If you're looking for things to do in Kyushu, don't forget to add destinations around other parts of southern Japan to your trip! Kyushu is Japan's biggest southernmost island, which means its summers are hot, but its winters are mild. It's home to some of Japan's most beautiful beaches, mountains, and the country's most active volcano—Mount Aso.
Kyushu Island is near other spectacular destinations like Hiroshima and Tokushima. It's also within a reasonable distance from Osaka. That's why we've included some of our favorite places to go in Kyushu and other parts of southern Japan. The following locations are between Fukuoka and Kansai International Airports, making it easy to create your ideal itinerary!
Also known as the "White Heron," Himeji Castle is one of the best examples of classical Japanese engineering and architecture. Its imposing size, elegant appearance, and well-preserved complex attract travelers from all over the world. Himeji is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan's "twelve original castles." Unlike most castles in Japan, Himeji's buildings were never destroyed, and are over 400-years-old.
Himeji Castle is one of the most well-known places in Japan to see cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. During these seasons, the spectacular white walls become even more brilliant. The number of visitors to Himeji Castle significantly increases in spring and fall, as well as during summer holidays and Golden Week.
The hallowed Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island is best known for its iconic torii gate. During high tide, water from the Seto Inland Sea surrounds the shrine and its torii, which makes them seem as though they're floating. Itsukushima Shrine has multiple buildings to explore, including a Noh theater stage that periodically holds performances throughout the year.
Miyajima Island is also one of the most scenic places in Japan. From the peak of Mount Misen, you can take in a commanding view of the bay and the surrounding foliage. The short hike is particularly attractive when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
On August 6th, 1945, Allied forces dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima City. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park share the stories of the victims and survivors of this tragic day. The 120,000 square meter area stands at the epicenter of the explosion.
The Peace Memorial Museum illustrates the history of Hiroshima, but its main focus is on the events surrounding August 6th. Some exhibits, like videos of survivors giving their first-hand accounts, are far from easy to experience. However, they serve as a reminder for us to not take peaceful times for granted.
Dejima is an artificial island in Nagasaki port where Portuguese missionaries lived in the early 1600s. However, in 1637, Japanese Christians rebelled against the Tokugawa Shogunate, leading the government to expel all Portuguese residents. They also ended trade relations with most Western countries, except for the Netherlands.
Dutch residents moved to Dejima in 1641, and the island was the only place where direct trade between Japan and the Western world happened for centuries. Today, Dejima is a testament to this time, with reconstructed residences, warehouses, walls, and gates.
Nagasaki Peace Park commemorates the atomic bombing of the city on August 9th, 1945. Two parks and a museum make up the complex, which memorializes the thousands of inhabitants that died that day. One of the most sobering sights is Hypocenter Park, where a black monolith marks precisely where the bomb fell. Here, you can still see debris from the explosion around its base.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is on a hill above Hypocenter Park, which works to inform the public about the horrors of war. Next to here is the memorial hall for victims that is mostly underground and uses water and light in its design. North of Hypocenter Park is the iconic Peace Statue and monuments given to Nagasaki by countries around the world.
Kyushu is home to some of Japan's most picturesque national parks, and one of its hidden gems is the Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture. The Gokase River cuts through a narrow ravine of volcanic basalt that resembles a dragon's scales.
You can rent a rowboat to explore the gorge on the river or walk on the trails above. Along your journey, you'll find the 17-meter high Minainotaki waterfall. During summer, spotlights illuminate the lush foliage and the waterfall from sundown to 10:00 pm.
The Shimanami Kaido is a toll road that connects Honshu and Shikoku via a series of bridges over small islands. Driving through it affords you a commanding view of the Seto Inland Sea, but that's not the only thing you can do here. The Shimanami Kaido also has walking and cycling paths.
The bike route is 70 kilometers long but doesn't have any steep inclines. Intermediate cyclists can complete it in about a day. If you only want to ride a bike for part of the way, you can use the "regular rental system." It offers bicycles for tourists to ride for a small fee and has many terminals where you can catch a bus.
At the end of Japan's period of isolationism, many Western residents settled in Nagasaki. The area where they used to live and work is now an open-air museum called Glover Garden. The main attraction is the Glover House that a Scottish merchant—Thomas Glover—built in the 1850s. He would later assist the revolutionaries that overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Glover Garden is home to several Western-style mansions and buildings from this era. You can explore the well-preserved rooms and learn about the lifestyles of the wealthy elite. The garden also offers lovely views of Nagasaki City and its harbor.
The so-called "Hells" (Jigoku in Japanese) of Beppu are seven hot springs that are for viewing. Five are in Kannawa District, and two are in Shibaseki District. All are inside of easily-accessible centers rather than in natural surroundings. Each Hell looks markedly different from the last, and some spots offer foot baths and specialty snacks.
The two most photogenic Hells are Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku. Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) is a hot spring with sky blue water. Its spacious garden includes another pond with lotus flowers that are strong enough to carry small children. Chinoike Jigoku (Bloody Pond Hell) is a striking fiery red.
Shikoku Mura is an open-air museum that exhibits traditional buildings from the Edo and Meiji Periods. Among the structures are farmhouses, workshops, storehouses, and a kabuki theater that occasionally holds performances. One of its most noted attractions is a bridge made out of vines that is similar to the ones found in Iya Valley.
What separates Shikoku Mura from other similar museums is that all of the exhibits are original artifacts from their time. You can touch and explore the same places and things that were used by people hundreds of years ago. Its surrounding natural forest adds to the atmosphere and makes you feel transported to a different time.
