Japan South of Honshu: Kyushu, Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands
For national parks that inspire wonder, cosmopolitan urban hubs that enliven and white sand subtropical enclaves that rejuvenate, Japan south of Honshu is a bento box full of surprises. Our list of seven superb destinations proves one unassailable fact: it’s high time to get out of Greater Tokyo.
Aso KujÅ« National Park – Photo credit
The premier city on the island of Kyushu has upward of 1.5 million people and major cultural allure. Fukuoka, too, is old, even for Japan, and unfurls a treasure trove of first-rate heritage eye candy as such. The dynamic ward of Hakata is a hot spot flush with manifest gastronomic potential. Vital festivals like Dontaku Minato Matsuri and Gion Yamakasa take place in Hakata as well.
What to include on the itinerary: Fukuoka Art Museum, Genko Historical Museum, Kyushu National Museum, Maizuru Castle, Nokonoshima Island Park
Where to stay: Grand Hyatt Hotel Fukuoka
Few link Nagasaki with events other than the atomic bomb attack of WWII but the Kyushu prefecture capital has come far since 1945. As a polestar of Euro commerce and trade from the early 16th century to late 19th century, the city has a very different vibe for Japan. To wit, Nagasaki’s church and Christian monuments await formal UNESCO World Heritage status sometime in the next year or so.
What to include on the itinerary: National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, Urakami Cathedral, Koshibyo Shrine, Kofukuji Temple
Where to stay: Nisshokan Bettei Koyotei Ryokan Nagasaki
Kagoshima is a port city with a divine backdrop in the form of Sakurajima, a stratovolcano and former island. Come for the Ohara Festival, explore the Satsuma Peninsula and Kirishima-Yaku National Park and marvel at the local Kagoshima-ben dialect.
What to include on the itinerary: Museum of the Meiji Restoration, Kagoshima onsen, Kagoshima City Museum of Art
Where to stay: JR Hotel Yakushima
Tidy Kumamoto is home to just under a quarter of a million people but has the look and feel of a more modest metropolis. Kumamoto Castle, one of the most vital cultural assets in Japan, is the indubitable magnet for domestic and international visitors alike. The city has some modern lures as well, however, from a lively student-centric nightlife to abundant parks and gardens.
What to include on the itinerary: Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto City Tramway, Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine
Where to stay: Yusai Ryokan Kumamoto
The capital of Oita Prefecture is a Kyushu must, namely to indulge in onsen bliss at Beppu and the heritage town of Yufuin. Aside from spas, however, do book a day trip to the Kunisaki Peninsula to admire vestiges of Japanâ€™s early civilisations.
What to include on the itinerary: Shibaseki Onsen, Kitahama Termas Onsen, Hihokan Sex Museum
Where to stay: Beppu Bay Royal Hotel Oita
Did you pack your surfboard? Good because Miyazaki has some sublime surf. A warm climate makes the Kyushu prefecture capital a popular draw throughout the cold Honshu winter.
What to include on the itinerary: Aoshima Subtropical Botanical Garden, Kizaki-hama Beach, Aoshima Beach, Shira-hama Beach
Where to stay: Aoshima Grand Hotel Miyazaki
See what made Mr. Miyagi so nostalgic in The Karate Kid. 80s pop culture references aside, Okinawa is a gem with a major growth industry in beach holiday tourism. Culture, however, is what makes us jones for the island in the East China Sea. Naha, the island and prefecture capital, is a coastal city of 315,000 people and superb gateway to it all. Okinawa Island is also the portal to the rest of the prefecture, all 1,000 km of the Ryukyu (Nansei or Southwest) archipelago, from Kyushu to Taiwan. Explore Okinawa but try to include one or two of the Southwest Islands for good measure.
What to include on the itinerary: Naha Folkcraft Museum, Nago, Yakushima, Miyako-jima, Ishigaki-jima
Where to stay: Miyakojima Tokyu Resort Okinawa