The island of Kyushu is located in the south westernmost region of Japan, and most people who plan to travel only in Kyushu will probably arrive by airplane. However, if you are going to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, Hiroshima, or Shikoku by campervan, why not extend your visit and spend some time in Kyushu? It is a good idea to give yourself at least 10 days for a relaxed tour of the island. Even though Kyushu is not home to any of the most well-known iconic Japanese locations such as Kyoto or Mt. Fuji, you will find many delightful places where you can dive into history, see active volcanoes, relax in some of the best natural hot springs, eat delicious local cuisine, and immerse yourself in magnificent national parks. By vehicle, Kyushu can be reached from the mainland via a tunnel under or a bridge over the strait. Ferry service between Tokyo and Kyushu is another option.

Nagasaki

More than 1,400 islands make up Nagasaki Prefecture, and when driving along the coast, a mesmerizing scene unfolds as the islands seem to be floating on the blue sea. For those who enjoy learning about history and visiting historical sites, Nagasaki Prefecture is a great place to visit. In fact, Nagasaki was the only port open to foreign trade in Japan during the Edo period (16th-19th centuries) when the country was closed to the outside world. During this period of national seclusion, trade was conducted only with the Dutch and China, so Nagasaki was an early adopter of Western culture within the country. The area flourished as an international trading port, giving it an exotic townscape and unique atmosphere, which can still be experienced today.

On the western side of Nagasaki City stands Mt. Insayama which from the summit offers beautiful views especially at night of the city, port and bay below. To reach the top there are several options available. One is the ropeway from downtown Nagasaki. Another is driving up the mountain and then taking the slope car which is like a monorail to the top, or you can hike from the slope car parking lot. There is an observation deck at the top that has a restaurant where visitors can enjoy a meal while basking in the spectacular view. The parking lot at the Inasayama Park slope car terminal has restrooms and is very spacious. The staff allowed us to stay there overnight in our campervan, although the gate is closed at night.

Nagasaki also is an immensely important place in terms of modern history which must not be forgotten. On August 9, 1945, Nagasaki was devastated by an atomic bomb which resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is located in Nagasaki City, and admission is 200 yen. While visiting the museum is not a lighthearted affair, it is highly recommended as it encourages us to seek for peace and do all we can to see that nuclear war will not happen again.

Another highlight in Nagasaki is the boat tour to the World Heritage site Gunkanjima (formally known as Hashima Island), aka Battleship Island, which takes about 40 minutes one way from Nagasaki Port. This abandoned island gives us a glimpse into the tremendous growth Japan experienced from the turn of the 20th century. In 1810, coal was discovered on the island, and it was continuously inhabited from the 1880s to 1974 when it was cleared of residents. The extremely hot and humid work conditions coupled with the less than safe technology of the day that faced the workers at depths of more than 600 meters under the sea is hard to imagine. I also heard that during typhoons, waves sometimes covered the whole island, and residents had to brave the elements until the typhoon passed as there was insufficient shelter. It was a good experience for me to visit this island where so many people through enduring hardship helped contribute to the Japan we now have today. There are English pamphlets available, but doing some of your own research on the island beforehand will help make your visit there all the more memorable.

Kumamoto

Kumamoto Prefecture features Aso-Kuju National Park, which you can read about in detail in the blog National Parks Worth Visiting in Japan by Campervan Part 2. Mt. Aso, at the heart of the national park, is an active volcano where you can get close to the crater. There are tour buses to get there, but it is very pleasant to drive up the scenic mountainside to the caldera. Near the crater there is a parking lot from which you can walk and experience the smoke of an active volcano up close. Of course, there are times when the danger of eruption is low and other times when it is not. When walking on this mountain formed by a volcano and seeing smoke rising from the crater, you can feel the grandeur of nature.

Along the northern base of Mt. Aso is the Milk Road which runs through verdant meadows and gently rolling pastureland that stretch far and wide. Charming red cows dot the beautiful landscape making for a unique sight and one of the most delightful drives in Japan!

After an active day of enjoying the great outdoors, you should definitely visit the hot spring town Kurokawa Onsen to relieve any fatigue you might be experiencing. Hot spring towns can be found all over Japan, but Kurokawa Onsen is one of the most charming. There are many ryokans (Japanese-style inns) lining the streets, but you do not need to spend the night to enjoy the wonderful water as day-trippers are more than welcome. In Kurokawa Onsen, there is a program that allows visitors to pay 1,500 yen to tour the hot springs. With this pass, you can visit three hot springs. Of course, if you do not have the pass, you can still enter for 500-800 yen per hot spring. The natural hot spring water contains sodium, calcium sulfate, and chloride which is said to be effective for beautifying the skin. Indeed, my skin felt smoother than usual after bathing! Please check the Kurokawa Onsen website for drop-in bathing hours, as some hours are for staying guests only.

Kyushu is also home to many delicious local foods! If you like tonkotsu ramen, Fukuoka Prefecture is the birthplace of this culinary delight, but if your travels do not take you there, you can find delicious tonkotsu ramen throughout Kyushu. Nagasaki, surrounded by the sea, is famous for its delicious seafood and especially oysters.

If you have already traveled to some of Japan’s more famous places such as Kyoto, Mount Fuji, and Nagano, how about visiting Kyushu to experience this the equally wonderful part of Japan? My next blog, Kyushu Part 2, will introduce southern Kyushu, including Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefectures.

About the Author

Sayuri

I have been travelling by campervan to various areas all over Japan for more than 5 years. My goal is to visit all 47 prefectures in Japan! Just 12 more prefectures to go and I'll have accomplished it! I hope I can share some of information of wonderful places in Japan.

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