13 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KUMAMOTO, KYUSHU
Kumamoto is a beautiful region on the island of Kyushu, which is well-known for having an incredible castle and the mighty Mount Aso where you can find an active volcano. Because of the fiery Mount Aso, it’s led to the city becoming known as Hi No Kuni which directly translates to ‘Fire Country’ in Japanese. Aside from the volcanoes, there are lots of awesome things to do in Kumamoto and nearby such as hiking, waterfalls, castles, and onsens.
Kumamoto is the region I suggest for anyone visiting Kyushu Island. It’s near Mount Aso region, which has lots of hikes and is a central area on the entire island. If you base in Fukuoka, you will have a long drive every day just to get anywhere. I based in Kumamoto for 8 days and it was the perfect spot for waterfalls, hikes, volcanoes, and sightseeing.
In this blog post, I will share with you all of the activities I did while staying in Kumamoto. Some of them may be a little drive away but that is the nature of Kyushu as there is always some lengthy driving involved. For many of the activities below, you can click on the ‘read more’ links to head to the individual blog post for a specific location to read a more detailed review of that adventure. At the end of the blog post, I will share with you a few other activities that I didn’t personally do but that are highly recommended things to do in Kumamoto.
13 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KUMAMOTO
I’ve broken this blog post up into sections for hiking, waterfalls, and general sightseeing so it is easier to digest and you can skip to the category of adventures that you are most interested in.
HIKES NEAR KUMAMOTO
HIKE MOUNT ASO
In the Aso region of the Kumamoto Prefecture in the center of Kyushu Island is the Mount Aso region, which is one of the largest calderas in the entire world. Hiking in Mount Aso Region is one of the most incredible adventures you can have in Japan. Mount Aso is a volcanic depression, which is essentially a huge crater that has a number of peaks within this region that can be trekked. There are numerous craters within the crater such as the very active Nakadake Crater.
The Caldera spans 17 kilometers from east to west and 25 kilometers from south to north with a total area of 350 square kilometers. When we talk about this caldera it is a huge area but at the center of the caldera is where all of the action is when it comes to volcanic activity, hiking, the museums, and tourism. In the middle of the caldera is the central crater group which consists of the five Aso peaks which are Mt. Taka (Takadake), Mt. Naka (Nakadake), Mt. Eboshi (Eboshidake), Mt. Kijima (Kijimadake) and Mt. Neko (Nekodake).
I hiked all of the peaks except for Kijima. The Nakadake and Takadake loop (when open) is my favorite hike in Kyushu… by far. It looks down on the active volcano crater and makes you feel like you are in outer space or trekking through a post-apocalyptic world. Mount Aso region is a must-visit attraction in the Kumamoto Region.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: HIKING MOUNT ASO VOLCANO – A COMPLETE GUIDE
MOUNT EBOSHI HIKE
Mount Eboshi is one of the five peaks of the central cone group of the famous Mount Aso. It’s the easiest peak and probably the safest peak to climb taking just over an hour to get up and down from the summit. The view from the top is quite remarkable as it looks out over the Nakadake Crater, which is where the active volcano of Mount Aso is found. It is one of the most popular things to do in Kumamoto and takes about 1-1.5 hours to reach by car from Kumamoto town.
The Mount Eboshi hike is a great little trail not because of the views or the adventure but because it is usually open! Because Nakadake Crater and the active volcano within it are often spewing ash high into the air, the surrounding trails are often closed. This leaves adventurous hikers feeling a bit stuck. Luckily Eboshi is a bit further away but you still have nice views of the erupting volcano.
At the summit, you have a view out to Nakadake Crater, which is where the eruptions, smoke, and all the action takes place. In the other directions, you can witness the entire caldera and the various rock formations and craters that are scattered throughout the region.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT EBOSHI HIKE (EBOSHIDAKE) IN MOUNT ASO
MOUNT NEKO (NEKODAKE) HIKE
Mount Neko is the second tallest peak in the Mount Aso region at 1,443m high for the Tengu Peak and the opposite Toho Peak is 1,408m high. It’s called Nekodake because from Aso it looks like two cat ears when you see both of the peaks. It was an awesome but steep hike and the jagged peaks were just incredible at the summit during sunset.
As well as the numerous ropes to help you up the summit of Nekodake, you will also encounter several ladders, helping you ascend through the forest. None of the ropes, ladders or bouldering is technical or very difficult but be prepared for a bit of action along the trail.
