January 4, 2018
Top 10 Tourist Attractions & Best Things to Do in Kumamoto, Japan
1 year after the Kumamoto earthquake that happened in April, 2016. While the restoration of the affected areas is making progress, the tourist sites are also regaining their activity. Although, the restoration is still half way. So depending on the location, there are places that cannot be visited and places that have to be bypassed. But visiting the tourist sites is one way to help with the restoration. You’ll be able to feel the changed, strong, and determined Kumamoto. Now’s the time to go to Kumamoto!
1. Kumamoto Castle
The symbol of Kumamoto prefecture, Kumamoto Castle, has also been damaged by the Kumamoto earthquake. This castle was made by Kato Kiyomasa, master of castle making, in the span of 7 years, and its history is over 400 years old.
It stands in the middle of Kumamoto city with its huge citadel, variety of castle towers, and the stone wall that has repelled many warriors. Most of the places are off limits because of the repairs, but you can visit places like the Ninomaru Square and Kato Shrine.
From around there, many castle towers and scaffolds can be seen. The construction process can be observed from the observation floor on the 14th floor of the Kumamoto city office. The donation money will be used for the reconstruction, with your name in the honor list, and receive a certificate as a “reconstruction lord”.
With this certificate comes discounts and other privileges in the tourist facilities and restaurants throughout the city. Some say it may take 20 years for a full restoration.
The reconstruction now is done by heavy machinery and many craftsmen, but at the time it was first built, everything was done by hand. So it’s safe to say that the precision back then was something truly amazing.
Name: Kumamoto Castle
Address: 1-1 Honmaru Chuo-ku, Kumamoto
Map: Map to Kumamoto Castle
The theater was built in 1910, and is nationally designated as one of the Important Cultural Properties. The theater was first built by the industrialists of Yamaga. Since their opening, they have performed many different performances.
However, with the spread of movies and TVs, the theater was forced to close. Afterwards, the building was thought to collapse by aging, but thanks to the major repair in the Showa and Heisei era, the building still stands.
Even now, many kabuki and Japanese dance performances are done, but there are also cosplay photography events, which are unusual. In the tour, you can visit the inside of the Yachiyoza Theater and the Yumekogura Museum.
There are no tours during the theater performances, so please check the HP for details before visiting. The staff will explain in detail, so you can understand even the smallest bits. It’s spot to go when in Kumamoto.
Address: 1499 Oaza Yamaga, Kumamoto
Map: Map to Yachiyoza
3. Shirakawa Suigen
Chosen as one of the 100 best waters by the Environment Agency, this place has pure water welling up. 60t of water springs out per minute in Shirakawa Suigen, and provides water to the Shirakawa that runs inside Kumamoto city. The water temperature is around 14℃ all year around, and tastes very mellow.
There are places that you can draw water, so you can take some home freely. It’s convenient to have a plastic bottles and tanks when you go for a walk. It’s one of the popular tourist spots in Aso, and a place where 40 thousand people frequented before the earthquake.
But here, there are no earthquakes, and water wells up continuously. Right near the Shirakawa Suigen is the Shirakawa Yoshimi Shrine, where the water god is worshipped. The water source is actually inside the shrine, so please visit while you’re there. The water surface is very transparent, and like a mirror, so it’s worth visiting.
Name: Shirakawa Suigen
Address: 1499 Oaza Yamaga, Kumamoto
Map: Map to Shirakawa Suigen
4. Suizen-ji Joju-en
The stroll garden and tea arbor was made in the early Edo period by several Kumamoto feudal lords, the Hosokawas. The stroll garden resembles the 35 stations of the old Tokaido Highway. The lake inside the garden springs out ground water and the pure water has been chosen as the 100 best waters of the Heisei era.
After the Kumamoto earthquake, the lake’s water level was very low, where you could see the lake ground, but now it’s been restored. It only takes 30 minutes around the lake, but there are places like the Izumi shrine that’s connected with the Hosokawa clan and the Kokin-Denju-no-Ma with a thatched roof, so it’s better to take some time around.
