Kumamoto: Best Sightseeing Spots And Cuisine In The Land Of Fire And Water
What’s Kumamoto Like?
Kumamoto prefecture is located in the western side of the Kyushu region of Japan. The Land of Fire or The Land of Water, are two common, but seemingly contradictory nicknames that Kumamoto has garnered.
On the east side of Kumamoto, an active volcano, Mt. Aso, and one of the world’s largest calderas, (a large depression made by volcanic activity), creates a majestic landscape, earning it the nickname The Land of Fire.
On the other hand, it rains quite heavily around Mt. Aso, and the area is blessed with plentiful underground springs and delicious pure waters, thus making it The Land of Water, too.
In addition, Kumamoto city itself is often called the Forest Capital, as there are grand forests spread out all across the prefecture.
Blessed with abundant natural wonders as it is, Kumamoto is also the largest watermelon producing area in Japan, and is also famous for its mikan oranges, melons, and tomatoes. And, the rice, vegetables and livestock raised here are some of the best in Japan too.
In addition to many historical sites like Kumamoto Castle, praised for being one of Japan’s three most famous castles, Kumamoto has also created their own unique culture, such as the prefectural mascot character, Kumamon, an adorable black bear.
Direct flights from South Korea and Taiwan head right to Aso Kumamoto Airport, the gateway to Kumamoto prefecture.
Other than taking LCC flights from Tokyo, you can also easily travel from Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, via highway bus for as little as 2060 yen one way.
In April 2016, a magnitude seven earthquake struck Kumamoto, causing a great deal of damage to the area. However, thanks to their “gamadasubai”, the Kumamoto dialect of the standard “ganbarou” (do our best), reconstruction and projects have been proceeding all across the prefecture.
If you visit Kumamoto, you are sure to see the passion of the people as the work to rise from the earthquake’s aftermath.
3 Recommended Sightseeing Spots in Kumamoto
There are many must-see places in Kumamoto, from cultural heritage spots to places with superb views. Here, we will introduce three recommended tourist attractions in the center of Kumamoto city.
Renovated and improved by the warlord Kato Kiyomasa, whose family ruled over Kumamoto 500 years ago, the stone wall fortifications of Kumamoto Castle stand well over 20 meters tall, and its overall impressive appearance have lead to it being known as one of Japan’s three greatest castles.
Inside the castle there are many interesting places to see, beginning with an impressive painting that depicts the tragic Chinese tale of Wang Zhaojun, one of the Four Beauties of China, in gold leaf and vivid color on the sliding doors in the shokunnoma*, part of the inner citadel.
Unfortunately, as a result of the earthquake there are many areas of Kumamoto that may not be visited, but thanks to the generous donations of the citizenry, reconstruction of the castle is being undertaken. In fact, it has become a symbol of Kumamoto, and the voices of the people that will not be lost.
* At present, the shokunnoma is under construction as of September 2017, and cannot be viewed by the public.
Address: Kumamoto, Chuo, Honmaru 1-1
Sakuranobaba Josaien is a tourist facility located just outside Kumamoto Castle. Here you’ll find 23 different shops and cafes offering souvenirs and delicious dishes from Kumamoto all along a small cherry tree-lined path. The full charms of Kumamoto itself almost seem to have been condensed into this very spot.
Plus, there is Yuyuza, a small shop where you can learn about the history of Kumamoto prefecture through video, and a general tourist information center where guides, maps, and pamphlets in other languages on sightseeing throughout the prefecture are available. There are also coin lockers here, so you can drop off your bags and sightsee freely. Why not take advantage of the services that they offer, and make this the starting point of your sightseeing adventures?
Address: Kumamoto, Chuo, Ninomaru 1-1-1
Located just ten minutes by tram from Kumamoto Castle, Suizen-ji Joju-en is a Japanese style garden that was built around 400 years ago.
Within the park, there are many features that very designed with the 53 stations of the Tokaido, the highway that connected Kyoto to Tokyo during the Edo period (1603-1868), in mind, including a small mountain intended to replicate Mt. Fuji.
On the northern side of the garden stands Izumi Shrine, where the successive lords of the Hosokawa family who ruled Kumamoto are enshrined.
Address: Kumamoto, Chuo, Suizen-ji Koen 8-1
Kumamoto’s 3 Best Regional Dishes
Surrounded by wonderful natural landscapes, Kumamoto also has many delicious local cuisines to offer. Here, we will introduce three dishes carefully selected from among them.
While you can also find tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen in Hakata and Kagoshima, the tonkotsu ramen from Kumamoto is characterized by having chicken bones also used to flavor the broth.
This ramen dish is also topped off with roasted garlic, so compared to the mild soups of Hakata and Kagoshima, Kumamoto’s tonkotsu ramen has a rich, deep flavor.
You’ll find ramen shops offering this delicious dish throughout Kumamoto city and in other prefectures too.
Aso’s Akagyu Steak
In the Mt. Aso area you will see field after field of cattle grazing. Raised on pesticide-free grass and clean mountain spring water, the beef produced in Kumamoto is known for its soft lean flesh and juicy flavor.
Several shops and restaurants throughout the prefecture serve this high quality beef, and near Mt. Aso itself, there are about ten different restaurants on what is called Akagyu Road, that serve a wide variety of special akagyu dishes.
Soft Serve Ice Cream Made with Jersey Milk
The milk produced by Jersey cattle is known to be exceptionally rich, high in fat, calcium and other essential vitamins too. Oguni, a town in the Aso-gun district of northern Kumamoto, is where you will find these special dairy cows, which are a rarity in Japan.
The amazing, deep taste of the soft serve ice cream made from Jersey milk is one that you won’t want to stop enjoying.
There are of course many other incredible places to see in Kumamoto, such as Amakusa, where you can enjoy beautiful ocean scenery interwoven between over 120 small islands.
Not only that, but you will also find the famous, thinly sliced basashi, or raw horse meat sashimi, taipien, a uniquely arranged Chinese dish featuring plenty of fresh vegetables and seafood cooked in a thick sauce, and other delicious specialties of the region.
Please make the journey to see and try the amazing sights and dishes that make up Kumamoto prefecture.