At the summit, you will look out across to the Tengu Peak, which is the most prominent peak and you really can’t miss it. In the late afternoon, the sun sets behind this peak so it’s a really magical spot to take in the whole ridge.
Mount Neko is one of the lesser-known things to do in Kumamoto but it’s good to get off-the-beaten-path and visit a quiter attraction in Kumamoto rather than the busy Mount Aso.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT NEKO HIKE (NEKODAKE) IN KYUSHU
HIKING IN THE KUJU MOUNTAINS
The stunning Kuju Mount range is part of the Aso-Kuju National Park and while Mount Kuju might be the most famous it is actually the nearby Nakadake Peak that is the highest peak in the park, which makes it the highest point on Kyushu Island. These mountains are connected by a series of hiking trails so you can kind of make it up as you go, pushing on to ‘one more peak’ time and time again or follow a set route. I did a bit of both.
It’s straight up from the get-go so don’t put too many jackets on you will be working that incline straight away. Once you reach the ridge it’s time for the adventure to start. The trail turns into a rocky ridgeline with a number of ladders and some very low-key bouldering required.
The total day of climbing was 1,026m so it’s always an effort when you grab a vertical kilometer. The trail was rocky but quite well defined and we never had too many difficulties finding our way. At the top of Mount Kuju, we could watch over the erupting Mount Aso in the distance and admire the valley below.
Mount Kuju is a bit of a drive from Kumamoto but it is awkwardly situated between Kumamoto and Oita. I actually visited this mountain range while transitting from Kumamoto to Oita so you can visit it from either side.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: HIKING THE KUJU MOUNTAIN RANGE
KOMEZUKA VOLCANIC HILL
Komezuka is a volcanic cone in the Aso region of Kyushu Island in Japan. It’s only 50-meters tall and because of its small height and grass coverage, it is often referred to as the cutest volcano in Japan.
In the summer and warmer periods of the year, the volcanic cone is covered in a blanket of green grass. On mornings with some low-level fog and golden lighting, it can be a truly spectacular landscape. I visited in the winter and it was still pretty epic, although it was a golden coverage of the entire caldera.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: KOMEZUKA VOLCANIC HILL ‘CUTEST VOLCANO IN JAPAN’
WATERFALLS NEAR KUMAMOTO
GOROGA TAKI FALLS
The Gorogotaki Waterfall is the largest falls in Yamato, Kumamoto with a 50m drop into the basin below. The beauty of this waterfall on Kyushu Island is that often it is crowned by a rainbow as the water crashed down onto the rocks, spraying up and catching the light perfectly in a stream of color. My favorite part about this waterfall is that you view it from the suspension bridge. There is also a really nice walk around the region through the rice fields and through the gorge to the base of the falls.
I’d highly recommend this waterfall if you are looking for things to do in Kumamoto that aren’t too strenuous of a hike but you still want to get out for a walk or trail adventure near Kumamoto.
Read the full blog post here: GOROGOTAKI WATERFALL NEAR KUMAMOTO
Found on the border between Oita and Kumamoto, Nabegataki Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls on the island of Kyushu in Japan. With hundreds of waterfalls on Kyushu, what makes this one so special? You can actually walk behind the wide cascade, underneath the rock face that the waterfalls pour down over. It’s a pretty magical spot.
I did my best to shoot the waterfall without any tourists but it is quite difficult as most people do a little lap underneath the waterfall viewing it from in front, each side and behind. It’s a bit of experience and going behind the waterfall was super cool. The waterfall itself is only 10m high but spans 20m across in width and pours down over the ledge, which is what makes it so unique.
Read the full blog post here: NABEGATAKI FALLS IN KYUSHU
Hidden in the foothills on the way to Mount Aso region on the way from Kumamoto is Shiraitono Falls. It isn’t a hike or a big adventure and you can actually just drive and park only fifty meters away from the waterfall. The golden light was hitting the waterfall in the late afternoon, which created an epic little scene where everything was in shade except for the golden stream of water flowing down.
This is another one of the lesser-known things to do in Kumamoto but it’s a great little spot to seek out on a sunny afternoon.
This is a bit of a strange one because the access was limited due to construction going on. There is usually a viewing point but I’m not sure if it will still be closed or not. We managed to fly the drone to still check out the waterfall but normally you can view it from the platform. Nevertheless, it was one of the most powerful waterfalls I came across on Kyushu Island.
