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Kyushu

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Kyushu (九州) is the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan. The climate is slightly warmer and more tropical than Honshu, and the southern and eastern coasts are regularly battered by typhoons each year. The terrain is generally mountainous with very fertile valleys, much like the rest of Japan, except for the wide plain area at the top of the island - the location of the largest cities of Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Kyushu is also one of the most geologically active areas in the world, with several live volcanoes and known as a hot spring Mecca, with every prefecture having some areas for an onsen bath; several of them are among the most popular and best in Japan. The extension of the bullet train from Fukuoka (Hakata Station) to Kagoshima (Kagoshima-Chuo Stn) has made it far more convenient to get around, and you can quickly get from one side of the island to the other in only about 90 minutes.

Prefectures[edit]

Kyushu Region
Fukuoka
Home to Kyushu's biggest cities - Fukuoka and Kitakyushu.
Saga
Small and rustic, famous for pottery and pre-historic village ruins.
Nagasaki
Best known for its capital Nagasaki, a hilly city with Chinese, Dutch, and Christian influences, and target of the 2nd U.S. atomic bomb during World War II.
Oita
Rural area well known for abundant hot springs, especially Beppu and Yufuin, plus limestone caves.
Kumamoto
Center of the isle of Kyushu, location of the massive Aso caldera, famous castle, and the beautiful Amakusa chain of islands.
Miyazaki
The surfers' destination of Japan with big beaches and big waves, plus the stunning Takachiho Gorge with its Shinto shrines.
Kagoshima
Dominated by the Sakurajima volcano, warm enough to grow sugarcane - get buried on hot-sand beaches, or visit the two famous islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima.
Satsunan Islands

There are numerous smaller islands off the coast of Kyushu as well, usually part of the prefecture they are closest to. However there are some that are further away, such as the Amami Islands that are part of Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as Tsushima, which is part of Nagasaki Prefecture.

Cities[edit]

  • Fukuoka - the largest city and main transport hub. Lots of shopping, museums, gardens, unique architecture, one of the three big sumo tournaments, and giant festivals.
  • Karatsu - Home to some of Kyushu's most famous pottery and seaside castle.
  • Kitakyushu - Kyushu's main industrial port. Famous for its castle, a preserved historical port, plus bridge and tunnel to Honshu.
  • Nagasaki - Japan's first port open to the west and oldest continuous Chinatown, also the site of an atomic bombing at the end of WWII. Unique with its 19th century open air museum, Chinese temples, plus Christian churches and museums.
  • Sasebo - Home to a U.S. Navy base, huge Dutch theme park, 99 Island cruise and numerous beautiful bay viewpoints.
  • Miyazaki - Beach resort area in southern Kyushu. Surfing, golf, Easter Island heads, Aoshima.
  • Kumamoto - Castle city and hub to central Kyushu, with one of Japan's most beautiful historical gardens.
  • Kagoshima - Southern city in the shadow of the active Sakurajima volcano.
  • Beppu - Famous hot spring city in Japan, as well as "Hells Tour", monkey park and aquarium.

Other destinations[edit]

  • Yabakei - Loaded with craggy mountains and forests that explode in color during autumn.
  • Kirishima - A mountainous national park chock full of live volcanoes, waterfalls, hiking and hot springs.
  • Hirado - While you'll really need a rental car to explore this island at the end of Nagasaki Prefecture, those interested in Christian history in Japan will find this area loaded with more old churches, museums and natural scenery.
  • Kurokawa - Famous rural hot spring resort town with forest outdoor baths.
  • Yanagawa - Small rural city renowned for its canals and boat rides.
  • Yufuin - Tranquil and quiet hot spring area near Beppu with lots of hiking.
  • Yakushima - Subtropical island famous for its deep forest hiking with giant ancient cedars.
  • Usuki - Home to some of Japan's best ancient stone Buddha statues.
  • Ibusuki - Home to Chiran, one of the best preserved samurai districts in Japan, plus the Chiran Peace Museum, dedicated to Kamikaze pilots, Mt. Kaimon, and hot sand baths.
  • Yame - A quiet and laid back city, famous for some of Japan's best green tea, as well as beautiful wisteria at the end of April.
  • Dazaifu — A site of pilgrimage in Fukuoka every new year for Japanese students, this small city has the beautiful Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (dedicated to a Shinto deity of learning) and the recently built National Museum (Kyushu).
  • Kurume — Famous for its ramen noodles, annual flowers, summer fireworks, and gigantic Naritasan Great Buddha. Also has bullet train and express train access.
  • Tanegashima - Island home of Japan's space program.
  • Amami Islands - Subtropical archipelago halfway to Okinawa.

