Kyushu island is a unique part of Japan that is often overlooked by visitors. It’s far away from the busy hotspots of Tokyo and Kyoto.
What if I tell you that Kyushu island is only a short domestic flight away and it’s easy to reach and explore?
Kyushu is a paradise for nature lovers with its stunning countryside and unique landscape with trees, mountains and active volcanoes. The island offers a more relaxed experience of Japan, giving you a break from the hustle and bustle of the most popular cities in the country.
What I most like about Kyushu island is how easy and accessible the island is to visitors, and it’s the perfect location to enjoy a road trip in Japan.
So, what are you waiting for? Pack your driving licence, grab a rental car and explore the major sights around Kyushu island.
I’ve put together a fun itinerary for exploring Kyushu that can be done over the course of one week.
From the onsens of Oita to the stunning rolling countryside of Yufuin and from the volcanoes of Aso to the castles of Kumamoto to the exciting nightlife of Fukuoka, Kyushu has it all.
Here is my ultimate guide to exploring Kyushu, Japan.
Transportation options: flying to Kyushu from Tokyo
Flying to Kyushu island from Tokyo Haneda International Airport couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve arrived at the international terminal you can transfer to the domestic terminal.
There are many domestic flights going to Kyushu. With Japan Airlines or ANA (All Nippon Airways) you can fly to Oita, Kumamoto or Fukuoka which has the biggest and most popular airport of the three.
Tokyo Narita Airport also has some options for flying to Kyushu, such as with Jetstar to Fukuoka.
You can also take the Shinkansen highspeed train to Kyushu island. Depending on where you are in Japan, you can take the train from Tokyo or from Shin-Osaka station to Hakata (Fukuoka) station by using the JR Tōkaidō Shinkansen or Sanyō Shinkansen lines.
The train can be a more expensive option for travellers compared to flying. Journey time from Tokyo to Hakata by train is around five hours.
Another alternative travel route to reach Kyushu island is to take the ferry boat from Busan, South Korea to Fukuoka, Japan.
How to rent a car in Kyushu, Japan
It’s rather easy to rent a car on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Be sure to register for an international driving licence in your home country well in advance before arriving in Japan.
I arrived at Oita Airport and used Toyota Rent a Car company which offered a pickup service from the airport. After exploring Kyushu, I could drop the rental car off in Fukuoka at the end of the trip.
One tip would be to request an English navigation system in your rental car as they have both Japanese and English ones available.
Driving in Japan is rather simple and straightforward. Just keep an eye on the local speed limit. It’s also advised to keep some small change at hand for parking and tolls as normally the machines only take cash.
Recommended road trip route around Kyushu island
To complete my recommended road trip route, you will need a week’s duration to visit all the destinations listed in this guide.
If you wish, you could break up sections to complete over a long weekend or take longer and spend more time in each destination and extend the trip further than a week. The option is purely based on how you prefer to travel.
I’ve recommended flying into Oita airport to pick up your car rental and then end the trip in Fukuoka. If you want to switch the route around you could start by flying into Fukuoka and ending up in Oita.
Another option is to start in Fukuoka and then loop around from Oita and head back to Fukuoka (journey time 2 hours). Toyota Rent a Car has pick up and drop off points at both locations.
All route options are flexible, and it would depend on how you reach Kyushu island so feel free to adapt and change my recommendations to fit your travel plans best.
Global 3G/4G data and Wi-Fi in Kyushu, Japan
All around the Kyushu island I found the 4G signal reliable and well connected. I’d recommend getting some data whilst exploring Japan so you can stay connected.
Google translate can come in handy to help with conversations, and Google maps can help with directions if the navigation system becomes confusing. It’s also helpful to contact local guest houses in case you encounter a delay on route.
I would recommend getting a Skyroam device to take with you on your trip as it offers good daily rates for multiple devices so you can stay connected whilst in Japan.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 across the island of Kyushu
In 2019 Japan will be a host country to the Rugby World Cup, and many of the games will be held at stadiums across the Kyushu island making this a wonderful excuse to go on a road trip.
Games will be held in Oita at the Oita Stadium, in Fukuoka at the Fukuoka Hakatamori Stadium and in Kumamoto at the Kumamoto Stadium.
