It has a population of about 730,000 and is famous for its large castle, for Lake Ezu and for Suizenji Gardens.
Kumamoto means "origin of the bear", and its nickname is Hi No Kuni (fire country), because of the nearby giant volcano (Mt. Aso) and Mori no Miyako (capital of the forest).
Kumamoto has an airport, recently renamed the Aso-Kumamoto Airport, from which shuttle buses make a one-hour jaunt into the town (¥670). There are flights to and from Tokyo Haneda, Tokyo Narita, Osaka Itami, Kansai International, Chubu International, Matsuyama, Naha, Amakusa, Shizuoka, and Seoul.
If arriving at Fukuoka Airport, there is a highway express bus service (named Hinokuni-go) that will bring you to Kumamoto for ¥2000 and takes roughly 2 hours. Alternatively you can take the subway to Hakata Station and take the JR Kagoshima Line (see below).
Kumamoto is a major stop on the Kyushu Shinkansen. Trains run several times per hour from Hakata station in Fukuoka (40-50 minutes, ¥4990) and Kagoshima (50-60 minutes, ¥6760). Hourly Sakura services connect Kumamoto to stations on the San'yo Shinkansen: Hiroshima is about 1 hr 45 min away (¥12970), Okayama 2 hr 30 min (¥16230) and Osaka 3 hr 20 min (¥18020). Faster Mizuho services also run during the morning and evening hours, but Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use Mizuho trains.
From Tokyo, Kumamoto can be reached by train (a combination of Nozomi and either Sakura or Tsubame) in as little as 6 hours. Japan Rail Pass users can travel from Tokyo to Kumamoto in 7 hours using a combination of Hikari and Sakura trains.
Local trains from Fukuoka take 2 1/2 hours to reach Kumamoto (change in Omuta) at a cost of ¥2,070.
In addition to the central station, JR operates a second at Kamikumamoto just to the north, near the Fujisakidai baseball ground. Streetcars into the city centre also connect from here.
If you're coming from Nagasaki, the numerous ferry services may be preferable. One such route invloves travelling via Shimabara. Take the JR line from Nagasaki city through to Isahaya then switch to the private Shimabara line. Its not JR but don't go through the ticket gate to get there, its tucked away on Platform 0 (yes, in Kyushu they count from zero, go figure) and you buy your tickets from the rather inquisitive drivers on the train. Two ferries depart towards Kumamoto from different ports along this line but the most convenient is likely the one from Shimabara Port itself direct to Kumamoto Port. Walking maps from the stations to the ports are scrawled at each train station. After a rather scenic 30-60 minute cruise, you'll have to connect to a bus to actually reach central Kumamoto city.
Thats 4 modes of transport total and the times don't always match up so allow perhaps 4 hours for the journey unless you carefully plan it out using one of the big transport books at JR Nagasaki's ticket counter. Its all in there somewhere, I promise. Expect the entire trip to only set you back roughly 2500 yen, most of which goes to the Shimabara train company despite being the shortest leg. English-language signage along this route is minimal. Incidently, the final Kumamoto-bound ferries depart at 8PM daily, and one daily train reaches Shimabara a few minutes after that so don't get caught out.
Transportation within Kumamoto City and some of its neighboring towns is accomplished through a fairly extensive bus system and a simple two line tram system. City day passes are available that can be used on both the bus system and tram lines.
One tram line runs from Kumamoto Station and the other from Kami-Kumamoto Station. They meet near the downtown area and run east to Kengun Machi. One trip costs ¥150.
Buses run fairly regularly from stops through Kumamoto City. Kotsu Center, the main bus terminal, is located near the downtown area (just nestled in the few blocks between Kumamoto castle and the nightlife districts) and is easily reached by taking the tram to the Kotsu Center-mae stop.
Kumamoto is a comfortable city to ride around. For reference, it takes about 30 minutes by get to Kumamoto Gakuen University from Kamikumamoto.
Kumamoto Castle 熊本城 is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, and the third largest. Though in actuality the real Kumamoto Castle was burned down during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, the current keep is a concrete reconstruction built during the sixties, though some of the other buildings are originals, nevertheless, it is a must see attraction which is effectively the heart of the city. A single adult's ticket costs ¥500. During the cherry blossom season, the castle grounds are filled with hundreds of beautiful blossoms.
Suizenji Gardens 水前寺公園 is a renowned Japanese traditional garden, considered one of the four best in Japan. You can walk around a lovely course of trees and mini hills covered in grass right in the middle of the city, and it feels like your in the country side! Food stalls are also to be found in the immediate vicinity.
