Take a scenic drive and enjoy activities around the majestic Aso caldera
Go hot spring-hopping in the rich waters of Kurokawa Onsen
Food stalls & exquisite ramen: Get acquainted with Hakata’s food culture
Choose from a variety of marine sports in Fukuoka
Just a 90-minute flight from Tokyo, the Kyushu region has a mild climate and dynamic natural landscapes. Hop on a plane to Kumamoto or Fukuoka, where you’ll find a plethora of fun activities, great food, and unbeatable natural landscapes.
Day 1: Rent a car at Kumamoto Airport and head to the Aso area, a UNESCO Geopark. Explore idyllic pastoral views inside one of the world’s largest calderas before you spend the night in the hot spring town of Kurokawa Onsen.
Day 2: Try some exhilarating activities under the shadow of Aso’s volcanoes. Sunrise excursions, horseback riding, paragliding, and farm visits are just some of the fun things you can do in the area. Then, head to Fukuoka to reward yourself to some delectable local treats.
Day 3: Enjoy marine sports on beaches just a stone’s throw from Fukuoka’s city center. Take a dip, try stand-up paddle-boarding, surfing, or just kick back and take in the fantastic views.
|Required time||Game + 3 days|
|Distance traveled||app 1,200 km|
|Transportation||Plane, rental car, train, bus|
Enjoy the Tokyo 2020 games!
Enjoy the great outdoors at Aso
The Aso area is located near the center of Kyushu. The easiest way to access it from Tokyo is via Kumamoto Airport. The flight lasts about an hour and 40 minutes.
Japan Rail Pass users can also access the area from Kumamoto Station via the Kyushu Shinkansen. The station is about a 50-minute Shinkansen ride from Kyushu’s business capital, Hakata, Fukuoka. If you’re traveling from Tokyo, you would need to change trains at Hakata or Shin-Osaka Station, and the entire journey takes about 6 hours.
There are plenty of scenic driving routes in the Aso area, such as the Aso Panorama Line, Aso Milk Road, and Yamanami Highway. Rental cars are a great way to explore the area. Rent them from a shop near the airport or Kumamoto Station and make your way to the Kusasenri area.
If you prefer to use public transport, you can use the Kyushu Oudan Bus, which connects Kumamoto to the Beppu area. There are 3 departures per day.
Take the bus from Kumamoto Airport or Station to Aso Station. The journey is about 1 hour. Then, hop on the local bus and get off at the Aso Volcano Museum to access the Kusasenri area. The local bus journey lasts about 30 minutes.
There are plenty of flights from Tokyo to Fukuoka. From Fukuoka, you can take the Aso Express bus. The journey is about 3 hours and there are two departures per day.
The Aso area is located about an hour by car from Kumamoto Airport. It’s set at the center of Kyushu and characterized by its enormous caldera.
Five volcanic peaks, including the active Mount Nakadake, rise from the caldera. The outer rim of the caldera has a perimeter of about 128 km, making it one of the largest in the world.
The caldera also encompasses vast grasslands and meadows. Dotted with horses and cows, they make for picture-perfect pastoral scenery. The entire area is designated a UNESCO Global Geopark.
The Kusasenri area is a vast grassland that offers great views of Mount Nakadake. You can take an idyllic stroll around the area to spot ponds filled with rainwater and horses munching on the grass.
The Aso Volcano Museum located nearby offers visitors a peek into the history and formation of the Aso caldera.
Pay a visit to the Kusasenri Observatory. Set right above the Kusasenri Beach, it offers panoramic views of the surroundings. Look out for the cone-shaped volcano Komezuka, the outer rim of the caldera, and if the weather is fine, Mount Unzen in the distance. The observation deck is wheelchair-friendly.
For lunch, try the local specialty—Aso akaushi beef. The cows are raised in the Aso’s expansive grasslands, and known for their rich, lean meat. Aka-gyudon, slices of beef steak on rice, is available in the New Kusasenri restaurant inside the Aso Museum, as well as eateries around Aso Station and the Minami Aso area.
*Note that entry is restricted within a 1-km radius around the Nakadake crater (alert level 2). (As of March 2020)
Take a scenic drive around the enormous Aso caldera. Start from the Kusasenri area and make your way towards the Takamori area in the southeast part of the caldera, 30 minutes away.
Packed with grasslands, forests, and water bodies, Takamori has some alluring spots. It also gives visitors a peek into the lifestyles of the locals.
Start with a visit to the Takamori Yusui Tunnel Park, a spring water tunnel doubling as a theme park. Half of this 2-km long tunnel was converted into a park. It’s illuminated in the evenings and a great place to cool down in the summer.
Located a 5-minute drive away is the Takamori Aso Shrine. This solemn edifice is shrouded by cypress trees that are over 480 years old. Mount Nekodake looms over it in the north and it is enclosed by serene farmlands.
Head further north about 20 minutes to the Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine. A moss-covered stone approach flanked by dozens of lanterns and a dense forest makes for an otherworldly scene. After an invigorating walk to the temple building, take a peek into the huge 10-meter cave located behind it. The shrine is associated with love and prosperity in business.
