This article is sponsored by Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO). Checkout www.jnto.org.au for information about tourism in Japan for Australians.
Kyushu really is Japan undiscovered.
For adventurers who love taking the road less travelled, this Kyushu itinerary features an epic adventure through mountains and interesting landscapes, temples and that famous Japanese culture.
To really get the most out of Kyushu, I’d recommend a minimum of 5 days.
5 days is a good balance between having to rush around like a crazy person and taking the time to make sure you get some good light at these gorgeous locations.
Definitely hire a car when visiting Kyushu. Although Kyushu does have good public transport, with the Shinkansen running from top to bottom, some locations won’t be that accessible by bus or otherwise, taking valuable time away from your trip stuck in a bus when you could be out adventuring.
As for time of year, because Kyushu is a place of such natural beauty, I’d definitely recommend coming in Autumn, where the reds, oranges and yellows start to colour the landscape. Autumn is September to November in Japan, but the colours start last in Kyushu, and the warm tones here start from November.
Kyushu Itinerary - Day 1
Nagasaki is a great first location for this Kyushu itinerary - it's Kyushu's most western city.
As a harbour city, there’s plenty of things to do. Definitely try to get out on the water somehow and view the city by boat if you’ve got spare time.
Mid day - Check in to your accomodation
You can fly in to Nagasaki from any major city in Japan. It’s probably cheapest flying international to Tokyo, then flying domestic to Nagasaki. I recommend flying with ANA as their service is the best out of all the Japanese airlines.
Mid afternoon/sunset - Mount Inasayama
When you’re all settled in, consider venturing up to Mount Inasayama. It’s Nagasaki’s tallest viewpoint, with a great sunset/night view of the city.
Take the ropeway, or drive up to the top. There’s also an observation deck there too.
Or maybe all of them, in that order.
Nagasaki’s Chinatown is very pretty, but make sure you go early because unlike bigger cities like Tokyo, the locals close here pretty early (around 6:30pm).
Megane bridge is a nice 16th century walkway you could also venture up to take photographs of.
Also, for people attracted to light shows, the newly opened Island Lumina offers a great interactive audio/visual experience that’s not too far from town.
Kyushu Itinerary - Day 2
Get up bright and early! There’s adventuring to do.
Today’s adventures are going to be action packed with lots of driving.
If it’s your first time in Japan, don’t be afraid to use those convenience stores! Japanese convenience stores are the best in the world and you can literally do the entire trip just living off of these (I’ve done many trips surviving on combini’s alone). They’ll be scatted around everywhere on your trip.
Sunrise - Underwater torii, aka Great Fish Shrine
For you photography enthusiasts, this is a off-the-beaten-path, off-the-beaten-path (yeah, I said that twice) location.
The underwater torii aka the Great Fish Shrine is an absolutely beautiful shrine you’d only know of if you were a local. It changes appearance with the tide, so you’re sure to get something unique.
Mid morning - Yūtoku Inari Shrine
One of the great Inari shrines of Japan and one of Kyushu’s greatest gems, Yūtoku Inari shrine is a must visit on your trip to Kyushu.
It’s so different to its bigger brother, Fushimi Inari in Kyushu, but just as beautiful in its own way.
At this time of day too, you’ll beat all the tourists and you’ll have the entire shrine to appreciate all to yourself. Inner serenity inbound.
Day - Fukuoka
Drive all the way up to Fukuoka to visit the city, check in to your accomodation and have some lunch.
Consider having your lunch at Ōhori park - it’s a gorgeous little lake park in the middle of the city.
Sunset - Sakurai Futamigaura of Meotoiwa
It’s a beautiful torii gate with ‘wedded rocks’ sitting behind it. A beautiful little beach spot for a quiet way to end the day.
Kyushu Itinerary - Day 3
A less agressive start to the day will have you driving about two hours east towards Beppu.
It’s a more relaxed day today, because tomorrows adventures will be hard and fast.
There’s still plenty experiences to be had today, though!
Mid morning - Usa Jingu
It takes around two hours to get here from Fukuoka. Of course, the earlier you go, the less people there will be and a better experience you’ll have.
