Kyushu region: Japan travel guide

The Kyushu region of Japan largely covers the third-largest of the country’s main islands. The southernmost region of Japan, Kyushu is a historically significant area that long served as a gateway between Asia and the rest of the world.

Separated from the island of Honshu by the Kanmon Straits, Kyushu is defined by vast areas of mountainous terrain and varied natural landscapes. It also experiences significant tectonic activity and is home to Japan’s most active volcano, Mount Aso.

The eastern part of the island around the city of Beppu is also renowned for its natural hot springs and wealth of onsen resort towns.

Kyushu prefectures

Historically, the region of Kyushu was known as Saikaidō, which was made up of 9 ancient provinces. The meaning of Kyushu is literally “Nine Provinces”.

Today, the Kyushu region is made up of 8 prefectures, 7 of which are located on the main island. It also includes the Okinawa prefecture, located on the Ryukyu islands to the south.

Kyushu is home to roughly 10% of the total population of Japan, although most of this is concentrated in the northwestern prefecture of Fukuoka. Nevertheless, the southernmost prefectures are a popular tourist destination due to their subtropical climate.

The 8 prefectures of the Kyushu region are as follows:

  • Fukuoka – Located on the northern tip of Kyushu island, this prefecture is home to the major cities of Fukuoka and Kitakyushu, and is famous across Japan for its wealth of delicious seafood.
  • Kumamoto – A mountainous prefecture shaped by volcanic activity, Kumamoto offers some of Kyushu’s best natural hot springs as well as a range of historically significant sites.
  • Nagasaki – Comprises the important port city of the same name as well as a number of forested offshore islands surrounded by crystal-clear waters.
  • Ōita – Known for the abundance of mud hot springs around the city of Beppu and the mountainous Kunisaki Peninsula, home to numerous important spiritual sites.
  • Saga – A historic coastal prefecture, Saga is defined by its feudal past, numerous castles, and reputation as the birthplace of ceramics in Japan.
  • Kagoshima – The southernmost prefecture on the main island, Kagoshima boasts a varied landscape that includes large swathes of ancient forests, the active volcano of Sakurajima, and the tropical islands of Amamai Oshima.
  • Miyazaki – Offers some of the best beaches in Kyushu, ample surfing opportunities, and one of Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls.
  • Okinawa – A subtropical chain of islands that boasts coral-rich coastlines, white-sand beaches, and a rich cultural heritage.

Top destinations in Kyushu

The Kyushu region is home to several major Japanese cities that each offer a range of enticing attractions for visitors to explore.

The modern city of Fukuoka is a major draw due to its famous seafood delicacies and the colorful annual Gion Yamagata festival, while Nagasaki offers visitors the chance to explore the Peace Park commemorating the infamous atomic blast.

Some of the best destinations in Kyushu include:

Fukuoka

The city of Fukuoka is one of the main tourist destinations in southern Japan, and it is listed among Japan’s ten most populous cities. It is the largest city on the island of Kyushu, and packed with amazing travel experiences.

Whatever you’re looking for in your next Japanese vacation, Fukuoka is likely to deliver. The city is home to traditional parks and temples, massive shopping complexes, modern cityscapes, and special offerings for the food enthusiast. There are also a number of day trips from the city made possible using the Shinkansen bullet trains, and its southern, warmer weather is loved by the Japanese.

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Nagasaki

Nagasaki, capital of the prefecture of the same name, is a port city on the island of Kyushu. It has been a prominent Japanese city for centuries due to its proximity to mainland Asia. Nagasaki also holds an unenviable role in world history, that of being the second city to endure an atomic weapon.

In the years since that tragic event, Nagasaki has recovered and flourished. Today, tourists flock to Nagasaki to see breathtaking scenery, historic reminders, and religious relics. Start planning your next trip to Nagasaki with the help of this handy travel guide.

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Kagoshima

Located in Kagoshima prefecture at the southwestern tip of the island of Kyushu, Kagoshima is the largest southernmost city on the main islands of Japan and is often considered the friendliest Japanese city for visitors.

Kagoshima has a long history as an important commercial port, especially during the medieval period and the Edo period from 1603–1868, is widely regarded as the birthplace of the industrial revolution in Japan. It was officially inaugurated as a city in 1889.

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Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture consists of more than 150 distinct islands, all of which lie 400 miles from mainland Japan. This sets Okinawa apart as a world unto itself.

In Okinawa, you can explore deserted beaches, swim with sea turtles, or snorkel in crystal clear waters. One hundred and eleven of Okinawa’s islands are uninhabited, pristine and untouched, making them prime real estate for adventure. Okinawa is home to rare creatures, such as the Iriomote wild cat, and cuisine unique and different from the rest of Japan.

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Best things to do in Kyushu

From the healing waters of Beppu Onsen, to the slopes of the smoking Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima, to the vibrant coral reefs of Okinawa, there are plenty of unique natural attractions to explore in Kyushu. The region is also home to several significant historic sites.

Some top attractions in Kyushu include:

Kumamoto Castle

Located in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Kumamoto Castle (熊本城, Kumamoto-jō) is one of the largest and most impressive castles in Japan. During its heyday, it was considered one of the most impenetrable fortresses in the country.

Designed with strategic defense firmly in mind, the castle originally boasted over 49 turrets, 29 gates, and a number of unique defensive measures including holes in the walls for dropping boiling water, rocks, or excrement onto attackers.

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Main train lines and transportation in Kyushu

The island of Kyushu is linked to Honshu by a variety of train lines, including the Sanyo Shinkansen and a number of other non-bullet train services which operate via the Kanmon Tunnels.

The services that operate within the region itself include the following:

  • Kyushu Shinkansen
  • Seven Stars Kyushu
  • Ibusuki-makurazaki line
  • Hisatsu line
  • Kitto line (Ebino Kogen Line)
  • Hisatsu line (Ebino Kogen line)
  • Nichinan line
  • Nippo line
  • Mitsumi line (Amakusa Misumi line)
  • Hohi line
  • Kyudai line
  • Nagasaki line
  • Sasebo line
  • Karatsu line
  • Gotoji line
  • Chikuho line
  • Sasaguri line
  • Karatsu line
  • Chikihi line

Other regions of Japan

Japan is typically divided into 8 areas, although Okinawa is sometimes classified as a 9th region. Nevertheless, it is traditionally considered to be a part of the Kyushu region.

If we include Okinawa within Kyushu, the other 7 regions of Japan are as follows:

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