Especially the Kokin-Denju-no-Ma, because it was moved from Kyoto’s Imperial Palace in 1912. Here, you can enjoy the Matcha and sweets while viewing the garden. It’s definitely a moment of bliss.
There are many restaurants and gift shops inside the garden, so you can enjoy the local Kumamoto foods. Around late March, the 150 sakura trees along the walking path will be in full bloom. Please visit when you’re in Kumamoto.
Name: Suizen-ji Joju-en
Address: 8-1 Suizenji-koen Kumamoto Chuo-ku, Kumamoto
Regular holidays: none
Map: Map to Suizen-ji Joju-en
5. Sakitsu Church
The “Sakitsu Church,” located in Sakitsu village in Amakusa, is aiming for the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is called the “church of the sea” from its beautiful appearance. It’s been rebuilt several times because of the building’s old age, and the standing now was built in 1934.
It was built by Father Halbout in the place where “e-fumi (stepping of the Christian images)” had taken place. It’s an important architecture to learn about the history of the latent Christians. The church has a cross on top of a high steeple, and is built in the Gothic-style.
Not only the beautiful exterior, but it has the alter where the “e-fumi” actually took place, and has a rare tatami floor. It’s still used as a place to pray, so advance booking is needed to tour the inside.
This church is nominated as the “Cultural Landscape of Sakitsu and Imatomi, Amakusa,” along with the Imatomi village. So it’s worth a visit!
Name: Sakitsu Church
Address: 539 Sakitsu Amakusa Kawaura-machi, Kumamoto
Map: Map to Sakitsu Church
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6. Kumamon Square
Now, Kumamon is popular character is loved nationwide. It’s printed on the packages of sweets and souvenirs, so you may have seen it often. It isn’t just a mascot, but it has the job of the sales manager and “happy manager,” it’s said to have the highest status after the Governor and Vice-Governor.
There is a sales manager’s office inside the Kumamon Square, and Kumamon works there, although not every day. The time Kumamon’s in the office is posted on the HP, so check the schedule before coming.
The shop also has the “interaction Space” to show his dances, “Snack Stand” to try Kumamoto sweets, shops that sell goods only sold here, and other products that have collaborated with other companies. Visit Kumamon while you’re in Kumamoto!
Name: Kumamon Square
Address: Tetoria Kumamoto Bldg.1F, 8-2 Tetori-honcho, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto
Business hours: 10:00～19:00
Map: Map to Kumamon Square
7. Kurokawa Onsen
It’s safe to say that “Kurokawa Onsen” is Kumamoto’s most famous hot spring. It’s introduced in many magazines and media, so 100 thousand people visit each year. It’s near the border between Ooita prefecture, and in the mountains, but is given two stars in the Michelin Green Guide 2009.
There’s a hot spring district along the Tanohara River, with 30 unique lodgings. Most of these lodgings have their own hot spring source, and Kurokawa Onsen has many different types of hot springs. All the lodgings are attracting, but it’s difficult to try all the lodgings’ hot springs.
And this is where the “Onsen Tegata (hopping-pass)” comes in handy. You can enjoy three hot springs with one pass. The pass is valid for half a year, so you can carry over to next time if it’s still valid. It’s fun to choose which lodging’s hot spring to try.
There are many events throughout the year, but the most popular would be the “Yu-Akari.” It’s where the hot spring district is lit up in a fantastic scenery by numerous bamboo lanterns from sunset to 22:00. If you want to feel refreshed in Kumamoto, this is the place to go.
Name: Kurokawa Onsen
Address: Kurokawa Sakura-dori Minamioguni-cho, Aso-gun, Kumamoto
Map: Map to Kurokawa Onsen
8. Renge-in Tanjo-ji Okuno-in
It’s a temple of Shingon Risshu, which is known as one of the leading power spots of Kumamoto. This temple worships St. Koen as the principal being. St. Koen is the preceptor of Honen Shonin, founder of the Pure Land sect.
