Outdoor adventures, healing quests and cultural deep-dives in Kyushu, southern Japan

Produced for Japan National Tourism Organization by

BBC Storyworks logo

Please always refer to the latest government advice before booking travel and departing on any trip.

From ramen stalls and pottery kilns to volcanoes and beaches, Kyushu offers immense variety for adventurous travellers keen to veer off Japan’s beaten path.

Japan’s third-largest and southernmost main island, Kyushu is blessed with sunny skies, friendly people and pristine nature. The island also has a cosmopolitan present, rooted in a long history of trading with Chinese, Korean, and European merchants. The gateway to the island today is the modern city of Fukuoka, a two-hour flight from Tokyo, or two and a half hours by shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka.

Kyushu’s landscape has been shaped over aeons by fierce elemental forces, given it’s the archipelago’s island with the most volcanic activity. Looming over its fertile valleys filled with cedar trees, volcanoes smoulder and seethe, while geothermally heated waters course beneath the ground, feeding countless onsen (hot spring pools). This terrain provides a gorgeous backdrop for intrepid hikers, cyclists and surfers. Deep ties to Shinto mythology also lend a supernatural dimension to the island, where tales of gods and goddess are set in sacred grottoes hidden deep in its heart. Go deep enough into its primordial forests, and you’ll find that a mystical charge lingers in the air.


In the island’s north, Fukuoka Prefecture’s eponymous capital is within easy reach of outdoor adventure. In the eastern karst highland of Hiraodai, the spectacular Senbutsu Limestone Cave beckons spelunkers with its watery underground warrens and dazzling stalactites. Above ground, a nature preserve is laced with trails where one can weave through a green panorama of low-lying mountains strewn with limestone boulders.

Back in Fukuoka city, almost 100 yatai (street food stalls) spill across the district of Tenjin and Nakasu island. These miniature, open-air dining rooms are among the best places in Japan to eat Fukuoka’s famous tonkotsu (pork bones-based broth) ramen with flavoursome noodles topped with cha-shu pork, hard-boiled egg marinated in soy sauce and more.

Photo credit: Fukuoka City


Bordering Fukuoka to the west, Saga Prefecture is renowned for its centuries-old ceramics trade, featuring everything from exquisite porcelain tea cups to earthenware jars. In the north, the town of Imari, is awash in blue and white tiles forming flowers, dragons and other motifs on the town’s bridges, walls and signs.

The ceramics masters of Arita town produced Japan’s first porcelain in 1616, with a style that would come to be known as Kakiemon. Known for its milky-white base, Kakiemon is covered in a coat of enamel and painted with vivid colours. Shipped from nearby Imari port to the world since the late-17th century, the style that once captivated European aristocracy can still be found today in the area.


South of Saga in neighbouring Nagasaki Prefecture, the Shimabara Peninsula offers a compelling glimpse of the island’s feudal past. Take in the sights of the reconstructed Shimabara Castle and learn how it inspired a tumultuous uprising.

Photo credit: Shimabara Tourism Bureau Co., Ltd.

A samurai quarter sits beside the citadel, and to its south is a neighbourhood known as the City of Swimming Carp, lined by canals teeming with multi-hued koi fish. Here, the Shimeiso tea house and garden is an ideal spot to pause and reflect over a cup of tea.


East of the Shimabara Peninsula, in Kumamoto Prefecture, the town of Yamaga is home to the Yachiyo-za, Kyushu’s first kabuki theatre. Built in 1910 before falling into disuse, this time capsule was brilliantly restored thanks to passionate locals in the ’80s. Today, local guides give tours which take you under the stage where the magic happens, revealing trapdoors that allow actors to suddenly vanish from the stage and the apparatus that makes it revolve.

Every year on August 15-16, another slice of the town’s local lore is honoured in the ancient Yamaga Lantern Festival. It is said that the festival’s roots stretch back to a night when local villagers bearing pine torches guided the entourage of legendary Emperor Keiko through a thick fog which had descended around the nearby Kikuchi River.

To commemorate the event, local artisans display lanterns of various colours made from traditional washi paper, and present them as offerings at Omiya Shrine on the second day. The festival culminates with women clad in white yukata (summer kimono) gracefully dance through the town’s streets with the glowing paper lanterns perched on their heads in the Sennin Toro Odori (One Thousand Lantern Dance). Learn about the craft behind the striking lanterns used in the festival all year round at the Yamaga Lantern Folk Art Museum, which also displays the types of lanterns that grace shrines and castles, as well as lanterns made in the tatami, arrow-shaped and birdcage styles.