Shiki no Sato Park has its own natural hot springs and animal park.
Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center exhibits the various traditional crafts for which Kumamoto is well-known. (includes a gift shop)
Honmyo-ji Temple 本妙寺 is one of the most famous temples in Kumamoto. Honmyoji was built in honor of Kato Kiyomasa, the builder of Kumamoto Castle. The temple is halfway up a hill at the same level as the castle. There is a long staircase lined with old candle stands to the temple. After the temple there is another staircase that leads to a park at the top of the hill that has a statue of Kato Kiyomasa and a nice view point where you can see the castle towering over the city . In the daytime you can also see Mt. Aso in the background. In the last weekend in March they have the Nighttime Cherry Blossom Festival. Then they have live music and lit up cherry blossoms and candles all the way to the top of the hill.
Hosokawa Gyobutei is another piucturesque place to visit. It's the family home of the Hosokawa Clan (whose descendent Morihiro became Prime Minister of Japan in the 1990s.)
Hanaokayama 花岡山. Hanaokayama is a hill near Kumamoto Station. It looks over downtown and has a great night view. On a clear day you can see Mt. Aso towering behind the city. There is also a nice temple and a huge shrine gate (torii) on the top. You can go up by car, which most couples do, or hike about 15 minutes to the top.
Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine 藤崎宮. This is the most famous shrine in the city. It is north of Kamitori and not too far from downtown. This is the most crowded shrine in the city every New Year`s. It is also crowded for other festivals the most famous being the "Drunken Horse Festival" which is held every September.
Mt. Kinpo 金峰山. is about 11 km from downtown but when you get to the top you`ll be rewarded with a beautiful view over Kumamoto and Nagasaki. The view of the city lights is great and you can also see the peaks of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto and Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki. You can take a bus to the area but then you have to hike for about an hour to the top. On top there is a temple and a famous fence full of locks that couples have locked to a fence on the observation deck. There is no ropeway so you gotta hike or take a car.
Kumamoto City Hall 熊本市役所, Tetorihoncho 手取り本町. Right in the heart of downtown is city hall. If you go to the fourteenth floor there is a free view of the castle and downtown area.free.
Kamitori (上通) is one of the two most popular and accessible shopping districts inside the city. It houses a wide variety shops and cafes, the rear entrance opens out onto an area where a large number of traditional Japanese restaurants are situated.
Shimotori (下通り) is the other and larger of the two districts, the selection of the shops is very much the same as Kamitori though naturally more comprehensive given the size. Many backstreet shopping areas offshoot from the sides of Shimatori, so if you're looking for something special be sure to remember that.
Hikari no Mori (光の森) is a large shopping center. There are many shops including: Kinokuniya, Shinseido, Mujirushi, Starbucks café, and so on. It also contains a large cinema complex with 9 cinema theatres.
Tsuruya- there are 6 "Tsuruya" department stores in Kumamoto city. They are "The Main building and the East building of Tsuruya", "New-S" and "WINGⅡ", "Comme ca store", "Nextage", and "Brooks Brothers". These buildings are located in "Shimotori" or "Kamitori".
Kenmin Hyakkaten(県民百貨店)- Kenmin Hyakkaten (renamed from Kumamoto Hanshin)is a big department store and it is located near the "Kumamoto castle" and next to Kumamoto bus terminal. Kenmin Hyakkaten sells goods of "Hanshin Tigers", a popular Japanese baseball team.
Rice Terrace is a general shop at Kamitori. It is opened in November. You can buy any cute goods at a low price. There are bags, accessories, glasses and many goods.
Diamond City CLAIR Shopping Mall. CLAIR as it is known by locals is the biggest shopping mall in Kumamoto and at the time of building the biggest mall in Kyushu. It has about 190 stores, a huge Warner Brothers Movie Theater, and a Food Mall with some good restaurants. It is on the far south side of the city and takes about 30-45 minutes to get there from downtown depending on how bad traffic is.
AUNE Kumamoto, Torichosuji. This is the newest shopping mall in Kumamoto. It just opened at the end of 2008. It is right in the heart of downtown at the Torichosuji Tram Stop.