There is 180,000 square meters of temple ground, and has a statue of Maha-Bodhisattva Koen, the world’s largest Bonsho, and Japan’s largest five-story pagoda. You would be surprised by its scale and presence. There are 30 thousand worshippers a year, and you can experience Zen meditation and sutras.
From the top floor and observation deck, you can see the cityscape of Tamana, the Aso and Ariake Sea. The most recommended experience here is the “Yaku-sara Nage”.
In this event, you write a wish on an unglazed dish and throw it over the valley. It’s said to exorcise your misfortune and grant your wish. Please try it and also visit Tanjo-ji Hon-in on your way!
Name: Renge-in Tanjo-ji Okuno-in
Address: 1512-77 Tsukiji Tamana, Kumamoto
Entrance fee: 200 yen for adults, 150 yen for children
Map: Map to Renge-in Tanjo-ji Okuno-in
9. Kumagawa River Rafting
Kuma River is counted as Japan’s three major rapids, and has been used as means for transporting goods. But, boats haven’t been used since the opening of the railway and cars. Kumagawa river rafting was thought up by the long-established inns to make use of the boats.
You can experience the boatman’s techniques of guiding the tree boat without an engine, and the majestic natural beauty that changes with each season. There are four courses, short, middle, long, and rapid stream courses, and even the Kotatsu boats in the winter.
The recommended one is the middle course, where you can enjoy Hitoyoshi’s cityscape and the view of castle ruins. From late March to early April, about 230 sakura trees bloom along the stone wall of the castle ruins of Hitoyoshi.
You can experience the thrill of rafting down the small and large rapids with a splash, and leisurely watch the scenery. All the courses must be booked, and there will be a change in schedule due to the weather and water levels. So check the HP before you go. It’s wasteful to come to Kumamoto and not enjoy this thrill!
Name: Kumagawa River Rafting
Address: Shimoshin-machi Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto
*boarding places will be differ according to the course
Map: Map to Kumagawa River Rafting
10. Orange Restaurant Express
Nowadays, vacations on the luxurious trains have become the trend. Even in Kumamoto, there are trains that focus mainly on cuisine. The “Orange Restaurant Express” that started in 2013 runs from Shin-yatsushiro Station in Kumamoto to Sendai Station in Kagoshima.
The first car is the “Dining car” designed to look like hotel’s cafe and dining room. You can enjoy the menus made with the seasonal foods along the railway while watching the scenery through the large window. The menus change according to the time, like breakfast, special lunch, and cruising dinner.
All of them are exquisite, as they use the rich local seafood and mountains vegetables. The second car is the “Living car” where it looks like the living space of a hotel room. It’s a very spacious car with only 20 seats.
You can enjoy a time of relaxation in on the of the two-person semi-private rooms that are divided by partitions and curtains. In one of the stations along the way, you can interact with the local people at the “Eki Marché”.
A fun time of tasting the local foods and specialty goods, and shopping for souvenirs is waiting for you. Since it’s a popular train, reservations are hard to get, but reservations can be made 1 month before the boarding date. Make sure to reserve the seats right after you make your plan! It’s a recommended spot to even enjoy with family.
Name: Orange Restaurant Express
Business days: only on Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays
Map: Map to Orange Restaurant Express
Let’s Enjoy Tourist Attractions in Kumamoto!
Let’s go touring in Kumamoto! The seafood and mountain vegetables, the world-famous Kumamoto Castle, the place where pure water is born. There are many names to express Kumamoto, but its beauty and nobility cannot be expressed with words. Then you’d have to visit the place to experience it, right? Please feel the lively Kumamoto with your own five senses. You may be able to come across the moment when Kumamoto makes a fresh start.