As of March 2020, buses running between Kusasenri and Takamori are suspended due to the aftermath of the 2016 earthquake. For access to Takamori, use a taxi. Alternatively, skip the Takamori area and explore the vicinity near Aso Station. Then, take the Kyushu Oudan Bus to your accommodation in Kurokawa Onsen. The journey lasts about an hour.
Mount Aso has blessed the region with a number of hot springs. Kurokawa Onsen, a hot spring resort nestled between the mountains of Oita and Kumamoto Prefecture, draws in more than a million people each year. Japan has about ten types of hot springs, and a whopping seven types can be found in Kurokawa Onsen, making it a rarity.
With about 30 places to stay, the resort offers a variety of unique and comfortable accommodations—from stylish stays for couples to spacious hotels for families. Find the perfect one for you.
The 30 accomodations and the landscape itself are considered one big ryokan, and perfect for exploring on foot. You can pick up the wooden nyuto tegata onsen-hopping pass to visit hot springs inside various hotels around the area. It costs about 1,300 yen and offers access to any 3 out of 28 hot springs. Hours can vary, but typically range from 8:30 a.m to 9:00 p.m.
Exhilarating activities with amazing views
Kick off day 2 with a visit to Daikanbo, located a 30-minute drive from Kurokawa Onsen. At a height of 936 meters, it offers fantastic panoramic views of Kusasenri, the five peaks of Mount Aso, and the expansive grasslands enclosed within the Aso caldera.
The morning hours are the best time to visit Daikanbo. If you’re visiting between June and September, head there around 5:30 to 6:00 a.m to watch the sunrise over the mountains. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to spot a sea of clouds blanketing the landscape in the early morning hours between June and November. This phenomenon usually occurs when it’s not too windy or humid, and there’s a big temperature difference between the morning and the night. Visit the Daikanbo before breakfast at your ryokan.
If you’re planning to go there early in the morning, opt for a taxi. If you take a bus, the earliest you’ll arrive is 8:30 a.m. Take the bus from the Kurokawa bus stop to the Minami Oguni Government Office, then transfer to the bus heading to Camp-Mura Iriguchi, located near Daikanbo. The journey takes about an hour.
The grasslands and plateaus of the Aso area are perfect for a variety of fun activities.
Try some in the early morning to get your blood pumping!
Activities in Aso
Horseback riding is a great way to experience the wide, open grasslands of Aso. As you explore the plains for horseback, look out for plumes of smoke drifting from Mount Nakadake.
Horseback riding is available in a variety of spots around Aso, including the Aso Highland Riding Club, El Patio Ranch, the Aso Horse Ranch, as well as spots around Kusasenri. You’ll find tours available for beginners, so have no fear if it’s your first time.
Head to Aso Nature Land, 10 minutes away from Daikanbo, to get a bird’s eye view of the area. You can try tandem paragliding with an instructor, flying from a height of 450 meters.
If you prefer to try flying on your own, you can pick up the basics and paraglide from a height of 30 meters. Note that you need to have an advanced level of Japanese to try this course. There are also tandem paragliding courses for kids, who will be accompanied by an instructor.
Aso’s climate is ideal for agriculture and dairy farming. There are plenty of spots where you can indulge in Aso’s culinary culture. 30 minutes from Daikanbo, you’ll find Aso Farm Land and Mo-Mo Farm, where you can milk cows, play with goats and sheep, and sample homemade sausages, fresh milk, soft cream and cheese. Depending on the season, you can also pick strawberries or grapes.
After enjoying the mountains in Aso, head to the waterfront commercial center of Fukuoka. If you’re not traveling by rental car, you can hop on the Aso Express bus.
There are multiple routes to Fukuoka and the journey takes about 3 hours. On the way, stop by a roadside station to take a break.
Roadside stations in Japan tend to house shops selling fresh agricultural produce, jam, honey and other local products. They are usually equipped with enormous parking lots, restrooms, and restaurants.
One of Kyushu’s most popular roadside stations lie on the way from the Oita Expressway to Fukuoka—Ukiha Roadside Station.
In summer and autumn, you’ll find a variety of fresh fruits such as grapes, pears, and peaches. The Haratsuru Roadside Station, located nearby, is famous for its sunflower fields in the summer.
Aso Roadside Station’s soft cream has even been featured on the Michelin Guide. The Shichijo Melon Dome Rest Area, on the way from Kumamoto to Fukuoka, is famous for its delectable melons.
There are plenty of roadside stations in the area, so drop by if you spot one!
If you have some time to spare on your way to Fukuoka, drop by the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. It’s located 20 km south of Fukuoka and open until 6:30 p.m.
The shrine is dedicated to the scholar Sugawara Michizane (845-903) and receives about 10 million worshippers a year. It is characterized by its striking vermillion main hall, gates, and bridge. The approach is lined by vibrant gift shops, and you’ll even find a Starbucks designed by Kengo Kuma, the Olympic Stadium architect. The spot has a great mix of the old and new.
Try the local specialty, umegae mochi—a soft and chewy rice cake filled with sweet red bean paste. You can find them freshly baked by hand in some shops in the area.