SIGHTSEEING IN KUMAMOTO
Daikanbo Viewpoint is probably the most impressive viewpoints in the Mount Aso Region with epic views across the valley within the caldera to the active volcano within Nakadake Crater. There are lots of little trails and a number of viewing platforms to explore at the viewpoint. It can be a great spot for sunrise on a day with low-lying fog so if you are good at weather predictions to try and make that happen. I visited when the grass was dead in the winter but the colors change all throughout the year.
LA PUTA ROAD
La Puta Road was a bit of a local secret until a few years ago when the location gained some serious popularity. All around the edge of the Mount Aso caldera are some epic viewpoints but the La Puta Road is really a sight to behold. There is a winding road that just needs to be seen to be believed as it snakes its way along the precarious cliff-edge. It’s important to note that technically this site is now closed due to a landslide and it is simply not possible for cars to drive this route anymore. You can just walk up the hill for a bit of a look from a safe spot though although there were some temporary blockages to the walkway. Enter at your own risk on this one as it is technically closed although walking to the hill viewpoint is not of high danger compared to going down near the road where the landslides where. I’ve seen some epic, epic photos here when the grass is green and low-lying fog makes it look like the road is simply floating on clouds.
KAMISHIKIMI KUMANOIMASU SHRINE
The Kamoshikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine is hidden in the forests near Takamori, which is a little town in the Aso region of Kumamoto. It’s a very spiritual spot with lots of different spots to make prayers, receive good luck and perform a ritual. For example, you can touch the Hogeto Iwa Stone and you are said to be granted good luck, and the shrines sacred Nagi Tree is said to protect relationships. The Kamoshikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine is the inspiration of the manga ”Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light” which was written by Yuki Midorikawa.
It’s an incredibly beautiful place with a forest stairway leading up to the shrine and then a huge underpass/cave where you can throw a coin onto the ledge for good luck.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in all of Japan with it’s large, scenic grounds and a variety of buildings it offers visitors a complete castle experience. It is one of a few structures that have survived the centuries since it’s construction in 1607. There have been a number of maintenance and reconstructions but it is one of the most well-preserved castles in Japan. It’s best to visit the castle from March to April when the 800+ cherry blossoms are in full bloom making the entire area a fairytale location.
HOW TO GET AROUND KYUSHU FOR ADVENTURERS
While the train may suit those in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and even in Fukuoka, it won’t cut it out here on Kyushu. The trains will get you from major towns and even into some regional areas with bus connection but almost all of the adventure sports I visited had no bus connection. When I searched on Google Maps and clicked the public transport option it would just say ‘not available’. It was very clear, very quickly that Kyushu island is best to explore by car, especially if you are doing hikes and activities outside of the city (literally everything on this list).
Renting a car wasn’t too expensive and I did it through RentalCars.com, finding them to be the best-reviewed and had the cheapest options. I flew in from Tokyo so picked the car up from Fukuoka Airport and dropped it back when I was done. If you click on RentalCars.com and then search to pick up at Fukuoka Airport you should find a range of options. I got a very small car as it was cheap but it turned out very handy as the narrow roads of Japanse suburbs where my Airbnb was made it impossible for big SUVs. There was also no time that I needed to be off-road or anything like that so a small, fuel-efficient car made it cheap and convenient.
*** It is extremely important to know that you MUST HAVE an international driver’s license to rent a car in Japan. In fact, they won’t even look at your actual driver’s license and only want to see the international driver’s license. Take that seriously as they genuinely will not give you the car and likely no refund if you don’t have that. To get one you need to be in your country of residence and you can get one on the spot or order online and receive in a week or so. Make sure you organize that in advance as I almost got caught out not knowing that.
Here is my little blue whip that I rented on RentalCars.com
BEST TIME TO VISIT KYUSHU
I visited in February, which was winter and freezing. I don’t advise it but it was still epic. The best time to visit Kyushu is most definitely not winter. It’s not really a ski destination so likely you will be freezing and all of the leaves will be dead so the landscapes will not be as beautiful as other times of the year. There are a few drawcards to each season so I will go through them below.
- Fall/Autumn: The temperature is mild and comfortable making it great for hikes and adventuring. If you time things right, you will get the beautiful fall colors out on the trails!
- Spring: This is definitely the most popular season to travel to Kyushu with sunny days and comfortable temperatures. It is very popular at this time due to the cherry blossoms and flowers that are in full swing at this time of year.
- Summer: While not known for its beaches, Kyushu does offer a number of great swimming spots and beaches to explore. For hiking, it may get a little hot but (up to 30 degrees celsius) never reaching temperatures that would limit your adventures.