According to local legend, the first Awa Odori Festival took place over 400 years ago to celebrate the opening of Tokushima Castle. From August 12th to the 15th, thousands of spectators and dancers flock to the city to watch the festivities. Although there are some events during the daytime, the main spectacle runs from 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm.
In the evenings, groups of dancers perform in a parade on blocked off streets in downtown Tokushima. Some are amateurs that formed their team the night before, and some are professionals that rehearse all year. The style is a lively dance that grew out of Buddhist traditions. It plays on how a drunk or foolish person moves and includes live music and colorful period clothes.
Oura Catholic Church is a cathedral in Nagasaki and is the oldest standing church in Japan. A French missionary built it in 1864 to memorialize 26 martyrs that Japan's ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi executed in 1597. Hideyoshi prohibited Christian missionaries during this time and ordered the act as a warning to the public.
Today, the church is an attractive example of cathedral architecture and was the first Western-style building in Japan designated as a national treasure. Admission to the church includes entry to the adjacent museum, which chronicles the history of Christianity in Japan.
Amano-Iwate Shrine is the site of one of the best-known Shinto legends. According to the myth, Amaterasu—the sun goddess—became so frustrated with her brother that she hid in a cave and shrouded the world in darkness. The other gods eventually lured her back out when one performed an amusing dance.
The shrine stands on the opposite side of a river from the cave where Amaterasu hid. Although you can't enter the cave, a Shinto priest will lead you on a guided tour to an observation deck. Along the way, you'll see stacks of rocks that previous pilgrims built to memorialize their visit.
Yokagura reenacts the legend of Amaterasu with actors wearing traditional garb and masks. The full Yokagura performance consists of 33 episodes that take place on Saturday evenings between November and February. The show's venue changes every week, and locations include some private homes.
If you aren't traveling to Kyushu during this time of year, you can catch an abridged version of Yokagura at Takachiho Shrine. The one-hour show consists of selected scenes with live musical accompaniment. Performances happen every night throughout the year from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Mount Takasaki is a 628 meter-high peak that is home to around 1500 wild Japanese macaques. Takasakiyama Monkey Park is a reserve at the base of the mountain, so visitors can enjoy observing the monkeys interact with each other in their natural habitat. The park opened in the 1950s as a travel destination and to keep the monkeys away from the local farms.
The monkeys live in two troops of around 700 to 800 individuals, which makes them some of the world's most populous groups. The two troops take turns coming down the mountain to the park. One arrives in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. Although they're accustomed to seeing humans, keep in mind that they're still wild animals. Please refrain from touching them or looking at them directly in the eye when you go.
Kitsuki is a sleepy but notable city in northern Kyushu. It's home to Japan's smallest castle and a well-preserved samurai district. In most historical towns in Japan, samurai districts surround the castle. However, Kitsuki's layout is noticeably different because its samurai district borders the downtown area.
Some of the samurai houses are open to the public to enter. The best-surviving buildings are the Ohara and Nomi Residences. Inside, you'll see tatami-matted rooms, traditional Japanese gardens, and artifacts related to the everyday lives of old Japan's military elite.
The spacious Ritsurin Koen Park is one of Japan's most beautiful landscape gardens. Local feudal lords built the park in the early Edo Period with multiple ponds, tree groves, and pavilions. Those familiar with Ritsurin Koen often argue that it deserves a spot on Japan's list of "Great Gardens," which includes Kanazawa's Kenrokuen, Mito's Kairakuen, and Okayama's Korakuen.
There are several facilities inside the park, including a folk museum and tea houses where you can take a break with refreshments. You can also ride traditional Japanese rowboats on the ponds with a guide. Ritsurin Koen Park is particularly striking during the fall when the autumn leaves change colors and when its seasonal flowers—like cherry blossoms—bloom.
Kurashiki is a quaint city located in Okayama Prefecture. Its name roughly translates to the "town of storehouses," which is evident from its canal area. During the Edo Period, Kurashiki was an essential center of distribution for rice in Japan, and the old storehouses still stand in the Bikan Historical District.
You can explore the storehouse area either on foot or on a boat tour. Gondola drivers wear traditional clothes and hats and explain the town's history. The storehouse fronts still look the same as they did hundreds of years ago, but no longer hold rice. Most are converted boutiques, cafes, and museums.
Spanning 150,000 square meters, or approximately 10 Tokyo Domes, Mifuneyama Rakuen is one of Kyushu's must-go locations. Mount Mifune famously resembles the shape of a large ship, and its surrounding park offers visitors fabulous views all year round.
In winter, the otherwise stark park comes alive during the illumination festivals at night. From February to mid-May, thousands of plum trees bloom around the whole area. Cherry blossoms and multi-colored azaleas add a splash of color in March and April. In autumn, the maples turn stunning shades of red, gold, and orange.
If you're only traveling in southern Japan, you might feel put out by the fact that you'll miss the north's temples and shrines. However, at Kosanji Temple, you can see some of the structures that make those places so impactful. Kosanji's buildings and decorations replicate some of the country's most popular spiritual sites.
Although Kosanji is a collage of different architectural styles and colors, they come together as a coherent complex. Some of its replicas include Nikko Toshogu's Yomeimon Gate and Byodoin's Phoenix Hall. Another highlight of Kosanji is the large walking area above the temple, where you'll find abstract structures and a restaurant made from Italian marble.