The games will be as follows:
– Oita – Oita stadium:
New Zealand vs Canada – 02/10/19 @ 19:15
Australia vs Uruguay – 05/10/19 @ 14:15
Wales vs Fiji – Wales vs Fiji – 09/10/19 @ 18:45
Two of the Quarter-Final games will also be held in Oita.
– Fukuoka – Fukuoka Hakatamori Stadium:
Italy vs Canada – 26/09/19 @ 16:45
France vs USA – 02/10/19 @ 16:45
Ireland vs Samoa – 12/10/19 @ 19:45
– Kumamoto – Kumamoto Stadium:
France vs Tonga – 06/10/19 @ 16:45
Wales vs Uruguay – 13/10/19 @ 17:15
Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto city will be putting together a whole host of activities for travelling fans such as transportation to the stadiums and fan zone areas to cheer on your team.
Matsuri in Kyushu
To mark the celebration of the Rugby World Cup 2019 and to promote the unique and diverse culture that can be found around the Kyushu island, a special event called Matsuri in Kyushu will be held for international visitors.
Matsuri in Kyushu, which in Japanese translates into Kyushu festival will be held between the 28-29th of September in Kumamoto city centre. It is close to the Rugby World Cup fan zone area so everyone can take part in the fun activities that will be on display over the course of the two-day event.
Prefectures participating in the event will be from around Kyushu. Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima and Okinawa will all come together to showcase their local culture to the international visitors. It will for sure be an entertaining event jam packed with loads of traditional Japanese activities to take part in.
Practical guides and rules to understanding onsen culture
Bathing in an onsen is a popular and relaxing pastime in Japan. It is most popular in Oita, the home of onsen with geothermal activity from the volcanoes heating up the hot springs. You will find many naturally heated onsens in the area, and, in fact, Oita is the onsen capital of not only Kyushu but the whole of Japan with thousands of hot springs to choose from.
So, bring your onsen towel with you as you will have many opportunities to enjoy a relaxing onsen around Kyushu.
What I wanted to do here is offer some words of advice to international visitors and first-time users of onsen as there are a few points you should bear in mind before you get started.
– Take a shower before entering the onsen to ensure you’re completely clean.
– You must be naked in the onsen as clothes are considered dirty.
– Public onsens are normally split into male and female sections. If you wish to share an onsen, you can book a private one at selected guest houses.
– No tattoos are allowed in onsen. If you have tattoos, you can look for tattoo friendly onsen. Tourism Oita have created a map to show the locations.
– Your towel must never touch the onsen water. You can place your small onsen towel on your head whilst enjoying the onsen.
– Don’t dunk your head under the onsen water.
– Avoid water splashing in the onsen area.
– Dry yourself before entering the changing rooms.
– Remember to sit back, relax and enjoy your onsen experience in Kyushu.
You will soon learn that Japan is a culture built on respect, and rules are normally put into place to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. Now you know the basic rules to enjoying an onsen experience and you should be all set.
The prefecture of Oita
Within Oita Prefecture, you will find popular locations such as Oita city, Yufuin and Beppu to explore which offer plenty of onsen options to choose from as well as beautiful countryside, nature and fun city life.
First, we will visit the city of Oita which is worth staying over for the night.
Tenku Open-air City Spa & JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom Oita
When you arrive in Oita city, why not relax and enjoy your first onsen? Be sure to check into the JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom Oita which is easily found next to Oita railway station.
Once checked in, you can enjoy the best city view of Oita city from the relaxing Tenku Open-air City Spa which is located in the roof of the hotel. Perfect for relaxing either at sunset when the city lights start to turn on or first thing in the morning as you watch the sun rise over the city. It’s truly the best and most relaxing spot in Oita city.
This natural carbonated hot spring features baths with panoramic views of the city, plus saunas.
Bar hopping and local foods around Oita
The best nightlife and places to eat around Oita city can be found north of the train station. Here you can find a wide selection of bars serving izakaya style BBQ snacks or a whole host of local dishes.
The area was made popular by salarymen enjoying a tasty bowl or two before grabbing the last train home.
Local dishes that are a must try include Bugo beef, Seki mackerel and chicken tempura. You can wash down these tasty dishes with a glass of Shochu which is produced in Kyushu. Enjoy the nightlife by sampling a taste of local dishes on your visit around Oita city.
