Kyushu (九州 Kyūshū, lit. “Nine Provinces”) comprises the following prefectures:
Kyūshū is the third largest and southernmost of the four major islands of Japan and consists of the main island and numerous surrounding islands. Okinawa Prefecture is usually included in the term “Kyūshū” when the latter is considered as a wide-area administrative unit. It is separated from Honshū by the Kanmon Straits (関門海峡 Kanmon Kaikyō), also referred to as the Straits of Shimonoseki, and a tunnel as well as the Kanmonkyo Bridge (関門橋 Kanmonkyō Kanmon-bashi), opened in 1973, links them.
- Fukuoka (福岡県 Fukuoka-ken)
- Saga (佐賀県 Saga-ken)
- Kumamoto (熊本県 Kumamoto-ken)
- Nagasaki (長崎県 Nagasaki-ken)
- Oita (大分県 Ōita-ken)
- Kagoshima (鹿児島県 Kagoshima-ken)
- Miyazaki (宮崎県 Miyazaki-ken)
- Okinawa (沖縄県 Okinawa-ken)
Geographically divided into north, central and south Kyūshū, the region has a mountainous interior with numerous coastal plains and hot springs. The climate is subtropical with heavy precipitation.
During the Tokugawa Period, the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki was Japan’s only link to the rest of the world, and the city is now a prime attraction and study destination. Nagasaki has numerous universities and schools and a long history including the atomic tragedy of 1945. The northern city of Fukuoka is the principal international entry point and is also the terminus of the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tōkyō. This city is very close to Korea and has large numbers of Korean and Taiwanese students and residents. Cities such as Kumamoto and Kagoshima are famous for their history, castles and feudal era gardens. On the east coast, the city of Beppu is renowned throughout Japan for its hot springs (and high prices). Active volcanoes to visit include Mount Aso and Sakurajima, and there are plenty of excellent hiking opportunities in the many national parks throughout Kyūshū island.
Kyūshū is an ideal destination for those who are not seeking to spend long (or visit at all) the major cities of Ōsaka and Tōkyō. It has plenty to offer in the way of water sports and hiking and is ideally located to visit the Korean peninsula (with regular ferry crossings to both Pusan in South Korea) and to other parts of Japan (Ōsaka, Shikoku, etc.).
Nagasaki Peace Park
On 9 August 1945 at 11:02 am, three days after the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, the atomic bomb “Fat Man” was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. It exploded at the height of five hundred meters, destroying one-third of the entire city, obliterating the Mitsubishi Munitions works directly below, killing instantly one-third of the city’s population (about 70,000 people) and wounding another 70,000 people. It is estimated that the total number perished in the explosion or who later died from the effects of the radiation and burns may have reached two-hundred thousand.
The epicentre of the blast is now marked with a black stone monolith in the Peace Park. Nearby, a museum has information about the bomb and its effects. Statues donated by countries around the globe decorate the park, symbolising the friendship of nations and the desire to avoid such a tragedy in the future.
There is an ongoing debate about whether there was any need to drop the atomic bombs at all – it is clear that the war was coming to an end anyway. What is clear is that the effects were catastrophic; it is clear that everything possible should be done to prevent the use of such weapons ever again.
Rice, tea, tobacco, sweet potatoes, soy, and citrus fruit (especially mikan, mandarin oranges) are the principal crops, and stock farming, hog raising, and fishery flourish. Coal used to be mined mainly in Fukuoka and Saga prefectures, but the two last commercial mines were finally closed in 2001. The heavy and chemical industry is concentrated in northern Kyūshū, in particular around the city of Kitakyūshū. The major industrial products are iron, steel, chemicals, and metals.
The region, particularly the northern part, was the first in Japan to be touched by continental culture. Consequently, industry developed early. The urban centres are Fukuoka and Kitakyūshū, the former a centre of administration, economics, commerce, traffic, and culture and the latter an industrial centre.
The seven main prefectures (Kyūshū excluding Okinawa Prefecture):
All eight prefectures (including Okinawa Prefecture):
- 12,862,923 residents (October 2018)
- 42,190.90 square kilometres
- Population density: 304.9 inhabitants per square kilometre (October 2018)
- 14,312,337 residents (October 2018)
- 44,466.91 square kilometres
- Population density: 321.8 inhabitants per square kilometre (October 2018)
International flights will all arrive in Ōsaka (Kansai International KIX), Nagoya (NGO) or Tōkyō (Narita International NRT). There may be some flights to Fukuoka (FUK) from other Asian countries. Usually, however, you will have to transfer from one of the main international airports. It is worth buying a ticket to your final destination (usually Fukuoka if Kyūshū is the destination), in case you do not intend to spend much time in the rest of Japan as transport from even Ōsaka will be relatively costly and time-consuming.
