Kumamoto City is the second-largest city in Kyushu island and the prefectural capital of Kumamoto. The city is most famous for its restorative hot-spring baths, authentic eateries, and especially its castle, which is one of Japan’s largest and most complete. With an active volcano at its periphery, Kumamoto is known in Japan as “The Land of Fire.”
Kumamoto Castle is one of the most impressive and the most visited castles in Japan. Only a few structures have survived the centuries since the castle's construction in 1607 intact. With about 800 cherry trees, the castle becomes a popular cherry blossom spot usually in late March and early April. The castle played a pivotal role in the Seinan Civil War, during which the famous samurai Saigo Takamori led an uprising in Kyushu against the new government. Besides the castle keep and palace building, Kumamoto Castle features impressive stone walls and moats, as well as several turrets and storehouses, many of which can be entered.
Activities: Photo stop, Castle visit Fee: JPY 500 (elevated walkaway) Time required: 45 minutes
Suizenji Garden is a spacious, Japanese style landscape garden in Kumamoto, best enjoyed by strolling along a circular path. It was built by the Hosokawa family in the 17th century. The garden which covers 6600 square meters were developed and extended by the 4th and 5th Lords of Kumamoto taking around 80 years to complete. The garden reproduces the 53 post stations of the Tokaido, the important road, which connected Edo with Kyoto during the Edo Period, in miniature form, including a small Mt. Fuji.
Activities: Garden visit Fee: JPY 400 Time required: 45 minutes-1 hour
Former Hosokawa Residence (Gyobutei)
The Former Hosokawa Residence is the former residence of a branch family of the Hosokawa Clan, the powerful clan that ruled over Kumamoto during the Edo Period. The building is a great example of a high-class samurai mansion. After the end of the feudal era, Gyobutei was moved to a different location in 1873, but was re-located to Kumamoto Castle Park and beautifully restored in the 1990s. It is now open to the public and displays the typical design of a highly ranked samurai's residence of the Edo Period. (Image via Kumamoto Guide)
Activities: Photo stop Fee: JPY 300 (Gyobutei) Time required: 45 minutes
Ezu Lake is a natural lake fed by the underground spring of Suizenji Garden. The gourd-shaped lake has two main parts, the upper lake is a popular spot for families, nature lovers and picnickers. The upper lake is shallow and a haven for water birds. In the summer months, it’s a popular swimming spot. Fishing equipment can be rented, as can rowing boats and an interesting selection of pedalos, ranging in design from cute Hello Kitty to Doraemon helicopter shaped and Kumamon. The lower lake is wider and on its shores, you will find the city’s zoo and botanical gardens. There are cycles available to borrow for free which you can use to cycle around the edge of the lake. (Image via Kumamoto Guide)
Activities: Photo stop Fee: None Time required: 45 minutes-1 hour
Shimotori Shopping Arcade
The Shimotori arcade is the largest shopping arcade in Kumamoto Prefecture. With excellent shopping, lots of places to have fun, and plenty of gourmet options, Shimotori is where people from all over Kumamoto come to let loose. With a combined length of 511 meters and a width of 15 meters, Shimotori is also often used as a location for music and art events throughout the year. Compared to the Kamitori arcade, Shimotori has many more bars and restaurants and has a much livelier nightlife.
Activities: Shopping Fee: None Time required: Minimum 1 hour
An hour to the east from Kumamoto city, Mount Aso is the largest active caldera globally, spanning over 100 kilometres with rural villages and rice fields in between. Eruptions are fairly regular, but you can climb to the peak and peer into the smoking crater when conditions are safe.
Kurokawa Onsen is a picturesque hot spring town packed full of traditional ryokan (inns) with private baths as well as outdoor public baths that you can tour with a discounted pass. Kikuchi Valley is famous as one of Japan’s 44 “forest bathing” sites reputed to have healing powers. Whatever the health benefits, both settings are like something out of a dream.