Kyushu: Central & Southern Kyushu

Kyushu: Northern Kyushu | Central & Southern Kyushu

Central Kyushu

Once a prosperous castle town, Kumamoto is now something of a backwater. The large castle is a reconstruction but worth a visit and set in very nice grounds. Suizenji-koen park is a 350-year old landscaped garden. The hills and water have been arranged so as to resemble some of Japan's most famous features, such as Mt. Fuji and lake Biwa. On September 15th, Fujisaki Hachimangu shrine has a parade of samurai on horseback who escort three mikoshi (portable shrines). Of the coast of Kumamoto are the 100 or so scenic Amakusa Islands, connected to the mainland by a series of bridges known as the Pearl Line. Many Christians hid on the islands during the period of persecution. In the geographical center of Kyushu is the spectacular Mt. Aso, a volcano with the largest crater in the world, 24km by 18km. This and other peaks in the Aso-Kuju National Park still spew volcanic gasses and feed many hot springs. On the east coast lie the hot spring resort towns of Beppu and Oita. Beppu is particularly famous for its suna-buro (hot sand baths), where you are buried in hot sand overlooking the sea, and its jigoku (hell), which are pools of differently colored boiling water. Examples are the Yama-jigoku and the blood-red Chinoike-jigoku. Beppu is a good place to try the infamous fugu (blowfish) either raw as sashimi or in a nabe (stew). Other interesting spots in the region include: the African Safari Park and the spectacular Yabakei gorge to the north; the 60 or so stone statues of Buddha in Usuki to the south, considered the most artistic of their kind in the country.

Morning on the Handa Plateau

Morning on the Handa Plateau, Aso-Kuju National Park

A hot sand bath

A hot sand bath

The Yamajigoku in Beppu

The Yama-jigoku in Beppu

Southern Kyushu

To the south of Mt. Aso is the amazing Takachiho gorge, several miles long and with 80m cliffs. This area is considered the birthplace of Japan and there are many myths associated with it. About 70km south are more than 300 5th and 6th-century kofun (tomb mounds) on the plateau of Saitobaru. In these round and keyhole-shaped mounds, many haniwa statues were discovered, reproductions of which can be seen in many places in Japan. One such place is the Heiwadai Park in Miyazaki city, while actual statues are kept at the prefectural museum in the grounds of Miyazaki shrine. This shrine is dedicated to Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan who lived around 600BC. The coastline of southeast Kyushu is the main attraction of the 100km Nichinan Coast Quasi National Park, which features dramatic rock formations and lush, tropical foliage. Dishes made from cactus are popular in the area.

Inland, the spectacular scenery of volcanoes, crater lakes, virgin forests and waterfalls in Kirishima-Yaku National Park attracts visitors year-round. To the west, the city of Kagoshima has several places of interest. With the volcano Sakurajima in the bay, there are often comparisons with Naples, Kagoshima's sister city. Sakurajima used to be an island until it unleashed 3,000 million tons of lava in 1914, forming a landbridge. It still periodically dumps ash over the city so an umbrella is useful even when it's not raining. St. Francis Xavier is well known among Japanese for having brought Christianity here in 1549 and there is a Memorial Park near Nishi-Kagoshima station. The famous statesman Saigo Takamori commited suicide on Shiroyama Hill in the center of the city in 1877 after the failed Satsuma Rebellion, named after the Satsuma Peninsula on which the city stands. Isoteien is a 300-year old lanscaped garden along the coast, overlooking Sakurajima.

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