Since April 2013 there are direct flights from Amsterdam Schiphol to Fukuoka, four times a week.
Fukuoka and Kagoshima are good places to catch the ferry to other parts of the country or for Okinawa. In particular, try the boat if you are thinking of going to or coming from Shikoku. There are too many ferry routes to list all the ports, but ask at the local tourist information, and they will be able to tell you if there are ferries – if there is an island nearby, there probably is.
Trains from Honshū come from Tōkyō, through Nagoya and Ōsaka (where you probably change), through Hiroshima, to Kitakyūshū by tunnel and then to Fukuoka. The Shinkansen runs regularly, but it is a long way to Tōkyō – and expensive by train. Consider flying if coming from so far unless you break the trip up and stop along the way.
Kyūshū has a similar climate to the rest of Honshū on the lower coastal areas, while higher areas inland tend to be cooler. Temperatures in summer average near thirty degrees centigrade around the coast and a few degrees lower on higher ground. Rainfall is concentrated in the summer period as the monsoons come through – being further southwest, they arrive earlier in Kyūshū than other parts of Japan.
Sunshine is relatively consistent throughout the year, a little lower in June (typhoons) and during the winter. As one of the main reasons for coming to Kyūshū is hiking and camping, make sure that you have an alternative plan in case of typhoons.
Things to see
Find a brief overview of the most important sightseeing spots for each prefecture below.
Hakata Gion Yamakasa (博多祇園山笠) in Fukuoka - Photo credit: Ville Misaki
Fukuoka has long been Japan’s gateway to the world. It and Nagasaki, further around the coast of Kyūshū, have had trade links with China and Korea, and with other parts of the world, for millennia and have many traces of this – from the European houses in Fukuoka, the imported arts and crafts, to the defensive walls at Hakata (博多) built to withstand the Mongol invasion.
Fukuoka was the first place where rice farming was introduced from Asia in the fourth century BCE, and items and remains have been found from that period and later showing the continued links between Fukuoka and the Chinese Empire. Often emissaries from China and Korea would pass through Fukuoka (or Hakata as it is sometimes called), and Japanese missions would also use the ports of the area as the start of their trips to the continent. Pottery is also well known in the prefecture, particularly Agano-yaki and Koishiwara-yaki.
One of the most famous types of ramen is tonkotsu, noodles in a pork stock soup. Originally from the Fukuoka area, this has become one of the Japanese standards and can be found all over the country. Other items traditionally associated with Fukuoka include karashi mentaiko (spicy fish roe), unagi (eel) and fugu (the famous pufferfish, a fatal delicacy, if not correctly prepared), but these are also associated with other cities in Japan.
Kaidan-in (戒壇院) in Daizafu (photo credit)
- Fukuoka City (福岡): Shopping and entertainment: Canal City shopping and cinema complex; Hawk’s Town (indoor jungle and baseball stadium); Marine World (amusement park); Tenjin (department stores).
Museums: Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka City Art Museum, Genko Historical Museum (元寇史料館, Museum of the Mongol Invasion)
- Dazaifu (太宰府): Kyushu National Museum (九州国立博物館 Kyūshū Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan); Kaidan-in (戒壇院), a Buddhist temple of the Rinzai school; Kanzeon-ji (観世音寺) Temple and treasure hall from the seventh century CE; Exhibition Hall
- Kitakyūshū (北九州): Space World (スペースワールド, space-themed amusement park)
- Fukuoka Prefecture Festivals: Hakata Gion Yamakasa (博多祇園山笠); Tobata Gion Festival (戸畑祇園大山笠 Tobata-Gion-ōyamagasa); Kawawatari Jinkosai Festival (川渡り神幸祭) in Tagawa; Kurume Gion Daiko (久留米太鼓); Oniyo Fire Festival at Daizenji Tamatare-gu Shrine (大善寺) in Kurume City.
Yufuin (湯布院) with Yufu-dake in the background - Photo credit: Masashi Ota
- Yabakei Valley (耶馬溪渓谷), a huge lava plateau thirty-six kilometres across and thirty-two kilometres long, is well known for the strange shapes of its rock formations. The valley also has a long tunnel (185 meters) supposedly dug by a monk with just a hammer and a chisel for thirty years. Furthermore, the Keisekien Garden （溪石園), and the Rakanji Temple （羅漢寺）, containing over 3,700 stone statues of Buddha.
