October 24-30, 2018
Kyushu is such an amazing place, offering everything that you would expect from Japan. Plenty of temples, shrines, castles, and WWII reminiscences. As well as volcanos, gardens and hot onsens, remote islands and peninsulas. On top of that great food in general and seafood in particular. And this is not an exhaustive list at all. As a bonus, there is nice weather, even in autumn or winter.
Only two things were clear to us when planning the Kyushu visit. We will not go the very south since we have been to Kagoshima some time back and that this is going to be a road trip. Hitchhiking in Hokkaidó was cool, but you know… not always easy. After the first night in Fukuoka’s hostel, we were ready for an adventure. Equipped with super tiny Suzuki and a tent for five people. Probably, even our car would fit in, but the extra space was handy. You can read a separate article about camping in Japan.
Our first steps led to Dazaifu, south from Fukuoka, to visit popular shrines area. We built our tent in a camp 30 minutes drive from there. In the mountains, we realised that our new sleeping bags are not the warmest in the world. That inspired us for buying warm long underpants at Uniqlo in the next day. But waking up early morning with a shining sun at the empty campground was worth it. Morning Dazaifu was full of various groups of people. Tour and school groups coming in buses, independent travellers, families with kids in traditional fancy kimono dresses coming for Seven-Five-Three (Shichi-go-san) Celebration. Again, we were lucky enough, since this event is taking place all over Japan only in mid-November. Because there is no exact date set, we saw them in almost every shrine in Kyushu. In many cases, parents accompanying the kids also wear traditional kimono. It is a really beautiful show. While being in Dazaifu, it is worth to visit the Kyushu National Museum, at least to see the modern building with impressive lobby and free little exhibition related to part of Kyushu history.
One kind person in Hokkaido advised us to visit the TOTO museum in Kitakyushu. We owe her big thanks since we would probably miss it. Lonely Planet was silent on this and also many sites like “10 best things” did not mention this. But in our opinion, it is definitely a place to visit if you are nearby. It perfectly fits in the “weird things in Japan” category, while being also educative. More details are in Toilets & TOTO museum article. Being in Kitakyushu, we also stopped at a popular area around Mojiko train station.
Then we headed to the South, and in the next two-three days, we explored various places at and nearby Kunisaki peninsula. It is full of historically significant sacred sites. Including but not limited to Usa Jingu, Ashihikiyama Futago temple, Kumano Magaibutsu of Fukiji (oldest wooden structure in Kyushu from the 8th century). Apart from that, you can also make quantum of pictures at a favourite sunset spot in Matamakaigan or soak in decent little onsens. As the day was reaching its end, with the help of uncle Google, we found camping for a night. On our arrival, the place was “closed”. But we were in Japan; it means there was no gate, toilets open, water on, just cottages were locked. The campground was deserted, away from any other buildings, the grass was not cut, and spider nets were everywhere. It was a little bit like from a horror movie when we were building a tent in full dark in such a remote place. But we kept saying to ourselves “you are in Japan, nothing can happen” :),
When we mentioned onsens above… Beppu city is a must for hot springs lovers. You can choose anything from a small family run onsen to big fancy ones. We wanted to try multiple baths. Therefore, we picked Hyotan onsen. It is probably the biggest onsen facility there. It was a great choice, and we even had perfect timing since the entrance was discounted from 6 pm. We did not have time to visit hells (hot ponds) in Beppu which is a shame, but no one can have everything. Moreover, we saw some in Hokkaido. Our base camp by lake Shidaka was perfect. If you have time and little money (not like us) you can also make ropeway trip to Mt. Tsurumi or visit Kijima Kogen Amusement Park before preparing for e.g. Mount Aso, that was our next stop.