Moving eastward to Oita Prefecture’s coast, in the onsen (hot spring) mecca of Beppu sulfur hangs heavy in the air. Unlike the town’s glut of onsen pools – hot, though safe to submerge yourself to the shoulders within – its assortment of seven “hells” are downright boiling. With names like “Ocean Hell”, “White-Pond Hell”, “Tornado Hell” (it spouts like a geyser), and even “Cooking Pot Hell”, above which food is indeed steamed for a small price, these vivid, natural cauldrons of mineral-infused water dramatically showcase just how much magma lies beneath Kyushu’s surface. Besides taking an actual dip in one of the town’s many safe onsen pools, visiting these pools is a fun, visual way to experience the island’s impressive geothermal power.


South of Oita and east of Kumamoto, balmy Miyazaki Prefecture is home to one of the island’s most beautiful spots: Takachiho Gorge. Here, you can row a boat through this pristine gorge, as waterfalls tumble over both sides, enveloping you in a gentle sonic cascade. If you visit the misty forest nearby, the Amano Iwato Shrine is said to be near the cave where Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) hid, sealing the door with a boulder, and withdrew her light from the world. If you’d like to more fully visualize this divine drama, select scenes from this tale are re-enacted in a one-hour dance performance known as Kagura at Takachiho Shrine every evening.

On the other side of the prefecture, the palm tree-studded Nichinan Coast, stretching from Aoshima in the north to Cape Toi in the south, is a subtropical slice of Japan that makes for a stunning bicycle trip. Starting from Aoshima Shrine, cyclists can pedal south passing striated rock formations called the “devil’s washboard” at low tide, and beaches with some of the best surfing in Japan, ending up roughly 25km to the south at the clifftop shrine of Udo Jingu, tucked away in a grotto above the crashing waves.

Photo credit: Kagoshima Prefectural Visitors Bureau


In the capital of balmy Kagoshima Prefecture, the landscape garden of Sengan-en dramatically employs the principle of borrowed scenery. Butterflies flit across footpaths dotted by stone lanterns that weave through groves of palms and pines and around ponds filled with colourful koi fish. Take in the sight of Sakura-jima (nicknamed “Japan’s Vesuvius”) hovering across the bay, but take note this hyperactive volcano erupts on the regular, as often as 200 times a year.

Just a ferry away from Kagoshima city, the unspoiled isle of Yakushima is an emerald realm populated by some of earth’s oldest cedar trees, affectionately known as yakusugi. Trekking the 5km Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge Loop, following the path that leads to the Taikoiwa Rock, is a great way to connect with the island and its thousands-of-years-old trees. This fantastic hike follows a pathway beside a primeval gorge awash in green, with ancient trees swathed in vibrant moss at every turn.

Whether you crave distinct culture, untamed nature, a physical challenge or hearty hometown food, Kyushu is an enticing destination for discerning wanderers keen to blaze their own trail. And the best part: many of its attractions are mercifully uncrowded. It works well as an accompaniment to a trip to Tokyo and Kansai, or a journey unto itself. So go and discover this alluring side of southern Japan for yourself.

Kyushu in the News

  • Discover Japan: Forest Bathing and Spiritual Connections

    Discover Japan: Forest Bathing and Spiritual Connections


    Known for its majestic old-growth forests, Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture houses towering Japanese cedar trees—some over 1,000 years old.

  • Discover These One-of-a-Kind Marvels in Japan

    Discover These One-of-a-Kind Marvels in Japan

    Travel + Leisure

    On the southern island of Kyushu lies an otherworldly paradise: two towering rock walls flanked by ancient trees, with misty waterfalls tumbling into a flow of emerald water at the base. This is Takachiho Gorge — a narrow chasm formed over 100,000 years ago by eruptions from the volcanic Mount Aso nearby. It was in this mystical setting that one of Japan's most famous mythological stories unfolded — when the sun goddess Amaterasu, angered by her brother, retreated into a cave and deprived the world of light.

Wonder aroundJapan


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.



Greater Tokyo

Central Japan