Talk[edit]

Kyushu is home to some peculiar dialects of Japanese that speakers of standard Japanese find difficult to comprehend, particularly the Kagoshima dialect which is completely unintelligible to outsiders. However, all people are able to speak standard Japanese and especially in the cities younger people may also have a limited command of English.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Fukuoka is Japan's busiest international hub after the trio of Tokyo, Chubu and Kansai and has excellent connections throughout Asia and Japan. All the other prefectural capitals also offer limited service within Japan (mostly to Tokyo) and to a few major Asian cities (typically Seoul and Shanghai).

By train[edit]

The Sanyo Shinkansen line runs from Shin-Osaka to Hakata Stn (Fukuoka) and some trains continue along the Kyushu Shinkansen line to Kagoshima. All shinkensen trains stop at Kokura Station in Kitakyushu and Hakata Station in Fukuoka; a trip by train all the way from Tokyo to Hakata takes 5 hours by Nozomi train without any transfers and costs ¥22,220 (adult, unreserved seat). There are no Hikari trains that go the full distance from Tokyo to Hakata, so with the JR Pass, you'll need to change trains to a Sakura train in Shin-Osaka or Okayama, adding 45-60 minutes to the trip. Given the time it takes and cheap foreign tourist airfares from ANA's Experience Japan Fare and JAL's Explorer Fare, as well as low cost carriers like Jet Star and Peach, flying usually makes more sense for such long distances. You can also go from Kyoto to Hakata with the JR Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, JR Setouchi Area Pass, as well as down to places in northern Kyushu (Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Aso, Beppu et. al.) on the JR Sanyo Sanin Northern Kyushu Pass. Be aware however that between Kyoto and Osaka is not part of the Sanyo Shinkansen line, so with JR West passes, those starting in Kyoto need to take a limited express train (Thunderbird, Haruka, or Super Hakuto) or a rapid train to Shin-Osaka and then catch the bullet train. No matter what, avoid all the Kodama shinkansen trains which stop at every single bullet train station.

The Kyushu Shinkansen crosses the west side of the island to Kagoshima in the south. Many trains to Kagoshima start in Osaka, and the full course takes about 3¾ hours by Mizuho and ¥21,780 (adult, unreserved seat). The JR pass is not accepted on Mizuho trains, but they are accepted on Sakura trains which make the journey in 4¼ hours.

The Hakata to Kagoshima run takes about 75-95 minutes. There are also good limited express trains servicing most anywhere of interest on the island, so you can take a train from Hakata to just about anywhere else of interest on the island in less than 2 hours; the exception being Miyazaki which is about 3½-4 hours from Hakata.

By bus[edit]

Willer Express [1] is a company which provides daily night time bus services from Nagoya, Tokyo, and Osaka to Kyushu. They offer an online booking services in Japanese, English & Korean.

By boat[edit]

Fukuoka is also the gateway to South Korea via Busan by ferry and Beetle hydrofoil, and a few ferry companies operate the route. You cannot use any JR Pass for such ferries, however.

Get around[edit]

By train[edit]

Steam locomotive Hitoyoshi
Inside the Isaburō/Shinpei sightseeing car

The train is the transport mode of choice on Kyushu, and JR is by far the dominant rail network on the island. The Kyushu Shinkansen zips across from Fukuoka (Hakata Stn.) via Kumamoto to Kagoshima in 75-95 minutes, and there is a fairly rapid limited express network to get almost anywhere else. There are also some scenic local train lines such as the JR Hisatsu Line (肥薩線) from Kumamoto via Yatsushiro to Kagoshima which are considered one of the most scenic in Japan, and there are comfortable, sightseeing oriented, trains on these lines, plus some runs with unique roll stock, most notably the Aso Boy from Kumamoto to Mt. Aso and the Steam Locomotive Hitoyoshi from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi, along the Hisatsu Line. A few non-JR lines, like the Nishitetsu train between Omuta and Tenjin in Fukuoka may offer more convenient travel to some destinations like Dazaifu, and there are a few short rail lines like Matsuura Tetsudo and Minamiaso Tetsudo that run through some fringe and isolated areas, however service is infrequent and a rental car may work better.