- Kunisaki Peninsula (国東半島): a volcanic peninsula with twenty-eight ravines cutting through it. This vast area is home to the Usa Hachimangū (宇佐八幡宮) Shrine, head of all Hachimangu Shrines. Many Buddhist National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets are found in the area. The Fuki-ji (富貴寺) Temple displays a seated wooden image of the Amida-Nyōrai (Amitabha Tathagata), as well as statues of the Four Devas in Maki-Ōdō along with a figure of Fudo (熊野磨崖仏 Kumano magaibutsu, a grouping of relief sculptures of the late Heian or early Kamakura period in Bungotakada). Also, visit the Ōita Prefectural Museum of History (大分県立歴史博物館).
- Beppu (別府市) is synonymous with onsen, and mineral-laden hot water gushes out of the ground all over the place. Hot springs have the highest volume of hot water per minute in Japan (Hamawaki, Beppu, Kankaiji, Myouban and Kannawa). The area also has the “Tour of Hell” near Kannawa, eight ‘hells’ (地獄 Jigoku) of multicoloured volcanic pits of boiling water and mud, and one geyser.
- Yufuin (湯布院町) and the Kujū (花公園) Heights are in the central part of Ōita. Yufuin is a pleasant town with lots of restaurants, cafes and onsen. The water is said to be good for rheumatism and neuralgia. Lake Kinrin (金鱗湖) in Yufuin is fed with hot water which enters through the bed of the lake. On cold days, steam rises from the surface.
- Usuki (臼杵市) in the south of Ōita is a castle town, near to the location where William Adams, whose life was dramatised in James Clavell’s bestselling novel Shōgun, drifted ashore on a Dutch ship drifted ashore in 1600 and began an extended period of Kyūshū’s (controlled) interaction with the West. The area has the Usuki Stone Buddhas (臼杵磨崖仏 Usuki Magaibutsu), stone figures carved out of the cliff. The figures number several thousand and probably date from the twelfth or thirteenth century.
- Taketa (竹田市) is another castle town found in the southwestern part of Ōita. The Oka Castle (岡城址) is on the edge of a cliff and dates from 1185, but little remains of the original but a few piles of rocks. The area is well known for its clean water and is called a “little Kyoto” (as Japanese often term anything that is reminiscent of traditional Japan). Local cuisine is delicious and is based on fish and chicken.
Usa Hachimangu Shrine (宇佐八幡宮) in Usa, Oita - Photo credit: Rurinoshima
- Takachiho (高千穂町) is home to Takachiho Shrine (高千穂神社 Takachiho-jinja)) and Amanoiwato Shrine (天岩戸神社 Amanoiwato-jinja), associated with the first emperor of Japan. Sacred music, passed from generation to generation, is still played in the evening at the former. The nearby Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡 Takachiho-kyō) is a deep gorge formed by the Gokase River. Visit the seventeen-meter-high Manai Falls (真名井の滝 Manai-no-taki).
- Hyūga City (日向市) in Nippō Kaigan Quasi-National Park (日豊海岸国定公園 Nippō Kaigan Kokutei Kōen) and the southern resorts of Isegahama and Okuragahama have excellent beaches. The Mimitsu area of Hyūga is a preservation area and has a real feel of old Japan. Visit the Hyūga City History People’s Museum. The Emperor Jinmu (the first emperor of Japan, supposed to have lived in the seventh century CE) is said to have set out from here to unify the Japanese nation.
- Saito (西都市): Saitobaru kofungun (西都原古墳群, burial mounds area) with over 300 kofun of various shapes and sizes dating from the fourth to sixth centuries CE. Autumn fire festival: torch-lit parade winds through the kofun; Hyūga Kokubunji (日向国分寺跡) and Tsuma Shrine (都萬神社 Tsuma-jinja).
- Miyazaki City (宮崎市): Miyazaki Shrine (宮崎神宮 Miyazaki-jingū) built entirely of cedar and set in thick woods. Nearby Heiwadai Peace Park has excellent views of the area.
- Ebino Highland (えびの高原 Ebino-kōgen) is part of Kirishima-Yaku National Park (霧島屋久国立公園 Kirishima-Yaku Kokuritsu Kōen), Japan’s first national park. The mountains are dotted with lakes and hot springs. It is said that you can see Korea from the highest Mountain, Mount Karakuni (韓国岳 Karakunidake, 1700 metres). Cape Toi-Misaki (都井岬) area: see wild Misaki horses, Toi-Misaki Lighthouse views, Toimisaki-himatsuri Fire Festival (in summer).