Oita as a prefecture has the most onsens and the largest output of hot spring water in Japan. One good example of this can be found in the city of Beppu. Driving from Oita city to Beppu is relatively easy to do as it’s around a 25-minute drive.
Enjoy a relaxing foot spa
If you would like to rest your feet, Beppu has a large selection of free self-service public foot spas that can be found scattered around the city. Don’t forget to pack your own towel to dry your feet when you’re done. I would recommend the Beppu Kaihin Sunaba Onsen which looks out to a stunning sea view.
Close to this location you can also find a sand onsen on the beach. It works by being buried under sand which is heated by rising steam. This is a very unique form of onsen that can be found in Beppu and around Kyushu.
Jigoku Hells visitor onsen
Beppu is also home to visitor onsens called Jigoku which translates to English as “hells”. These hells are meant for viewing only. You can find seven of them located around the city of Beppu.
You can purchase a Beppu Jigoku ticket at any of the entrances that will give you access to all seven of the hells. Parking is also available for free at the locations.
Because of fumarolic gas of around 100 degrees, these hells are not open for bathing and only for visitors to view from a distance. Five of the hells are located in the Kannawa district and two in the more remote Shibaseki district.
Umi Jigoku is the most popular of the hells and one of the most beautiful as well. Here you can see the large hot spring and the vast steam that rises from the pond.
Worth trying on your visit to the Jigoku is the hot spring steamed pudding which is served at a number of the cafes at the hells.
At Chinoike Jigoku location, the pond water is a red blood colour. It is one of the most photogenic locations of the seven. Worth visiting and stopping off for sure.
Jigokumushi Kobo Steam Cooking Center
Feeling hungry? Why not go to an onsen restaurant! At Jigokumushi Kobo Steam Cooking Center you can purchase a selection of ingredients, such as fresh vegetables, dumplings, eggs, meat cuts or seafood to be steam cooked from the hot spring steam.
You can rent a steam chamber to cook your meal in, and whilst you wait you can use the foot baths under the dining table to relax. A delicious, unique and fun dining and cooking experience to try in Beppu.
Yufuin and Yufu mountains
Yufuin is famous for its stunning countryside and vista like scenery. A good idea is to park up your rental car at the Yufu train station and rent a bicycle for the day from bicycle shop ren-cha. Then you can go and explore Mount Yufu which includes a selection of wonderful foothills that offer a refreshing breath of fresh air and stunning views. A great way to spend the day.
Close to the Yufu train station you can find the guest house Yufuin no Take which makes for a great place to park your car and rest your head for the night for a busy day ahead. You will want to wake up bright and early to make your way to Mount Aso.
Mount Aso is an active volcano and the mountain’s active volcanic peaks include Mount Nakadake, Komeduka, Kusasenri and Daikanbo crater.
This area is a spectacular area of natural beauty and worth the stop along your road trip. The best and safest location to have a good look over the edge into the Nakadake crater is from the viewing area.
The toll road to the crater is also open if you wish to use your own car, and the crater is an easy one-minute walk away from the car park.
The popular ropeway that was used for visitors to get to the top of the crater remains out of service.
Before visiting Mount Aso, you should check for live updates on visiting the crater as the visitor situation can change daily due to weather conditions.
It’s important to note that if you have health issues such as asthma, it’s advised not to visit the crater area.
You can find a selection of light hiking paths that can take you to different viewing points of Mount Aso’s volcanic craters.
The hiking paths are normally less crowded and a great way to discover the landscape. You could find yourself having the whole place to yourself, and it almost feels like you’re on Mars whilst walking around the area.
Stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan
Otohime no Sato is a traditional Japanese ryokan located within close driving distance from Mount Aso.
If it’s your first visit to Japan, then staying one night at a traditional Japanese guest house called a ryokan is a must.
Kyushu offers a wonderful selection of ryokans to choose from, particularly those with private access to relaxing onsens.
The best ones that offer the most relaxing and peaceful atmosphere are located in the countryside amongst nature, and Kyushu has many of these types of ryokans to offer with an idyllic setting.
Traditionally ryokans are passed through the guest house owners’ families, and many ryokans can date back through generations, some even back to the Edo time.
Normally a night’s stay at a ryokan will come at an additional cost compared to standard hotel stays but the experience is well worth the value.
Mostly for its unique Japanese cultural experience, a ryokan can be rather interesting to try for visitors as it’s so different to a normal night’s stay. So, why not try it on your visit to Japan at least once?
