Encounter the unexpected in Kyushu
We caught up with Aussie adventurers, Emilie and Jason, after their 7 day trip to Kyushu. Here’s what they had to say about taking a path less travelled through Japan’s southern island.
What makes Kyushu unlike the rest of Japan?
Having been to Japan a few times already, we were excited to visit a lesser known part of the country. Spending just under a week in one region was ideal as we were able to explore many different places and cover a really large distance travelling from the very bottom of the island right up to the north.
If you’re curious and a somewhat experienced traveller, Kyushu is definitely for you. You can discover and immerse yourself in unique culture, learning more about the history and way of life while experiencing its natural wonders.
“We quickly realised how incredibly diverse this area of Japan is. From the active volcanoes, lush ancient forests and semi tropical coastlines, there are so many places here we never knew existed.”
Each part of the region we explored had its own specialty and uniqueness. In comparison to the rest of the country, Kyushu felt much more relaxed and easy going with beautiful countryside and hidden pockets of surprising natural features. We were met with so many of the hidden gems throughout the region.
“Some of the places we stumbled upon especially on Yakushima Island felt like a hidden paradise not of this world.”
There are some opportunities to really go off the beaten path and explore nature with some extensive hikes throughout Yakushima’s ancient forests which is something that we haven’t seen in the other well known parts of Japan. The coastlines and waterfalls we experienced were a lot more subtropical and felt otherworldly to Japan, with some of the forest locations even reminding us of the rainforests back home in tropical north Queensland!
What are your ‘must-sees’ in Kyushu?
Yakushima Island is a place where nature still reigns supreme, wildlife roam free and adventure is a way of life. Ancient forests cover a large portion of the island with countless waterfalls, lush mossy gorges and an abundance of wildlife.
Shimabara Castle is an impressive samurai era castle laying in the shadow of an active volcano. The contrast of city and mountain are stark and breathtaking. We also enjoyed the rich local culture of the town plus the koi fish swimming in the canals is a wonderful surprise.
“The colours, shapes and atmosphere created a magical event that felt like we had been transported to some fairytale.”
We had seen photos of the Saga International Balloon Fiesta but experiencing over a hundred balloons floating over the rural town of Saga in synchronised precision was spectacular. The festival provides endless photo opportunities!
Experiencing Sakurajima Island, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan, is mind-blowing. It was our first time up close to an active volcano and it did not disappoint, with incredible plumes of smoke and ash catapulting into the sky above the mountain.
Shimeiso Garden is a beautiful home that has a very traditional setting, welcoming atmosphere and a very authentic local feel. You’re offered green tea and can learn about the philosophy surrounding Japanese gardens.
Did you encounter any hidden gems you think people might not know about?
We had never experienced a white torii gate before the Sakurai Futamigaura Shrine. We assumed that most are always red/orange. The immense size of the white shrine, ocean backdrop and surrounding landscapes make for a beautiful destination to watch and capture the sunset.
“We had no idea this place existed until we stumbled upon it on our drive around the island.”
Yakushima Lighthouse was totally unexpected and the perfect place to watch the sunset over the ocean. This lighthouse is one of the oldest in all of Japan and the contrasting of white facade against the ocean make for stunning photos.
Komyozenji Temple is a traditional rock garden and Japanese building with beautiful trees and a quiet atmosphere. A great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the surrounding shrines and take in a culturally significant site.
Any recommendations for your fellow Aussie travellers?
“This type of trip would be recommended for perhaps someone returning to Japan for a second visit and looking to explore more of an adventurous and untouched destination.”
Even though we found many of the shrines and local attractions busy, most of these destinations are more popular with local Japanese tourists as opposed to international tourists.
This is definitely a region of Japan I would recommend experiencing with a guide to provide insights into the history and lore. Someone who can communicate in Japanese always helps!
“We were at times the only international tourists in many of the destinations which was a unique and surprising feeling that you don’t often find while travelling.”
Some activities such as the Saga Balloon Fiesta were more popular than we initially expected, with hundreds of people preparing and waiting to watch the balloons take off in the dark well before sunrise. Finding your way around and getting the best viewing point can be challenging with limited signage so best to get there early or travel with a guide who knows the location well.
“As so many of the destinations in this part of Japan are focused around nature, it is helpful to keep a note of the change of seasons throughout this region when planning.”
We found we were a little too early in some regions for autumn colours as the changing of colours are not always at the same time each year and are continually changing. Travelling further south, we found the weather in Kyushu much warmer than expected, even travelling throughout autumn and winter you may find the seasons to not be as cold as other parts of Japan.
Any final tips?
“Logistically planning ahead for both seasons and special events is necessary.”
We recommend visiting larger events like the balloon festival early to avoid large crowds and to make reservations for accomodation on particular dates as many places get booked out months in advance.