Look beyond the bustling streets of Tokyo and the beautiful temples in Kyoto and you will find what is arguably the most picturesque region in all of Japan – Kyūshū. The most southwestern of Japan's main island Kyūshū provides visitors with a wealth of impressive sites and nourishing cuisine to satisfy the most curious of travellers. Here’s why you should visit Kyūshū.
What to do in Kyūshū
Sip sake in Hizen Hamashuku
Sake is Japan’s trademark drink. It has always played a huge part in Japanese culture and features in a variety of Shinto rituals, such as sake-sharing at weddings. You can sometimes spot huge sake barrels dotted around Shinto shrines, most notably Meiji Jingu in Tokyo.
The Hizen Hamashuku area in the Saga Prefecture has a significant influence on the Japanese sake industry. It is home to Sakagura Street, a six-hundred-metre white-washed lane featuring three breweries, Mitsutake Shuzo, Minematsu Shuzo and Fukuchiyo Shuzo, with the latter winning a “Champion Sake” award. Peppered with sake shops – this is the place for learning about and sampling this beloved beverage.
Spring is when the area generates an infectious buzz for its annual Sake Festival. Wander around with dainty cherry-blossom trees as your backdrop and tuck into tasty local food – with sake, of course, being the star of the event. The showstopper may just be the sake-flavoured cheese.
Making sake in a Hizen Hamashuku brewery © Joachim Ducos
Discover Urakami Cathedral
The Urakami Cathedral is a structure with a tragic yet compelling history. Once the biggest Roman Catholic church in the east, Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki was nearly completely destroyed when the atomic bomb detonated just 500 metres away in 1945. The building you see today is a replica of the original – although, astonishingly, some statues survived the blast. Charred stone saints and the head of a Saint Mary statue sit inside.
Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki © Jaochim Ducos
Learn about textiles
The textile industry has a significant presence in Fukuoka, particularly Hakata-ori textile crafts. They have a history of more than seven hundred years of producing impressive clay Hakata dolls, which make great souvenirs. You can visit the numerous shops in the area, tour the Hakata-ori Sanui textile factory (and buy their fabulous ties and other products) and discover the production processes of this intricate craft through the extensive displays on offer.
Making textiles at Hakata-ori Sanui © Joachim Ducos
Visit Japan’s most famous church
Although the largest religion in Japan is Shinto, there are other religious places of worship that dot the country. Built in 1864, the Ōura Church Basilica in Nagasaki, also known as the Church of 26 Martyrs, is considered to be the oldest Christian building in the land. A UNESCO-Heritage Site, it was built for the increasing community of foreign merchants in the area and commemorates the memory of 26 Christians who were executed in the city in 1597. The European architecture of the building provides an interesting contrast to the otherwise wooden structures of the temples that are usually seen in Japan.
Inside the church, there is an alluring contrast of colour, with bold, dark lines on pillars standing out against the white-washed ceiling. A tour of the church provides you with an in-depth look at the structure and an overview of Christianity in Japan.
Nagasaki's Ōura Church Basilica © Joachim Ducos
What to eat in Kyūshū
Indulge in shippoku – Japan’s first fusion cuisine
When trading vessels from Portugal, the Netherlands and China arrived in Japan they brought a huge mix of cultures to the Nagasaki Prefecture. With that, shippoku cuisine was created – an intriguing blend of Japanese, Western and Chinese flavours. With food spread around a lacquered circular table, the idea is to share numerous dishes. Shippoku can be pricy, but well worth it. Think culinary creativity at its best: a compelling reason why you should visit Kyūshū. You can expect to find purple bean honey stew, Yuzu mushroom scallops and of course, fresh sashimi on the menu.
Slurp and dunk your ramen
For ramen with a twist, head to the ramen noodle restaurant, Toride. The spot offers white seafood-based broths, in contrast to the usual meat-based liquid, and infuses Nagasaki flavours perfectly. At the end of the meal, diners are offered a bowl of flavoured rice to dunk in the soup to soak up every last part of the broth – a unique addition to the ramen-eating experience. Rice flavours include parmesan basil to add an even more special touch.
Where to stay in Kyūshū
A stay for peace and quiet
For a luxurious getaway, book a stay at Warakuen in the Saga Prefecture. This ryokan is brimming with class and sophistication. Located in Ureshino Onsen, one of Japan’s top hot spring resorts, this is the ultimate place to spend some time in total calmness, with 39 private tatami rooms and thirteen suites with indoor and outdoor springs – one is even infused with tea. Take comfort in exquisite meals such as saga beef steak, sashimi selections and tea porridge to start your day.
A room with a beautiful view
The Ikenoyamaso complex in the Fukuoko Prefecture is situated around the Aso Pond, a calming natural lake in the region. There are twelve tatami rooms, some of which have their own private springs where you can relax in a thick cloud of billowing steam while peering out to the stunning peaked landscape. A restaurant on-site serves traditional kaiseki, a multi-course Japanese meal featuring grilled dishes, steamed courses and often succulent sashimi.
A traditional kaiseki at Ikenoyamaso © Mark Webster
A trendy luxury spot
Another fine stay in Nagasaki is the Garden Terrace Hotel. Michelin Guide-approved and designed by the award-winning architect Kengo Kuma, the setting is unspeakably picturesque. The accommodation is located on a hill which offers sweeping views over stunning Nagasaki Bay – some of the best panoramas can be seen from your bathtub. Spend your time in the infinity-edge summertime pool and private onsen in this modern spot.
The delightful region of Kyūshū has plenty to offer. Fascinating heritage sites, an endless list of intriguing sights and attractions, comfortable accommodation and a plethora of foodie treats to tuck into – it may well become your new favourite area in Japan.
Top image: A traditional kaiseki at Ikenoyamaso © Joachim Ducos