Usa Jingu is an absolutely massive shrine dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war.
It’s beautiful, peaceful and serene. You’ll have a great time there before all the tourists show up.
Day - Umi Jigoku
Make your way to the hot spring town of Beppu and visit one of the hot springs the city is so famous for.
Some of these hot springs are for viewing, not for bathing, and I recommend going to one called “Umi Jigoku”, because it has both types of colours these hot springs typically show off.
Sunset/night - Yukemuri Observatory or onsen
The afternoon and night is relatively relaxed.
For the classic Beppu photograph, Yukemori Observatory is your place. Although it’s not actually an observatory, more like a carpark on the side of a road, it does have free parking and is a good vantage point for the shot. Bring a tele lens with you.
If that’s not your thing, spend the night doing what the city is famous for - onsen.
Kyushu Itinerary - Day 4
Mt Aso, Takachiho Gorge
This will be your earliest wake up, but it’ll be worth it if conditions go your way. Promise.
Arguably the number 1 reason people come to Kyushu, seeing Japan’s most active volcano is definitely an experience to remember.
It’s not always as straightforward as just turning up and making the most of it, though. As it’s such a large mountain, Mt Aso has its own weather system. At its best, it means sunny days or a sea of clouds surrounding it. At it worst, it means rain and fog so thick you can’t see 10 metres in front of you.
The best way to maximise your chances of getting favourable conditions is to go first thing in the morning, where chances of heavy fog are the lowest. You also get the best light at this time of morning. The early bird truly does get the worm.
Sunrise - Mt Aso
It’s a 2 hour drive from Beppu to Mt Aso. Especially if you want to make it in time for sunrise, if sunrise is at 6, leaving Beppu at 3-3:30am is probably your best bet.
There many ways to experience Mt Aso since it’s so large.
My recommendation is to view it from the Kusasenri viewpoint first thing in the morning.
From there, you could potentially visit another local gem nearby, Komezuka. It’s a big, grassy mountain that’s quite peculiar, but awesome.
Once the sun has come up a bit, then you can go to the crater itself at Mt Nakadake.
You can actually drive up to the crater, but there is a parking fee at the top.
Mid morning - Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine
After what would be an experiential couple of hours at Mt Aso, you could temper it down a bit by visiting Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine.
It’s a short 30 minute drive from the volcano, but it’s one of the most peaceful and serene shrines Japan has to offer.
Getting there this early in the morning will mean less people, too.
Day - Takachiho Gorge
Another one of Kyushu’s must visit experiences, Takachiho gorge is a beautiful gorge with turquoise coloured water created from the ferocious volcanic activity from Mt Aso.
Although conventional wisdom would have you go here early to avoid the tourists, it actually pays off to be a bit late here.
The viewpoints are mostly wide and easy to shoot from, even with people. The gorge itself only allows 20 boats at a time also, so it’s never quite that packed. And also, at that time, the light shines down into the gorge itself.
What you may have to wait for however is the line to catch a boat, but it’s worth it.
Afternoon - Kumamoto
After a long day, head to Kumamoto to check in, recover and rest.
Kyushu Itinerary - Day 5
On the last day, spend the first half in Kumamoto, before heading back to Fukuoka to catch your flight home.
Morning - Suizenji-jojuen
Suizenji-jojuen is a very picturesque garden with a lake.
It’s one of Kumamoto’s main attractions and worth visiting in the morning, where there’s better light.
Mid morning - Kumamoto Castle
One of Japan’s premier castles, Kumamoto castle was affected by an earthquake just two years ago.
Since then, repairs have been underway to fix some of the damaged turrets that surround it, but just because there’s some construction there doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful place to walk around.
You can walk around the entire castle in about an hour.
Mid day - Return
If you’ve planned a flight for the afternoon at Fukuoka, leave early.
The drive from Kumamoto to Fukuoka is around 2 hours via tolls.
Kyushu is an amazing destination that few tourists go to.
It’s definitely worth visiting if you’ve got an extra 5 days in Japan, or if you want to experience a side that most people don’t get to see.
Let me know if you find this itinerary useful =)