Visit Kyushu
The Official Kyushu Travel Guide

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Seasons

Winter

Gastronomy and Hot Springs

Oyster Hut and Onsen

The Kyushu region is also known for its large number and sheer variety of onsen hot springs. Visitors can enjoy foot baths, sand baths, mud baths, and even onsen creatively named “onsens from hell.”  With abundant geothermal activity going on unseen beneath Kyushu’s lush landscapes, one can meander from one onsen region to another enjoying hot spring waters infused with different minerals and corresponding health benefits.


A winter vacation in Kyushu is a perfect way to enjoy bountiful onsens and sumptuous meals, a powerful combination of relaxation and luxury. Let me introduce you to three restaurants in Kyushu where I indulged in extravagant meals and one onsen town that was a favorite of samurai during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

DAY1: Sushi and Fancy Cuisine | DAY2: Oyster Hut and Onsen

Kakigoya: Oyster Hut Experience

Itoshima, a city known for its seaside resorts and beaches, is just a 30-minute drive from the center of Fukuoka City. Itoshima had the distinct honor of being selected as the third best city in the world in a highly regarded information magazine called MONOCLE, which ranked cities with a population of less than 250,000.  It is also famous for its kakigoya or oyster huts where small fishing ports along Itoshima's coastline are transformed every winter as kakigoya set up by family-owned fisheries. I parked my car at Kishi Fishing Port, eager for my first ever kakigoya experience. I chose a kakigoya called Mirukugaki Toyohisa-maru, known for its special brand of oysters that are rich in flavor and creamy in texture. The shop has taken measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus seriously by installing partitions between seats, setting up a disinfectant station, and introducing a simple ordering system online.

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Grill Your Own Oyster

I was welcomed into the hut as staff members literally ran to the front to greet me and show me to my seat, where I was provided with tongs, gloves, a shucking knife, and a large basket of yummy oysters and turban shells! There is a bit of a learning curve when grilling oysters for the first time, but I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment with each oyster grilled just right. It somehow tasted more delicious knowing that I was the one who prepared it.

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Itoshima’s Fresh Oysters

While the grilled oysters were sufficiently delicious without any additional seasoning, the staff encouraged me to take advantage of Itoshima’s local condiments: artisan salt from the Genkai Sea and a naturally brewed Itoshima-brand soy sauce called Kitai Shoyu. The addition of these condiments was a perfect way to enjoy the oysters. As I was eating, my sense of taste immediately picked up on the salinity of the oysters but a squeeze of lemon helped reduce the impression of salt. I was having such an enjoyable lunch and before I knew it, I had filled my bucket full of empty oyster shells. If you want to enjoy the splendid winter delicacy of fresh oysters during your visit to Kyushu, I wholeheartedly recommend Itoshima's kakigoya.

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Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto

Kurokawa Onsen has been a popular destination for 300 years to weary travelers such as feudal lords and samurai stopping to rest midway between the cities of Hita and Taketa in Oita Prefecture. Before relaxing in the soothing hot spring baths that Japanese people have enjoyed for centuries, I strolled around the historic streets of Kurokawa. It seems little has changed here over time, the narrow streets still lined with historic buildings standing shoulder to shoulder and the lovely autumn foliage blazing in orange and reds beyond them. After taking in the lovely scenery, I arrived at my accommodations for the night, Oyado Kurokawa.

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Stay at a Ryokan

Oyado Kurokawa is a ryokan (Japanese inn) that has been in operation for 65 years. Its gorgeous wooden interior is soothing and the maximum capacity of 10 guests ensures that the level of service provided here is always personal. For those who aren’t comfortable with the Japanese tradition of sleeping on a futon laid out on the floor, the rooms at Oyado Kurokawa have western-style beds. The rooms all have views overlooking the Tanoharu river.

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Relaxing in a Ryokan Private Bath

The Kurokawa Onsen area has public open-air baths, but the friendly staff at the ryokan prepared a bath for me on-premise, one of their five indoor baths that can be reserved for private use. As I stepped into my own private bath made from Oguni cedar wood, I reached a state the Japanese call yudedako (boiled octopus) otherwise known as that blissful, totally relaxed feeling you get after full immersion in a hot spring bath. The onsen is truly a perfect winter activity for keeping warm and rejuvenating your body.

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Ryokan Traditional Meals

Ryokans do not skimp on dinner as I was treated to a multi-course meal of the finest Japanese dishes made with seasonal ingredients. The presentation of the meal is nearly as important as the meal itself, served on beautiful tableware with seasonal decor.

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Sample Itinerary

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DAY 1
11:00-12:30
Oyster Hut
12:30-16:00
Move to Kurokawa Onsen
16:00-
Stay at Kurokawa Onsen
Riz

Riz

Riz is a freelance writer, photographer, and adjunct university lecturer. He once mistook wasabi for matcha ice cream. Having lived in Japan for 20 years, Riz no longer makes this mistake. He is happily married, has 3 children, and one skittish cat.

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