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Been to Kyushu? Suggestions welcome

We are off to Kyushu – Japan's large southern island – in May, for about 17 days. I'm currently working on nailing down our itinerary (late in the game for me, usually I'm all over that 10-11 months out). We will have a car, but will also do some train travel. Hoping to circumnavigate the island completely, and dive into the center a couple times, too. So much to see and do there!

Before plans harden completely, I'm still soliciting input. I know some of you are Japanophiles, too. Have you been to Kyushu? What were your favorite, most memorable places? Any recommendations/tourist-trap places to avoid? All suggestions welcomed. Thanks!

Posted by
7906 posts

We visited Nagasaki while on a cruise. That was enjoyable, other than that, we saw no more of that island.
We had a tour that visited Ground Zero, the site of the nuke blast as well as the rebuilt city.

Posted by
7569 posts

We visited Karatsu on a cruise, and enjoyed our unguided walking around a lot. Karatsu-ware (second word is English noun) is a specific type of fine Japanese ceramic work, with a long history. There is an annual (November??) parade with historic/religious floats, available for viewing in their warehouse off-season. The town felt half-way between "undiscovered" and "ready for tourism". Sincere volunteers were positioned around downtown, for our 250-passenger cruise ship. Whether this is superior to other Kyushu visits, I have no idea.

Posted by
335 posts

I'm also deep in planing a Kyushu trip for June. We'll be focused on the cities, so the only place we'll rent a car is on Yakushima (and maybe for a day trip from Kagoshima). Even with all that train travel, I ran the numbers and I don't think the JR Rail pass makes sense at their new, higher prices.

It sounds like our trips will be very different, as mine will be up the main shinkansen line (and over to Nagasaki) while yours will be more the coasts. Have a great time!

Posted by
16919 posts

Hi David—-we are among the Japanophiles, but have not been to Kyushu (yet).

We would like to go hiking there (and nearby Yakushima) with the same hiking tour company we used for the Dolomites in 2022, a small husband and wife team based in Portland (he is Japanese-American). You might take a look at their itinerary and photos to get some ideas for your own exploration——it looks beautiful, in a rugged, volcanic sort of way. And the Kirishima onsen sounds very nice.

Posted by
1594 posts

Hello David:

I went to Kyushu with my SO in Mar 2023 and had a blast! Love this destination.

In May, are you traveling during Golden Week, which is Japan's holiday week for the entire country? Try to avoid it if possible. Also, May is too late for cherry blossoms, if this is of your interest. (I suggest Hokkaido for sakura in May).

There is a lot to see in Kyushu and it's very different from Tokyo. Be sure to stay at least once (and splurge) at an onsen ryokan. I did this four times in Kyushu and still want more. There is quite a lot to see in Kyushu and I only explored the northern inner parts of this island.

I started in Fukuoka and loved it so much that I already returned in Nov 2023.

Days 1-2 Fukuoka (2 nights)
Day 3 Rented a car in Hita and drove to Kikuchi to stay at onsen ryokan, Iwakura:

I highly recommend this ryokan, which is not too expensive but it's perfectly located right on the river bed. I booked a room (with no shared walls!) in its own cottage with an outdoor hotspring bath next to a rapids. The staff was very kind and it seemed that they were quite accustomed to foreign tourists.

Day 4: Takachiho Gorge, stopped by Minamiaso village along the way
Stayed at a modern hotel (

Day 5: Kurokawa Onsen town, but stayed at nearby Shirakawa onsen
Ryokan: the brand new, adult-only Fuji-no-ya, also situated right next to a river. Did I go to heaven?

Day 6: Yufuin Onsen town, stayed at Sumika onsen ryokan
Recommended only if you can speak some Japanese

Day 7: Sanrio Harmonyland (Hello Kitty theme park), returned the car, and flew to Tokyo

Overall, I had a trip of a lifetime!

Posted by
6788 posts

Thanks for the input, please keep it coming.

For some additional context (I should have included this in the original post)...

We've been to Japan before (4 or 5 times?), so we've hit many of the typical first-visit-tourist-circuit places. Previous trips were during Fall, Summer and Winter, this will be our first time there in the Spring (though late Spring down in the south). We've always traveled independently, we have found that Japan is incredibly easy and always delightful for us, we expect to return often. We've been all over Hokkaido (absolutely wonderful), and much (but not all) of Honshu. This will be our first visit to Southern Japan (and our first Japan trip that does not include a stop in Tokyo).

I have a solid list of many (most? all?) of Kyushu's most obvious tourist attractions - from Nagasaki and the multiple A-Bomb-associated sites, to some of the nature-oriented locations (Aso, Beppu, etc.) with MAYBE a few of the kitschy, "crazy Japan" themed places tossed in. I know we will be late for sakura, that's OK (this is the south, so way late for that); we're actually hoping to catch the tail end of wisteria season.

As tempting as they are, we have made the choice to NOT try and get to any of the outlying and far-southern islands on this trip (believe me, this was a long and difficult negotiation); we will make a separate trip (maybe several) for those smaller islands - there's just too much stuff to see/do on Kyushu itself. So much, in fact, that we are still keeping open the possibility that we can't do all of Kyushu on this trip, and we may just do the "top half" and come back for the southern half - but I'm not ready to yield to that option yet, I'm still hoping for a complete circumnavigation...well see, I need to make some high-level decisions in the next few weeks.

We are flying in to and out from Fukuoka, and that will be our initial base - but we will have other bases around the island (most likely candidates to make the cut right now, in/near: Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita...though a couple of those may be one-night stands as we blow through). We will be staying at a mix of accommodations: some large international hotels in the bigger cities (staying for "free" with points, helps with the budget), some traditional ryokans, some onsens. (The place in Kikuchi looks great, thanks for the multiple pointers!). I'll put the Hello Kitty theme park on the "optional" list...

We will be there immediately AFTER Golden Week (we arrive the day after it ends, a conscious choice).

Our interests are fairly predictable (up to a point): we like culture, history, scenery, food, prefer to avoid crowds but can manage when needed. We like empty, natural places and odd human-made things. Not big fans of super-touristy attractions (overt tourist traps) but will chuckle and go along occasionally (Japanese tourist traps are so over-the-top, they're often good for a few laughs, eg that Hello Kitty theme park, and the sadly-now-closed Robot Restaurant in Tokyo....that was pretty trippy).

Please continue with any suggestions and recommendations, they are much appreciated. I'll be up to my armpits in planning for the next few weeks.


Posted by
1594 posts

A quick note about renting a car--I rented from Toyota and it's very reliable. Checking-in/out were accompanied by an in-personal walkthrough to check the condition of the vehicle, in order to make sure that we were not blamed for damages that we did not make. Renting from and returning to any location in the same prefecture did not incur a one-way rental surcharge. The only thing one must get used to is to drive on the other side of the road. It took me and my SO a few hours to get used to this, but local drivers were polite, law abiding, and patient. As in Europe, don't drive within cities. It's too much of a headache.

Posted by
138 posts

Kyushu has fewer tourist traps than greater Tokyo and Osaka- Kyoto - Kobe. It is more a destination of short haul visitors like East Asia.

Alongside Shikoku and Yamaguchi, Kyushu played a major role in Meiji restoration. Lots of exciting sites about modern history. In Kagoshima, this museum offers quite a comprehensive exhibition.

The regional JR passes will allow you to travel in the respective Kyushu regions (North and South) at affordable price. Relying on public transport is viable.

Within a city region, say Kagoshima and Kumamoto, tram networks are extensive enough. Day tickets for tram + public bus are extremely affordable.