In this week’s Exploring Japan, we return to Kyushu with Kumamoto Prefecture.
Kumamoto is situated in central Kyushu with a west-facing coastline. It has plenty of mountains and volcanoes. It has a population of 1,812,255. The capital city is also named Kumamoto. The 5 largest cities are:
- Kumamoto (734,474)
- Yatsushiro (133,630)
- Amakusa (89,065)
- Tamana (69,541)
- Uki (62,678)
Most cities are dropping in population, as is the prefecture, but the city of Kumamoto is steadily growing.
Kumamoto Castle is a reconstruction, and a lot of restoration work has been done recently. It’s one of the most impressive castles in Japan, and is quite extensive. The Uto Yagura was originally the keep of Uto Castle, which is elsewhere in Kumamoto prefecture. Even more restoration work is planned.
Yatsushiro Castle in Yatsushiro has well-maintained grounds. Mainly the stonework and walls remain, but it appears to be quite nice.
Kikuchi Castle in Kikuchi is extremely old. Some restoration work has been done, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very nice.
Hitoyoshi Castle in Hitoyoshi is another well-maintained ruin. No buildings remain, but excellent walls and stonework remain, as well as the main gate.
Sashiki Castle in Ashikita is an interesting one. It was rediscovered only recently, in 1997. A lot of restoration work has been done on the grounds, and though small, it looks to be very interesting to see.
There’s one notable professional team in Kumamoto, and that’s the J-League division 2 team Roasso Kumamoto.
Things to see and do
Kumamoto is famous for a few things, namely Mt. Aso, one of the largest active volcanic calderas in the world, hot springs, and beaches. Seems like a hot place.
Kumamoto, the capital city, is famous for its castle. But there is more to see. Suizenji Jojuen is one of the country’s best formal Japanese gardens. Shiki no Sato Park has hot springs and an animal park. Honmyoji temple seems to be very interesting, and is one of the most famous temples in Kumamoto. Fujisaki Hachimangu is Kumamoto’s best-known shrine. Hosokawa Gyobutei is the family home of the Higo daimyo, and is located near the castle. Hanaokayama is a hill near Kumamoto station with a great view of the city and Mt. Aso. Mt. Kinpo has a great view of Kumamoto and Nagasaki. Kumamoto City Hall has a free observatory on the 14th floor with a nice view of the castle and city. You can also visit the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art, the Kumamoto Prefectural Theater, and the Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center.
Yatsushiro doesn’t have a lot to see, though you can check out the 777 Steps, where you can walk up the hill on a staircase that has 777 steps. You can also visit the Hinagu Hot Spring. The Myokensai festival in November has a lot of horses parading through the city, and there is also a very large fireworks display in the fall.
Hitoyoshi is a small city with a few historic sites. Eikokuji is known as the Ghost Temple. It has a scroll of a ghost drawn on it to keep the ghost away. Aoi Aso Shrine has several National Treasures of Japan. Hitoyoshi Craft Park Ishino Koen is a place where you can see traditional crafts as well as make them. Kuma Kudari is a traditional boat cruise down the river. Mukashi Mukashi is a popular traditional crafts market.
Amakusa is a city located on the Amakusa Islands. It’s accessible by car, ferry, or plane. It’s also one of the fastest depopulating cities in Japan. It’s well-known for Amakusa Dolphin Marine Land, where you can watch dolphin performances, see sea lions and penguins, as well as touch dolphins. You can also see the Alegria Gardens.
Yamato town’s Yabe area is known for its 48 waterfalls and 17 stone bridges. It seems interesting to see. One bridge, Tsujun Bridge, is the largest stone aqueduct in Japan.
Yamaga has several places to see. You can enjoy kabuki at the Yachiyoza Kabuki Theater. Fudougan is an interesting rock formation that looks like a person’s face. It’s illuminated twice a year. Yamaga Hot Springs are quite old and well-known for their clear water. The Yamaga Lantern Dance Festival has a thousand women dancing to traditional music with lanterns on their heads. The Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Burial Mound Museum is located in Yamaga.
Aso city has a lot to see. Of course, it is home to Mt. Aso, a very large and active volcanic caldera. There are many volcanic cones within the caldera. Aso Kuju National Park is the main attraction, including Mt. Aso, the Mt. Aso Ropeway and the Aso Volcano Museum. There’s a lot of hiking and many hot springs resorts to visit. Aso Shrine is a well-known shrine.
Kumamoto has several famous local foods. I’ve tried one of them, and that is basashi. Basashi is raw horse meat that’s served with soy sauce and ginger. Karashirenkon is a popular food, with the holes of lotus root filled with hot Japanese mustard coated with flour and fried. Ikinaridango is a dumpling filled with sweet potato and anko, a sweet bean paste.
Have you been to Kumamoto? Have I missed anything? Please leave a comment!