Foreign Foods. If you just gotta have that foreign snack or macaroni and cheese, there are a few places you can go in town. There are two Don Quixote`s, one on Nishi Ginza St. and the other in Kami-Kumamoto. They have a lot like Doritos, Dr. Pepper, beef jerkey, etc. In Kamitori, there is a Sony Plaza in the basement of the New-S Mall it also has many western snacks and lots of European chocolates. The Tsurya Dept. Store has some stuff in the second basement, but it is mostly expensive. Lastly, there is a small shop on the 6th floor of the Wing Gap building, that's where to buy macaroni and cheese and root beer among other things.
Shinshigai Sunroad (新市街サンロード). This is the third major arcade downtown. It is billed as the widest arcade in Kyushu. It is known for karaoke, pachinko, and hotels. It connects with Shimotori Arcade and Shower Road (an uncovered shopping street).
Piacres (ピアクレス). The only shopping arcade outside of downtown. Piacres is at the end of the tram line at Kengun Station（健軍電停）on the east side of the city.
There are some unique traditional foods in Kumamoto.
Karashirenkon辛子蓮根 is the most popular food for visitors. It's rarely found elsewhere in Japan.
Ikinaridango is a famous sweet. This contains a slice of sweet potato and anko-bean paste. Visitors who come to Kumamoto buy it for a souvenir.
The Dipper Dan nestled right next to Daiei is a popular ice cream and dessert parlor located in Shimotori. Perhaps not as unique, but appears to be a local favorite.
Ringo no Ki is a cafe at Shimotori in downtown. You can eat apple pie and some breads. Especially, I want to recommend coffee and tea. The coffee beans are rare and the taste is really good. Moreover, you can drink the tea which tastes and smells apple.
Basashi馬刺し is raw horse meat.
AzumaZushi 東寿司, 熊本市水前寺5丁目5-14 (betwee the Suizenji Park and the Kumamoto Budokan), ☎ 096-383-2468, . Probably the oldest and the best sushi restaurant in Kumamoto: the rice for the sushi is made according to the traditional recipe of the owner's family. Besides from sushi you can find a lot of great Japanese foods and beverages. Here works the only female sushi chef of the entire city - very cute ;) . The place is new, clean, and comfortable; staff is nice, friendly and fast. A must in Kumamoto!(32.792742,130.73754)
Kumamoto Ramen熊本ラーメン. Kumamoto ramen is very famous
Ni no ni 弐ノ弐. There are two of them downtown. One is just off of Shimotori on one of the side streets south of Ginza St. The other is on Kami-no-ura St. 上乃裏通り which runs parallel to Namigizaka St. 並木坂通り a couple blocks to the east (Namigizaka is the continuation of Kamitori after the arcade roof ends). Ni no ni is very famous for the gyoza 餃子. Try the tan tan men 坦坦麺and Taipei Karaage 台北風唐揚げtoo. Most of the foods are under 500 yen. So you can buy a few foods and have a beer for under 2000 yen easily.
Plaza del Sol. from 7PM. this is the only Mexican restaurant in Kumamoto. There used to be two with the same owner but he closed one and Plaza del Sol is all that is left. There are actual Mexicans making the food so it is pretty good. The Mexican beer is great. It is just off of Shimotori south of Ginza. You will see a Mexican wooden figure in Shimotori pointing to the entrance. It can be expensive if you have more than a couple beers. Look to spend between 2000-3000 yen.
Yokobachi よこばち, Kami-no-ura St. 上之裏通り (Walk to the place where Kami-tori's roof ends, face North (away from the roof). Go to your right 2 (maybe 3) blocks, turn left, and look for a blue and white YOKOBACHI sign within 20m on your left hand side. Across from one of the Ni no Ni). open until midnight. This is a great Japanese restaurant. You can get many traditional foods and some local stuff too. They have outdoor and indoor seating. In the spring and fall its great sitting outside under the stars. Menu is in Japanese only, but if you can say the names of some local specialties or typical izakaya dishes you might be okay. Everyone in Kumamoto knows this place so if you cant find it just ask someone。
Sri Lanka スリーランカ, Sannenzaka St. 三年坂通り. This place has some of the best curry in town. The curry is spicy but the taste is amazing. I recommend the noodle curry. Some of the side dishes such as the Sri Lanka Rolls are also good. You can try Sri Lanka beer if you want but I wasn`t a big fan. The lunch special is a bargain. You get curry, salad, tea, and dessert for only 750 yen! This is just off of Shimotori and very close to Daiei Dept. Store.
Star of India, Sannenzaka St. 三年坂通り. This is the best Indian food in town, it is just behind the downtown Tsutaya and between Shimotori and Kagomachi-doori St.
