South of Tokyo's neon skyline and Osaka's world-class culinary scene lies Kyūshū, where roaring volcanoes and lush green landscapes surround some of Japan's most historic sites. This oasis is the country's southern- and western-most island, packed with natural wonders, ancient culture and mythical legends.
From the historical ruins in Fukuoka's Hakata Old Town to the picturesque Kujukushima Islands and cultural heart of Nagasaki, immerse yourself in the wonders of Kyūshū with our guide to the best places to eat, visit and stay.
The gateway to Kyūshū, Fukuoka prefecture blends ancient culture with modern life, showcasing unique food and multicultural influences. The main city is a must-visit, but the real wonders lie in the rolling hills towards the south.
Start at the Yame Central Tea Garden, and enjoy a stroll through the rows of green tea bushes that span 70 hectares. The views alone are enough to attract visitors at any time of year, but tea-picking season allows you a taste of local culture, with the Garden offering tours and the chance to sample and purchase the local teas.
A short drive away in the heart of Yame is the Kitaya Sake Brewery, where sake and shōchū are the drinks of choice. The 200-year-old brewery is run by seventh-generation sake masters and exports its products all over the world. Tours are guided by one of the brewery's sake masters and include a tasting of their famous Dai-Ginjyo sake that won first prize in the 2013 International Wine Challenge.
Experience true bliss at Ikenoyamasou hot springs in Hoshino village, where you can soak under the stars in an outdoor spring overlooking the village's terraced rice paddies. Upgrade your experience with a stay in one of the 14 tatami or western-style rooms, where you can enjoy your own private hot spring.
For a complete Japanese experience, pair your stay with a kaiseki dinner, a multi-course meal that showcases the best of the region's seasonal produce and specialty beef.
Prefer to take it outside? Ikenoyamasou's camping lodges, which surround the tranquil Aso Pond, cab offer accommodation for up to 10 people. Nearby, the mountain-style bungalow huts offer a more rustic experience, and there are tent sites available for those who prefer to sleep under the stars.
In the north-west of Fukuoka prefecture lies Fukuoka City, a bustling metropolis that showcases the island's history as well as its contemporary expansion. The multicultural district is home to some of Japan's most coveted eateries.
Explore Hakata Old Town on foot or bike, visiting historic temples and shrines to get a feel for Fukuoka's medieval roots. This part of the city is known for its lively culture, and hosts annual festivals in January, May, July and September.
In downtown Fukuoka you'll find Sushi Gyoten, the three-star Michelin restaurant owned by chef Kenji Gyoten. Gyoten, whose grandfather was also a sushi chef, is celebrated for his modern take on Edomae sushi, a style of marinated sushi from the Edo era. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant books out regularly.
Continue the local Japanese experience with a stay at Nishi-tei, a traditional ryokan in the centre of Fukuoka city. The inn gives the feeling of a Japanese home in the heart of the buzzing capital. Follow up your stay with an all-inclusive Japanese-style breakfast served in a tatami dining room.
Located between the Fukuoka and Nagasaki prefectures, Saga prefecture is renowned for its tranquil landscapes and handcrafted pottery. Delve into the world of local agriculture at Nishiyamada Farm in the town of Yamato, where guests can pick their own fruit and vegetables and learn to make – and eat – their own soba noodles.
Further north in the mountains on the outskirts of Imari lies Okawachiyama village, said to be the origin of porcelain in Japan. The Village of the Secret Kilns is small enough to traverse on foot, allowing you to make your way in and out of different pottery workshops, and even try your hand at porcelain craft.
End your day in the neighbouring town of Arita with a meal at Arita Huis, a modern Japanese restaurant that draws inspiration from French cuisine. The open-plan restaurant offers a choice of three different dining options – traditional, contemporary or designer – where menu items vary in plating and presentation.
For those looking for a restorative space to rest, look no further than Warakuen Ryokan. The modern Japanese-style inn adds a luxurious touch to its facilities, with tatami rooms or suites with private hot springs.
This coastal prefecture features some of Japan's most stunning vistas. The region was home to the only open port during Japan's isolationist policy in the 17th- and 18th-centuries, with the affect that European and Chinese influence can be seen in Nagasaki's architecture, food and culture even today.
Take a walk along the coastline to see the iconic Kujukushima Islands, or view them up close with a guided cruise tour. The northern town of Saikai, located just an hour from Nagasaki City, is an ideal daytrip for its scenic observation decks and viewpoints.
Celebrating Nagasaki city's European influence, Ryōtei Kagetsu showcases traditional shippoku cuisine which fuses Japanese, Chinese and Western culinary techniques. The location of the Michelin-starred restaurant has a storied past, where it operated as a high-class geisha house in the 17th-century.
Follow your meal with a stay at the Garden Terrace Nagasaki Hotel, a modern resort perched on Mount Inasa complete with minimalist decor, four high-end restaurants and an infinity pool. Marvel over the spectacular harbourside views from your private terrace, or opt for a hot-stone massage at the on-site spa – it's the most relaxing way to end your Kyūshū adventure.
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