Experience a unique Japanese island life!
In the southwest of Japan, this laid-back island boasts the most volcanic hot springs and the least stress around.
Head to Sakurajima Visitor Center and its Nagisa Foot Bath Park to learn about the area’s volcanic history, why kids have to wear helmets (answer: protection from falling ash) and just how good it feels to put your feet in hot springs water. Nearby, Kagoshima’s Sengan-en Garden has beautiful landscaping (think sculptured flowers and bonsai trees).
Relax in an onsen, a traditional Japanese bath, such as at Nichinan Hot Springs or Kikuchi Hot Springs, where you can enjoy indoor/outdoor baths (in the former) and special hot springs water with hydrogen carbonate (in the latter). The Japanese swear by their joint and skin benefits!
Want some outdoor activity? Hike around the Takachiho Gorge, where you can walk down to the gorge and row boats around the various waterfalls.
The Kumamoto Castle grounds and shrine feature a grand structure being rebuilt by master stone masons after the earthquake of 2016, but it retains its regal beauty – especially during cherry blossom season from late March to early April.
At Suizenji Jojuen Garden in Kumamoto, rent a kimono at Wa Collection Mito store at a shopping street close by and have a Japanese tea ceremony. Then, go for a walk (and take selfies!) on the picturesque grounds designed to replicate the view towards Mount Fuji.
Japan’s first black vinegar restaurant, Black Vinegar Village Kakuida boasts sushi, black pig, sea bream and wagyu beef, as well as black vinegar fruit drink and black vinegar ice cream – all dressed up with its beloved local brew. Downstairs, view rows of urns containing this fermenting vinegar.
Visit the Kirishima Factory Garden to see how “spirit of the spirits” shochu is made with sweet potatoes. Its nearby restaurant serves Japanese classics – from sashimi to barbecued meats – along with ice and soda water for the shochu.
Teppanyaki still rules in these parts. Watch the masters in action at Teppanyaki Aso Mambo in the Aso Shrine area. Must-order: wagyu steak with garlic fried rice.
Check out Japan’s famous discount retailer, Don Quijote in Kagoshima for late afternoon (3 p.m.) to early morning (5 a.m.) shopping. Find awesome deals on facemasks – rice, hyaluronic acid, green tea, oatmeal and collagen – all for about $7 each.
Pick up green tea and all the tools you need to brew it at various shops of The Sakuranokoji Shopping Arcade in the shadow of Kumamoto Castle grounds. Likewise, Japan cranks out endless confections made of local mandarin oranges, sweet potatoes, green tea and more. Sample the snacks at every rest stop, shrine or museum shop!
Most hotels on Kyushu feature traditional Japanese stylings: beds and seating on the floor, modular bathrooms with small bathtubs (bonus: bath salts and face masks are usually provided!) and ricepaper doors between rooms.
For easy access, Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Kinseicho (from $66 a night) in downtown Kagoshima puts you right at the Asahidori Tram Stop.
Outside the cities, consider staying at one of the homey ryokans, or inns, that house hot springs waters like Kanpo no Yado Nichinan and Kikuchi Hot Spring, Seiryuso (from $120 and $127 per night, respectively).
Fly to Hong Kong, then take Hong Kong Express or Hong Kong Airlines to Kagoshima – a 3-hour fl ight from HKG! Singapore Airlines also flies from Singapore to Fukuoka in the northern part of Kyushu Island. Alternatively, fly to a major city like Tokyo or Kyoto, and take the Shinkansen – Japanese bullet train – to Kyushu Island, a seven-hour journey over scenic lands.
Whilst on Kyushu Island, there are train and bus systems in and between prefectures, so you can access the many sights. The local tourist information centers provide helpful pamphlets, directions and English translation as well.
Living the Dream!
U.K. expat Alex Bradshaw moved to Japan 15 years ago to teach English. Now, he’s Public Relations Manager for Shimadzu, which operates a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sengan-en Garden and Shoko Shuseikan Museum.
- Why Here?
Alex contends that life in southern Japan is more relaxed than in bigger cities. “I’m a fan of the Kirishima volcanic mountain range. It has great hiking trails, volcanic lakes, and hot springs to unwind in.”
- On Brew-ddhism
“I like Minamisatsuma – especially a place called Tsunuki. My friend is a Buddhist monk and has a temple there, with a whisky distillery next door.”
- Embracing Local Life
“I practise traditional culture – including Jigen-ryu, a school of swordsmanship – to connect to local history and culture.”
By Andrea McKenna Brankin, From The Finder Issue 296, / Photos: 123RF.com, Andrea McKenna Brankin + Alex Bradshaw
More on The Finder:
Don’t miss out! Like our Facebook page for event updates and more.