Welcome to Japan's "Land of Fire"
With an active volcano at its periphery, Kumamoto Prefecture is known in Japan as "The Land of Fire." A key access point for exploring the volcano and the surrounding Aso area, the capital city of Kumamoto Prefecture is historically rich and well worth exploring over a day or two.
- The eclectic mix of art on display at the prefectural art museum
- Sightseeing around the periphery of the Kumamoto Castle grounds
- The eerie atmosphere of Reigando Cave and its stone guardians
How to Get There
Kumamoto can be reached by bullet train from Kagoshima , Fukuoka and beyond; by air from several major Japanese airports; and by sea from Nagasaki . Highway buses also operate from destinations as far as Osaka and Kyoto .
The 2016 Kumamoto earthquake
In April 2016, a series of fatal earthquakes hit the city, the largest of which was a 7.3 magnitude shock. The disaster caused severe damage to homes and buildings throughout the city including several key attractions. While life goes on as normal, repair work still continues.
A castle under repair
Kumamoto Castle , one of Japan's most visited, suffered severe damage in the 2016 earthquake. While most of the grounds remain inaccessible and restoration work is set to continue for the foreseeable future, you can walk the castle's periphery stopping at small shrines, gardens, a hot spring facility and other attractions en route. Kato-jinja on the eastern edge of the grounds is a charming shrine and one of few places where you can still view the castle keep.
Fixated on culture and art
Close to the castle, the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art was opened in the 1970s, with further branches opening in 1992 and 2008. As well as paintings, the museum also exhibits lacquerware, calligraphy, ceramic art, sculptures and ancient artifacts. Important works of modern Japanese art are on display, as well as permanent European art exhibits, including works by Rembrandt, Goya, Warhol, Picasso and Renoir.
Kumamoto's top festival
One of the biggest annual events in the city is the Kumamoto Horse Festival. Held in September, it is a vibrant event with competing teams parading a decorated horse between Fujisaki Hachimangu and Gokoku shrines. The procession marches through the center of Kumamoto, down the covered shopping arcade. Revel in the jubilant atmosphere and enjoy music, costumes, and stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.
Other city sights
There are numerous museums and attractions in the city for travelers to visit. CAMK (Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto) has a permanent free exhibition and an alternating temporary exhibition. Suizenji Garden is a picturesque landscape garden with a thatch-roof teahouse. Nearby is Lake Ezu, where you can enjoy a long walk by the water's edge or rent a pedalo.
Out of town
For a short excursion outside of the city center, head to Honmyo-ji, a hilltop temple with views of the city. It is also where the great warrior Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611), a key figure in the construction of Kumamoto Castle , is laid to rest. A bronze statue of the man stands in the temple grounds.
Further out of town in the same direction, Reigando Cave and the hundreds of Buddhist statues leading to it are a curious attraction. The cave, meaning "spirit cave," was where one of Japan's greatest swordsmen, Miyamoto Musashi, chose to spend the final years of his life.
A visit to Kumamoto Prefecture is not complete without a trip to Mt Aso and its smoldering crater. Buses for Aso leave from Kumamoto Station and drop off at Aso Station from where you transfer to an additional bus to reach the volcanic crater.