Sakurajima (桜島): not dormant at all - Photo credit: Shengdianye
Kagoshima (鹿児島) includes not just the section of Kyūshū island, but also several islands extending down towards Okinawa. Some of the best things to do in Kagoshima include hiking in the Kirishima-Yaku National Park (shared with Miyazaki Prefecture). While there, make sure to see Kirishima Jingu (霧島神宮).
- Kagoshima City is called the Naples of Japan, although so is Ōsaka sometimes. It lives under the shadow of Sakurajima (桜島), an active volcano, something that Ōsaka cannot boast. In Kagoshima City, visit the Iso Gardens (磯庭園 Iso-teien), also known as Senganen Garden (仙巌園), Ishibashi Park (石橋記念公園 Ishibashi Kinen Kōen), the Kagoshima Botanical Garden (かごしま熱帯植物園 Kagoshima Nettai Shokubutsuen), and Kagoshima Prefectural Museum of Culture. The Satsuma Peninsula (薩摩半島 Satsuma-hantō) to the south of the city is picturesque, with Mount Kaimono (開聞岳 Kaimondake, 924 meters), and the Ibusuki Onsen (指宿温泉).
Nabegataki Falls, Kumamoto
Kumamoto (熊本) has one of the largest caldera volcanoes in the world, Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san). The Aso Kujū National Park (阿蘇くじゅう国立公園 Aso Kujū Kokuritsu Kōen) and the Unzen-Amakusa National Park (雲仙天草国立公園 Unzen-Amakusa Kokuritsu Kōen), the Yaba-Hita-Hikosan Quasi-National Park (耶馬日田英彦山国定公園 Yaba-Hita-Hikosan Kokutei Kōen) and the Kyushu Central Mountains Quasi-National Park take up twenty per cent of the entire prefecture. Many onsen can be found all over the region, and things that you should see include the Amakusa-gohashi (天草五橋, ‘Five bridges’), scene of Christian martyrdom centuries ago.
- Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto city is famous for its fortifications. The city also has the house of “Koizumi Yakumo”, the Japanese name of the scholar Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who lived in the area for many years. Another famous resident was Sōseki Natsume (夏目漱石, 1867-1916), an essential writer around the turn of the twentieth century.
Night view of Nagasaki
Nagasaki Prefecture has the city of Nagasaki(長崎市), site of one of the atomic bombs dropped by American forces at the end of World War II. The city has been completely rebuilt, and like Hiroshima has a Peace Park. Half the area of the prefecture is made up of nearly a thousand islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. For centuries, Nagasaki has been an important port linking Japan with Korea and China, and other parts of the world. It has also had a long association with the Netherlands, as it was one of the few designated trading posts, namely the fan-shaped artificial island of Dejima (出島).
- Huis Ten Bosch Dutch theme park; Nagasaki City Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (長崎原爆資料館 Nagasaki Genbaku Shiryōkan); the Siebold Memorial Museum (シーボルト記念館 Shīboruto Kinenkan); the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum and Monument, etc. Lots of ferries connect Nagasaki with the surrounding islands; try taking a boat across to the Shimabara Peninsula (島原半島), and walk around Unzen (雲仙) and its many onsen and bubbling ‘jigoku‘ (hells).
Saga (佐賀県) is known as the home of ceramics. At the crossroads of Chinese and Korean cultures, Korean technology was imported to Japan through Saga. Many Korean artisans worked here and passed on their skills, leading to the highly-prized Arita-yaki (有田焼), Imari-yaki and Karatsu-yaki. The discovery of high-quality porcelain in the area by a Korean craftsman ensured the future of Arita and Imari.
- In Saga, visit the Nijinomatsubara (虹の松原), a 360-year old Japanese black pine forest that stretched for about five kilometres, and the Nanatsugama Caves (七ツ釜). Tosu City (鳥栖市) has Tashiro-Ota burial mound, an ancient grave decorated with coloured pictures. Yoshinogari (吉野ヶ里 遺跡 Yoshinogari iseki), a large Yayoi archaeological site, which was discovered in1989, has a reconstructed watchtower and village. The area had been inhabited since the third century BCE.
- Kyushu (from the Japan Directory)
- Fukuoka Prefecture
- Saga Prefecture
- Kumamoto Prefecture
- Nagasaki Prefecture
- Oita Prefecture
- Kagoshima Prefecture
- Miyazaki Prefecture
- Okinawa Prefecture
- Tobata Gion Festival (in Japanese)
- Cover image: Nabegataki Falls, Kumamoto (photohito.com)