The JR Kyushu Rail Pass [2], offers unlimited travel on JR Kyushu's lines, including the Kyushu Shinkansen but not the Sanyo Shinkansen between Hakata and Kokura, nor any JR Kyushu highway buses. The JR Kyushu Rail Pass may only be used if you are in Japan with a "temporary visitor" status, except for the Ryugakusei Pass (see below). There are five types of Kyushu Rail Pass: the full pass which covers the entire island for 3, 5, or 7 consecutive days, one for the Northern Kyushu Area (all JR lines including and north of Misumi and the Hohi Main Line between Kumamoto City and Oita City) for 3 or 5 consecutive days, one for the Southern Kyushu area south of the Hohi Line (not valid north of Kumamoto and Nobeoka) for 3 conseuctive days, the Fukuoka Wide Pass for 2 consecutive days that covers from Omuta to Fukuoka City, Kitakyushu, or Yukuhashi, up to Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi, and Karatsu in Saga (NB: the city subway is not covered, and any limited express train seating is unreserved only). The last version is the Ryugakusei Pasu which is for foreign exchange students living in Japan (unreserved seating only). Multiple purchases of the passes are allowed as long as the times do not overlap.

The prices of the passes are as follows:

All Kyushu Area

  • 3-day pass ¥16,000
  • 5-day pass ¥18,500
  • 7-day pass ¥20,000

Northern Kyushu Area

  • 3-day pass ¥9,500
  • 5-day pass ¥11,000

Southern Kyushu Area

  • 3-day pass ¥8,000

Fukuoka Wide Pass

  • 2-day pass ¥3,060

Ryugakusei Pasu

  • All Kyushu 3-day pass ¥14,670
  • Northern Kyushu Area 3-day pass ¥7,330

By bus[edit]

Buses serve those parts of Kyushu outside the railway network, but schedules tend to be very limited. There is also the Sun-Q Bus Pass for 3-4 days unlimited bus travel : 4-day All Kyushu Pass is ¥14,000; 3-day All Kyushu Pass ¥11,000; 3-day Northern Kyushu Pass ¥9,000, and 3-day Southern Kyushu Pass for ¥8,000. It should also be noted that there are some popular areas in Japan, such as Takachiho in Miyazaki, as well as Kurokawa in Kumamoto that have no rail access at all.

By car[edit]

Kyushu has numerous places that have infrequent, inconvenient, or even no public transportation at all, and many are among the island's best. For some itineraries, renting a car makes the most sense for those who are up to it. It may be better to use the train or bus for the long distance legs, and rent a car for some day use trips. For those in groups of 2-5 however, using a car to travel the whole island might be the better choice, and there is a Kyushu Expressway Pass that might serve you well. Fuel can be pricey however, and parking may be troublesome in bigger cities (though far, far better than Tokyo or Osaka.

Do[edit][add listing]

Like the rest of Japan, Kyushu has no shortage of mountains, and there is tons of great hiking. Some notable areas are Mt. Hiko in Fukuoka, the Kuju Mountains, Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park, Aso-Kuju National Park in Kumamoto, Kaimondake and Sakurajima (periphery only) in Kagoshima, Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki, Mt. Sobo, and Mt. Yufu near Yufuin in Oita. There are some great hikes around Kyushu called Olle Hiking. The length varies between 10-15 km as well as the difficulty.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Each prefecture has its own specialty food they are proud of. In Fukuoka, they are very proud of their tonkotsu (thick pork broth) ramen and mentaiko (spiced cod roe). In Nagasaki, Chinese influenced dishes like its thick chanpon noodle soup with squid, fishcake, octopus, etc, as well as saraudon (thin Chinese noodles topped with shrimp, squid, cabbage etc) are exquisite and very popular. In Kagoshima, its kurobuta (from Berkshire pigs) pork is very famous, and so on. Try something new.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Kyushu is the home of shōchū (焼酎), the fiery Japanese distilled liquor. It's typically around 25%, but some varieties can be much stronger. It can be distilled from nearly anything including rice, barley, brown sugar and buckwheat, but Kyushu is best known for potato shōchū (芋焼酎 imojōchū), particularly that from the ancient province of Satsuma (modern-day Kagoshima). See also "Japanese sake tourism#Shochu and Awamori distilleries" article.

Get out[edit]

  • Chugoku - The Chugoku region in southwest Honshu offers many great experiences for travelers, such as Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, and Tottori.
  • Okinawa - Offers a totally different side to Japan seen nowhere else, as well as a lot of unique semitropical scenery.
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