Second Sight, Sakae St. 栄え通り. This building has various restaurants and places to have fun. The Swiss Bakery and Chinese restaurant are on the first floor. The second floor is a great Italian restaurant and the top two floors are themed karaoke rooms. You can sing in jail, on the beach, etc...When the weather is good Second Sight has a retractable wall that opens up and brings in the sun to the main lobby.
Yayoiken , Shimotori, Kamitori. this place is open 24 hours and there are one in Shimotori and Kamitori. It is a great place to go when you have been out all night drinking and are sick of McD`s. The tonkatsu is good and the rice is all you can eat.600-1000 yen.
Goro`s. 4:30-10PM. this is the place with the best Turkish kebabs in Kyushu. Goro makes them fresh right in front of you from his van. Unfortunately it isn`t downtown. If you take the tram towards Kengun it is between the Miso Tenjin Mae and Shin Suizenji Stops. It is an orange van behind the Mitsubishi gas station. Goro speaks English and welcomes foreign guests. He also recently opened up a kebab restaurant downtown near Kaminoura St.400-550 yen.
Nikumaki, Ginza Doori (in the heart of downtown at the center of Shimotori Arcade and Ginza St. intersection). Nikumaki is a recent Kumamoto fad. It is an onigiri (rice ball) but instead of being wrapped with seaweed (nori) it is wrapped with meat(niku), you can add cheese too. it is awesome and pretty cheap. they are a good snack when you're drunk after midnight or you just gotta have that meat edit
Okada おかだ, 1F, Lofty Nishiginza-kan, 1-11-21, Shimotori, Kumamoto-shi, ☎ 096-356-3883. Excellent seafood directly from local fishermen and from Hokkaido as well as a variety of local cuisine for amazingly reasonalble price! Good selection of Sake and Shochu, Japanese distilled spirit.
Timeless is a cafe (not a chain) with an exceptionally nice old style atmosphere, usually playing jazz. It is on the right when you exit the Kamitori shopping mall. They have an international selection of coffees (though espresso could be added) and some European style cakes that are worth trying.
Pronto is an Italian-style coffee shop located in (again) Shimotori. Aside from coffee, the selection includes various alcoholic beverages, pizza, and desserts.
Sinh to is a stylish cafe looking down onto Shimotori street from the 2nd floor.
Jeff's World Bar is a popular hang out with English speakers. This is the main expat bar in town. It is usually crowded on Friday and Saturday. It is located south of the Shimotori shopping area. It's about a block from the Daiei Department store. It's on the second floor, so you have to look up to see the sign.
The Ginza district comprises many bars and clubs of the western style, it runs parallel to Shimotori, though be warned the area also houses some of the city's seedier attractions.
Rock Bar Days, Sakaba St. 酒場通り. This is the bar with 5000 CDs. Mainly rock and alternative music from the 70s-90s. Beer is a little expensive for the quality at 600 yen a pop but you can tell them what you want to hear and they`ll play it. It is a little hard to find. Sakaba St. is just off of Shimotori. If you go down the side with the Sakaba St. gate about 100 meters, a sign will say DAYS in black and white. Its on the 3rd floor.
Club Django, Fuji St.. This is the main place for local rock, punk and metal. Sometimes touring bands from overseas play here. Fuji Street is just off of the Shinshigai Arcade新市街. Club Django is underground so it is easy to pass by it without seeing it. It is almost directly accross the street from the Comfort Inn Hotel.
Drum Be-９, (on the north side of downtown and just off of Kamitori on Oaks St). This is another place for local and national acts to be seen. Mainly rock and alternative music. The new building just opened in March 2010. It is three stories and three stages with music most nights of the week.
Club Jail. This is the most happening club in town. Every weekend this place is pumpin` with Japanese homies and ladies wearing almost nothing. Sometimes special DJs will perform and so there might be a cover charge.
Shark Attack. this is a small foreigner bar just off of Kagomachi St. 鹿児町通り its accross from 7-11 on the 8th floor. The floor is covered in sand. edit
Bar Sanctuary. This is a four storey bar with areas for dancing, pool, darts, karaoke, and just chillin`. The name recently changed but everyone still calls it by the old name. It is just off of Shimotori and behind the Taigeki (Bowling Alley) Building. City Hall is also very close. They used to stay open until 10AM but I think they recently changed it to 4AM.
Shotengai 商店街. In Japan new bars open and shut down every day. As long as you stay in the Shimotori/Kamitori/Shinshigai Arcade area you are bound to find something that looks interesting. There are thousands of places to go in that area.