Day 2 is almost over! The drive from the shrine to Fukuoka is about 40 minutes. Once you’ve arrived, you can return your rental car.
Fukuoka, with its delicious local dishes and top-class sake, is an epicure’s paradise.
Hakata, one of Fukuoka’s central districts and its main railway station, is the gourmet hotspot.
Surrounded by water from three sides, it has a fantastic selection of seafood, as well as ingredients brought in from the rest of Kyushu. You can find sashimi, chicken stews, tripe stew, Hakata ramen, and juicy dumplings. The best part is that all these exquisite dishes are wallet-friendly.
The place is perfect for bar-hopping. From food stalls in the Nakasu area to trendy bistros and bars, your options are endless.
Summer activities abound
With a population of about 1.5 million, Fukuoka is Japan’s fourth largest city. It’s close to mainland Asia, and is known for its friendly and leisurely vibes.
Fukuoka is both convenient and packed with opportunities for outdoor activities—it offers shopping, gourmet, and is close to both the mountains and the sea.
Top off your trip to Kyushu with a visit to the beach, where you can sunbathe, play marine sports, or check out some chic seaside bars and cafes.
Many beaches are a short train or bus ride away from the city center, making them perfect for day trips. There are plenty of beaches facing west, so you can enjoy a spectacular sunset before you head back.
Easily accessible beaches
Itoshima is about 40 minutes from Tenjin via the JR Chikuhi Line.
This photogenic spot offers the best of rural life while being easily accessible from the city.
There are two areas in the Itoshima Peninsula where you can take a dip—Keya Beach with its crystal clear waters and idyllic scenery, or Fukae Beach, which is located near JR Chikuzen-Fukae Station and offers a host of marine activities such as banana boats, wakeboarding, and jet skiing. You can rent a car to explore the peninsula, or rent an electric or cross bike from JR Chikuzen-Maebaru Station near Keya Beach.
Shika Island is a small island in Hakata Bay that is connected to the mainland by a sandbank. It can be accessed via bus or train from the city center in an hour, or you can take a 30-minute ferry ride from Hakata Futo Port. Located near the entryway to the island is an 800-meter long beach, where you’ll find plenty of seaside houses and surf spots. Another great place is Katsuma Beach, located at the opposite tip of the island and renowned for its fantastic views.
The island itself has a circumference of about 10 km, and can be explored via rental bicycle.
Fukuma Beach, a set of three adjacent beaches, is located about 20 km north of Fukuoka’s city center. It has glamping facilities, hip cafes, and photogenic spots, and offers a variety of marine sports, including windsurfing, SUP, and banana boats.
SUP, or stand-up paddle boarding, is the perfect way to enjoy the waves and seaside views, and a great option for beginners. After you’ve worked up an appetite, reward yourself with a delicious meal at one of the beachside restaurants, cafes, or barbecue facilities.
Fukuma Station is 30 minutes by rapid train from JR Hakata Station. The beach is another 20-minute walk from the station.
If you’d rather spend your last day shopping and dining in the Hakata area, you can drop by Seaside Momochi Beach Park, an urban oasis located near Fukuoka Tower and Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome.
It’s located about 20 minutes from Tenjin and Hakata, and is accessible via both bus and subway. This beach is flanked by high rise buildings and perfect for a swim, beach volleyball, and other marine activities.
Nearby, you’ll find great views from the 234-meter Fukuoka Tower. You can also pay a visit to the Marizon complex packed with shops, and hip restaurants and cafes.
After a day of seaside fun, return to the city center.
Stroll around the Tenjin or Hakata Station area, pick up some souvenirs, or grab something to eat and head to Ohori Park, Nishi Park, or Kamome Plaza, where you’ll see plenty of locals hanging out.
Fukuoka is a major hub, and here you’ll find many domestic and international flights. From Hakata Station, you can opt to travel further north or south via the Shinkansen trains. Alternatively, extend your stay and visit Hiroshima, or head to Kita-Kyushu or Oita, from where you can take a ferry to the Shikoku area. If you’re planning to head home, you can take a flight directly from Fukuoka Airport.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of Kyushu’s landscapes, food, and culture, you can hop on the Kyushu Shinkansen to explore even more of the area.
The OIta region, east of Fukuoka, is a paradise for hot spring aficionados. It’s home to the towns of Beppu, Yufuin, and Hita, where you’ll find all kinds of mineral-rich onsen baths. The Yamanami Highway, which runs from Aso, offers fantastic views of Mount Yufu.
Miyazaki Prefecture is located in Kyushu's eastern coast and known for its mild, refreshing climate. It’s a great place to visit in the summer with its long Pacific coastline and opportunities for surfing, swimming, and seaside drives. You can pay a visit to the Takachi Valley for spectacular riverside views.
You can also choose to visit Nagasaki for its history and distinct vibes, take a sand bath in Kagoshima, or explore the historic sites, markets, and seafood eateries of Saga. There’s no dearth of choices in Kyushu!
Takamori Yusui Tunnel Park
Takamori Aso Shrine
Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine
Ukiha Roadside Station
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Food Stalls Nakasu
Itoshima Keya Beach
Momochi Beach Park