeous art exhibits and inner workings. Sometimes known as “the Dancing Crane,” this castle sports gorgeous cherry blossoms on its hillsides in the spring and has several lovely festivals throughout the year that you can enjoy.

✔️ Be transported by Saga’s International Balloon Fiesta

Kyushu travel bucket list - Saga prefecture balloon festival
Saga’s International Balloon Festival in the sunset. Credit: kscz58ynk.

For delighted spectators, this festival is a perfect opportunity to picnic beneath lofty hot air balloons. For participants, it’s a competitive sport that only the best pilot will win. Either way, this fall fiesta has been going strong since 1978 and attracts entrants from Japan, Korea, and beyond. The International Balloon Fiesta is beautiful even at night, as the flames that raise the balloons become lanterns beneath the colorful balloon canvases.

✔️ Sink your teeth into tender Yobuko Squid

Kyushu travel bucket list - things to do in Saga
Yobuko Squid sashimi dish. Credit: チリーズ.

Raised with the utmost care in the Genkai fisheries, Yobuko squid is famous around Japan for its soft, sweet flesh. While many people outside of Japan balk at the thought of eating squid that isn’t calamari, Yobuko is delicious grilled, fried into tasty tempura, or even served raw as a sashimi meal. You will definitely change your mind about squid if you eat Yobuko dishes!