Good Time Charlie`s, Ginza St. 銀座通り. This bar is one of a kind. It is owned by Charlie Nagatani, the most famous country musician in Asia. From the 1960s-90s he played many times at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. His band has shows every night of the week at the bar. They serve Coors beer here. Its not very cheap but its worth experiencing Japanese cowboys at least once. The bar is on Ginza St. across from the Karaoke-kan カラオケ館building on the 5th floor
Hideout Bar Eighty One, Shiromichoudoori, 城見Buikding ２F. ９ｐｍ－６Am. Small bar very close to Jeff's World Bar. Sometimes many foreigners.
FRESCO, Hanabatacho 11-14, KOHEN Building 2F, ☎ 096-323-1229, . This dance club is in the fairly new KOHEN building just above Zawatami Izakaya. Some nights it gets really crowded, but its still a fun place.
Precious Kumamoto, Tetorihoncho 4-12, Fain Bldg. 5F, ☎ 096-352-2139. From 9PM until everyone is gone. Precious is nice because its a free dance club and its open as late as you're there. Some nights it crowded and other nights its empty. They also have a pool table.
Crossroad`s, Nishi Ginza Doori. a recently reopened international bar. it has a nice atmosphere and sometimes can be crowded. its in the fujiichi building on the 7th floor right across the hall from Club Jail
Cowboy Bar, Nishi Ginza Doori. one hour of all you can drink for 1000yen, need i say more? Its right across the street from the big Don Quixote store downtown1000 yen.
Cowgirl Bar, Pools Court Rd. same owners as Cowboy Bar have one with only women serving on Pool`s Court Road, which is just one road over from Nishi Ginza1000 yen.
Retro Cowboy Bar, Nishi Ginza Doori. another one owned by the Cowboy Bar folks. its just down the street from Cowboy Bar but its in the basement so its easy to pass by. a little more expensive than the other cowboy bars but more things to do like free karaoke and dartsss="Ginza Doori" directions="in the heart of downtown" phone="" 1500 yen.
Battle Stage, Kamitori, Kumamoto City, . Another place to see live music in the city. Its a former movie theater transformed into a big live house. Many rock shows and DJ parties occur here. Many national touring bands and local bands can be seen here.
Being a large city, Kumamoto has its fair share of alternative sleeping options for the non-discerning traveller willing to camp out anywhere.
Media Cafe Popeye, (Located along the Kamitoricho Arcade (上通町アーケード), on the west side, upstairs. That's the left side if you are walking from the nearby Torichosuji (通町筋) streetcar station: you can't miss it, they have signs posted down the arcade and even a silly theme song playing at the door.), ☎ +81 096 326-6767, . Standard stuff like free drinks are provided to patrons in addition to the less common perks such as free ice-cream, free toothbrushes, free razors and free shower usage (with free towel rental). A coin-op washing machine is available to boot. For non-smokers, I'd recommend you request a non-smoking booth on the 2F floor beside the drinks machines as it can get pretty thick and gross upstairs in 3F. There's only two flat non-smoking cubicles on the 2F floor, but the recliner chairs they have here are comfy enough to sleep in.12 hour night pack for ¥1980.
There are a tonne of business hotels scattered around the city with most clustered either near the JR central station, or in the nightlife district in and around Sun Road, Fuji and Ginza. Some even have outlets at both. Follow the neon signs.
There are a couple of further business hotels located in and around the central bus terminal (about two blocks from the nightlife district) including a hotel upstairs in the bus plaza itself, and a Dormy Inn directly opposite.
There are several around Kumamoto and are conveniently located. The rooms are small but have everything, including free internet. The staff are courteous and helpful and tolerant of English speaking guests. Breakfast was good. It is great value. You can book on the internet but can only book a certain time in advance. Suido cho one is well placed for tourists to Kumamoto.
New Sky Hotel, 2 Higashi-Amidajicho, ☎ +81 963 54-2111 (fax: +81 963 54-8973), . checkin: 1PM; checkout: 11AM. This hotel is where Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan stay during his visit here.
Travelers would probably not want to spend too long in the city, and may prefer to enjoy the wide range of natural surroundings within easy reach of the city.
Aso highland area, with an immense caldera, numerous hot spring resorts, fine hiking courses, and an active volcano to look down into.
Amakusa, a chain of islands off the west coast of Kumamoto, and not far from the south coast of Nagasaki (to which ferries run regularly).