Your room will be a traditional Japanese room with tatami mat and thin paper walls and doors. It’s advised to take your shoes off before entering and to keep your luggage off the delicate tatami floor to avoid damage.
Normally a guest will have a yukata robe, bed pyjamas, towels, bedding, sheets and pillows provided by the ryokan. These items might be stored away when you enter the room for the first time. This way you can use the room before bedtime when the beds are made up for use.
Normally your stay will include a dining experience and breakfast service which is usually included in the price.
The dining is a wonderful experience to enjoy traditional cuisine and dishes from the guest house area.
What is special about staying at the Otohime no Sato ryokan is the private onsens which you can rent out either in the evening or morning and you have one all to yourself to relax and enjoy.
Be sure to book a ryokan for at least one night on your road trip around Kyushu.
Kumamoto is another popular city on the Japanese island of Kyushu in the south-west of Japan. There are many incredible attractions, sights to see and dishes to try for travellers who happen to be visiting the city of Kumamoto, the largest city in the Kumamoto Prefecture.
Hotel the Gate Kumamoto
For an affordable stay in Kumamoto, be sure to check out Hotel the Gate Kumamoto. This brand new modern, cosy and clean hotel is located close to JR Kumamoto station and offers you a comfortable stay. Here you can have a good night’s sleep in Kumamoto for a great price.
Kumamoto Castle dates back to the 17th century and is considered one of the top three most important castles in all of Japan. The castle was greatly destroyed by the earthquake that hit most of the Kumamoto city in 2016.
Work is underway to rebuild Kumamoto Castle back to its former glory, and it will take some time until the construction work is completed. Until then, many of the main areas are closed off from access but you can still walk around the outside fortress grounds of the castle.
Kumamoto city is working on recovering and reopening the main Tenshu exterior by October 5th, 2019 for the rugby visitors.
For the love of Kumamon
Created by the government of Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamon is a mascot known in Japan as a your-charm. Kumamon is used to promote the island of Kyushu, and I’m sure you will spot the happy bear mascot all around the island of Kyushu whilst on your road trip. Be sure to keep a look out for him.
You can even visit Kumamon’s official office in Kumamoto to say hello in person, and he also started a Youtube channel.
Kumamon has grown in popularity over the years and has become a big success for the island’s promotion. Maybe you might want to buy some Kumamon gifts to remember your time in Kumamoto.
Ajisen Ramen for lunch
If you are looking for a lunch spot in Kumamoto, then you must try the popular ramen restaurant, Ajisen Ramen. The restaurant is famous for its heavy level of roasted garlic that takes over the thick broth. This food is sure to pack flavour, and you can get a good lunch set deal here for a reasonable price.
Based on the Kurume ramen concept, the addition of the extra garlic chips and oil concept have earned many fans. Have a seat and enjoy a tasty bowl of Ajisen Ramen.
Suizenji Jojuen Park is a traditional Japanese garden that surrounds a natural pond. Here you can enjoy and admire the peaceful natural landscape that’s located in the city. For the best view of the garden and the pond, enjoy a tea ceremony at the tea house where you can relax and unwind with an incredible view.
The garden is also home to a Suizenji temple which was built in 1632. The surrounding garden represents parts of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido, an ancient route that ran from Edo to Kyoto, and the hill is meant to represent a small-scale Mt. Fuji.
Kamitori and Shimotori shopping arcade
When looking for nightlife in Kumamoto, be sure to visit the Kamitori and Shimotori shopping arcade area. It’s the place to be for evening dining and entertainment. With loads of options to choose from, these arcades are perfect for enjoying izakaya style dining and finding an excellent selection of craft beers.
My recommendation is Neginozu for izakaya dining (chicken is a good option) and Voyager for a good selection of Japanese style craft beer. For those who are feeling more adventurous, you could also try a sushi train concept restaurant. It’s great fun, and the food is very delicious.
Fukuoka is the capital and the largest city of Fukuoka Prefecture, located at the tip of the northern shore of the Kyushu island. Fukuoka has been an important harbour city for many centuries. The city is best known for its ancient temples, great beaches, modern shopping and fun nightlife.
Fukuoka actually consists of two cities that were combined in 1889 when Hakata joined with Fukuoka to create a mega city. Hakata is still a popular district within Fukuoka. There’s a Shinkansen railway station there, and the district is also a popular spot for ramen lovers.
