Words by Swati Vaghjiani
Japan’s most southwesterly island, Kyushu may not be the first place that comes to mind when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun. But touching down in the northern city of Fukuoka not long after leaving Tokyo, I find myself in a place steeped in history, culture and nature – seemingly undiscovered by mainstream tourism.
The landscape epitomises the island’s tectonic past and is dotted with immense mountains, plunging waterfalls, some of the region’s most active volcanoes and an abundance of onsens (naturally heated volcanic hot springs).
Renowned throughout Japan for its fresh food, there is an emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. Each of Kyushu’s seven prefectures has a signature dish and unique approach to food preparation.
You could easily spend weeks here, but with an itinerary of a few days, I stay north and start my visit in Saga – famed for its ceramic industry. After trying my hand at the potter’s wheel, I explore Arita Porcelain Park including its replica of Germany’s Zwinger Palace. Then it’s on to Ureshino, a hot spring town known for its green tea. The Japanese are passionate about green tea, with folk songs composed about its picking and brewing, and a fresh pot to accompany each meal.
In Oita’s picturesque Yufuin, I discover the best way to see this town is via rickshaw. My ride is decked out with modern comforts – such as heated seats and blankets in the winter – but pulled manually for an authentic experience. My knowledgeable driver offers a guided tour as he pulls me along past unique craft and souvenir shops, pointing out the many little cafes that he recommends.
A trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without a kimono experience. Mine takes place in Kitsuki, a historic castle town often referred to in Kyushu as ‘little Kyoto’. Once I’ve chosen my kimono from the hundreds on offer, the experienced staff fit and dress me before I stroll out to wander the town in full dress. Featuring Japan’s smallest castle, the town also has a lane of samurai houses that are free to visit when wearing a kimono.
While it may be off Japan’s beaten track, Kyushu comes highly recommended.
Average flight time:
BNE-FUK: 17 hrs 35 mins
SYD-FUK: 14 hrs 50 mins
AEST-1 (1 hour behind Australia)
Best time to visit:
August to September as temperatures are pleasant and days are generally sunny.