Get off the beaten track in Kyushu
There are parts of Kyushu that appear to come straight from a dream, and Yakushima is one such place. The ancient forests on this island are at least 2,000 years old, but some estimates put that date as far back as 7,000 years. Also, get up close and personal with monkeys at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden, an educational and eye-opening experience with nature, and witness majestic volcanoes in Aso-Kuju National Park.
Yakushima: Trekking through Japan's thousands-year-old forest
Nobody knows exactly how old Jomon Sugi is. Carbon-14 dates the age of this ancient Japanese cedar tree to somewhere between 2,200 and 7,200 years. Most experts agree that it's at least a few thousand years old—indeed, from Japan's prehistoric Jomon period. And it is still alive today. In terms of lifespan, it's pretty close to "forever" in human years.
In Yakushima, Jomon Sugi is not alone. It may be the oldest and most famous yakusugi, but the island is home to many of these endemic Cryptomeria cedars that have lived for at least a millennium. Around 30 of them have names. So I am particularly excited to embark on a hike through the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine, which is one of the most scenic areas in the primeval forest, not to mention the most popular. Its exceptionally dense, moss-covered landscape of twisted trunks, sprawling roots, silent stones, and running streams is also what inspired Miyazaki Hayao's 1997 Ghibli animated film Princess Mononoke.
Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden
In the northwest of Oita, Mt. Takasaki is home to over 1,200 wild Japanese macaques that freely roam the hills. It isn't a zoo in the conventional sense; it is a place where the monkeys who live on the mountain can come to play and be fed.
Aso Kuju National Park
Whether you're after an exciting hike near an active volcano, getting up close and personal with wildlife, or just relaxing in lush fields of green, Aso Kuju National Park has something for everyone. Located in central Kyushu, this vast park is named after the mountains and active volcanos surrounding it. Established in 1934, this is one of the oldest and most beautiful national parks in Japan, making it popular with visitors year-round.
Discover the many faces of Kyushu
There is no one Kyushu. Instead, this diverse region is home to many different cultural traditions. One powerful example is Kagura, a sacred dance dedicated to Shinto gods. Stop for dinner at a yatai, a traditional hand-drawn food cart in Fukuoka City. In Okawachiyama Village, discover a unique pottery style developed with Korean influence called Nabeshima ware.
Hidden in the mountains between Saga's famous porcelain towns Imari and Arita, Okawachiyama Village was once known as the "Village of the Secret Kilns".
Yatai in Fukuoka
The sun sets over the city of Fukuoka and slowly, people in aprons come out pulling old wooden carts. Reaching their spot, they open up the cart to reveal a miniature restaurant: a counter with seats, glass cases for food and portable refrigerators. The sound of electric generators fills the air as hungry patrons start occupying the seats.
Kagura is a sacred dance with roots in shamanism, which celebrates the gods of Shinto. Kagura dances are performed across Kyushu, especially in Miyazaki, where the gods were believed to have first descended from the heavens. Kagura has been performed in Takachiho for 800 years.
Unforgettable experiences unique to Kyushu
Some activities in Kyushu can be experienced nowhere else in Japan. Take kayaking through the mangrove forest of Amami Oshima, for example. Elsewhere, visitors to the Hells of Beppu are mesmerized by these boiling hot springs that reach temperatures of more than 100 degrees Celsius. While visitors to Hirado must book a night in Hirado Castle, an original fortification perched high above the city.
Amami Oshima Canoe/Kayak
On the south side of Amami Oshima sits a vast grove of mangrove trees. The water-born trees create a fantastical environment and a perfect location for an outdoor adventure. Paddle your canoe through the virgin forest at the Kuroshio no Mori mangrove park on one of the area's guided tours.
Hells of Beppu
Beppu Onsen on Oita's east coast, is one of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan. It produces more hot spring water than any other place in the country, and the view of the townscape with plumes of rising steam is striking.
Hirado Castle Stay
Hirado city is a castle town that became the base of Japan's oldest Nanban trading port, located in the northernmost top of Nagasaki. Now a World-Heritage site, you can explore the remains of christian heritage that derived from trading with Europe.
While many people may associate Japan's main islands with temperate forests and snowcapped mountains, the climate is very different in the deep south of the country. Kyushu is a subtropical paradise with warm seas, verdant gorges and glorious beaches. See another side of Japan in this unique region.