Here is what you can do during your visit to Fukuoka.
Accommodation: Book and Bed Fukuoka
Book and Bed is the perfect stay for book lovers in the city centre of Fukuoka. Nestled between the book shelves you can discover hidden cabin beds where guests can stay for the night.
When you’re not sleeping you can enjoy reading amongst the endless selection of books on display.
It’s like a capsule hotel but with a unique and interesting twist. This is a fun and an alternative way to experience a one-night’s stay in Japan, and it’s also a perfect location to base yourself in Fukuoka.
If you’re looking for tranquillity in Fukuoka and wish to escape the city for a moment, look no further than the Japanese garden of Yusentei Park.
It is a peaceful place and a great example of a Japanese-style garden that surrounds a lake. Spend some time walking around here and check out the large selection of koi carp that occupy the lake as well as the superb greenery.
Be sure to also visit the tea house that looks over the lake and enjoy a tea ceremony.
Dazaifu Tenmangu is a shrine dedicated to Sugawara Michizane who is known as the god of learning. The shrine grows in popularity around exam time when students flock to the location to pray for good results.
As you walk up to the shrine you will notice a selection of brass ox statues which act as symbols of luck if you rub them. If it’s success in exams or academic achievement you seek, this is the shrine for you.
The temple is located 250 meters away from Dazaifu train station. The street is lined with cosy traditional shops selling local products, such as hand-crafted chop sticks or the delicious bean paste cake called Umegae Mochi. Perfect spot for finding Japanese gifts to take back home with you.
If you wish to jazz up your photos in Dazaifu, you can rent a kimono or yukata here for the evening as the cosy town offers a perfect back drop.
Once you’ve passed the shops, you will find a torii gate that marks the entrance of the shrine. Leading up to the shrine, you will meet a series of two arched bridges and islands representing the past, present and future. They will then lead you to the walled courtyard of the shrine.
The area is also popular for being surrounded by over 6,000 plum trees which add a wonderful element of natural beauty to the surroundings.
Ichiran Dazaifu Sando ramen noodle
Ichiran Dazaifu Sando is a popular ramen chain which was first established in Fukuoka, Kyushu. Their restaurants can be found all around Japan and the world.
The Ichiran Dazaifu Sando location is popular amongst students because of its unique bowl shape which represents good luck and fortune for exams. That bowl is only available in the Fukuoka restaurant.
Ichiran Dazaifu Sando is unique compared to other ramen restaurants for its individual dining booths which allow you to focus on the tasty experience without distractions. It’s worth trying for international guests because there’s no other place quite like it.
Kyushu National Museum
Within walking distance of Dazaifu Tenmangu, you can find the Kyushu National Museum. Here you can marvel at the stunning architecture of the massive blue construction that almost looks like a sports stadium.
Within the exhibition space you will find a large entrance hall that will lead you to four floors of displays covering Japanese history from the Prehistoric Era to the Edo Period.
Before you finish your road trip around Kyushu, why not take a morning walk around Ohori Park located in the city centre of Fukuoka? Here you can explore the old grounds of the once standing Fukuoka Castle and still see some of the ruins.
You can also visit Maizuru Park which has a large selection of seasonal flower displays. Enjoy the relaxing urban oasis which offers a perfect area for you to feel the seasons of Fukuoka. You can also find a selection of cafes here for you to enjoy.
Yatai food stalls
Yatai food stalls must be the most exciting and vibrant place in Fukuoka to grab a bite to eat. Located along the water you will find plenty of food stalls serving a wide selection of Japanese dishes.
This is the place to be as the lights illuminate the sidewalk in the evening, and eager and hungry food enthusiasts wait for their turn to grab an available stall for some delicious dishes to try.
Best to arrive here without a game plan and dive into the space that grabs your attention the most. There’s simply so much choice you should seek your own stall to create your own food adventure.
Thank you for reading my ultimate guide to Kyushu island, Japan
Kyushu has so much to offer for visitors to Japan and I’m happy that you’ve stumbled across this guide to get some tips and advice for your future trip to the island.
I could only cover a small part of the island, but you have many options to choose from to create your road trip route.
I hope you have a wonderful time exploring the unique part of Japan across the island of Kyushu.