Supporters going to the 2019 Rugby World Cup face some tricky decisions. With so many spectacular things to see on the island of Kyushu, how will they fit everything in?
Japan 2019: the top 10 sightseeing spots and historical attractions in Kyushu
Rugby World Cup 2019 will be held in Japan for the first time, starting on 20 September. With the country set to be under the international spotlight, Kyushu in particular will be on many rugby fans’ watch list and makes an ideal destination of choice in Japan.
The island of Kyushu is located in the west of Japan and is home to seven different prefectures. You’ll find Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Oita and Saga in the north, with Kagoshima and Miyazaki further south.
With many of the top-ranked rugby nations either based in Kyushu or visiting the island during the tournament, UK fans hoping to catch England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland will want to plan a trip to this part of Japan. The All Blacks and Wallabies are also playing here, not to mention a couple of the quarter-finals, so all eyes will be on Kyushu from September.
With this in mind, Kyushu promises to enthral rugby fans when they arrive in the build-up to the World Cup. To help you figure out what the island is all about, dive into the top 10 sightseeing spots and historical attractions in Kyushu, Japan…
1. Sengan-en and Sakurajima in Kagoshima
Built in 1658 by one of the most powerful clans from the Edo period, the Shimazu clan, the Sengan-en estate comprises beautiful gardens and the central Iso Residence. Along with neighbouring Shoko Shuseikan, Sengan-en earned UNESCO status in July 2015.
The residence provides an insight into how many generations of the Shimazu family lived their lives. A tour of the many different rooms is recommended, with the inner garden and study’s view of the outside garden being highlights.
Sengan-en is located on the western edge of Kagoshima Bay – known locally as Kinko Bay – just to the north of Kagoshima’s city centre.
As well as providing a pleasant walk around the inner gardens and ponds, Sengan-en makes a fantastic vantage point from which to admire the Sakurajima volcano out at sea. This active volcano and former island (now connected to the mainland) can occasionally be seen erupting on a small scale, and it blends into the gardens’ design like a real-life painting.
Definitely take time to marvel at some local craftsmanship at the Shimadzu Satsuma Kiriko Gallery Shop, before finishing up by trying the local Jambo-mochi specialty, a rice cake with sweet soy or miso sauce.
Access: 20 minutes by bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station.
2. Aoshima island in Miyazaki
Just south of Miyazaki City, Aoshima island is connected to the mainland by a short pedestrian bridge. The island is covered in subtropical jungle and in the centre is Aoshima Shrine, which is believed to bring good luck to couples.
It’s also characterised by its beaming vermillion torii gate that welcomes visitors, as well as the unique basalt rock formations surrounding the island. Known as the ‘Devil’s Washboard’, these naturally-occurring striated rocks were formed by ancient lava flows. This phenomenon is a marvel to behold as they stretch into the distance out at sea.
Access: Aoshima Station is about a 30-minute train ride south of Miyazaki. It’s a 10-minute walk to the coast to reach the island itself.
Check out Aoshima at the start of this video, which shows many of the charms of Kyushu…
3. Yufuin area in Oita
Yufuin is comparable to one of Japan’s other famous retreats, Karuizawa, offering secluded nature (including Lake Kinrin), small arts and craft shops, art museums, cafes and local delicacies surrounded by gorgeous nature and the backdrop of Mount Yufu.
Nearby Yunohira Onsen is a worthy attraction too. Located in a picturesque, secluded valley, this magical area offers a moment of tranquillity to those looking for a relaxing and soothing hot-spring experience.
Access: Yufuin’s central area, including Lake Kinrin, is a 20-minute walk east of the station, following a main walking route. Yufuin can be reached from Beppu (80 minutes, transfer at Oita), with a Kumamoto-bound bus also calling at Yufuin on its journey from Beppu.
4. Seven Hells of Beppu – onsen with a difference in Oita prefecture
Beppu stands out as a top Kyushu location in Oita prefecture, thanks to the unique ‘Hells of Beppu’, or Jigoku. These are seven hot-spring locations with a difference! Aimed more at sightseeing than actual bathing, each thermal pond promises a unique view to enjoy.
From the cobalt-blue Sea Hell to the deep-red Blood Hell, the bubbling Mud Hell or the Spout Hell with its hot geyser that naturally shoots up every 30-40 minutes, the Hells of Beppu present Japan’s onsen culture in a remarkable light.
For those also looking to relax, Beppu’s culture of naturally heated sand baths is well worth checking out, offered at several locations around the city.
Access: Locations are spread out around Beppu. The five hells in the Kannawa area are all reachable by foot from Kannawa bus terminal (15-minute ride from JR Beppu Station). The last two – Chinoike Jigoku stop, and also near Tatsumaki Jigoku – can be reached by a further bus ride from Kannawa.
5. Aso region of Kumamoto
Mount Aso, in Kumamoto, is an active volcano with one of the world’s largest calderas. One of its five craters, at Nakadake, has great access by both rental car or the Mount Aso Ropeway and overlooks the Kusasenri plain, where you can see cows and horses grazing on the sprawling grassy land.
The volcanic activity makes for great hot springs, with the most popular being Uchinomaki Hot Spring and Kurokawa Onsen, on the edge of the Aso region. Kurokawa Onsen, in particular, enjoys popularity thanks to its traditional atmosphere and ryokans (inns).
Access: The Aso area can be reached by bus from central Kumamoto (2 hours) and also head to Oita/Beppu.
6. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, this historical sacred site in Fukuoka is one of Japan’s most important Tenmangu shrines. A number of features are worth looking out for on a visit here, including the Shinji pond (resembling the character for ‘heart’ or ‘shin’) and the Taiko bridge, whose three sections represent the past, the present and the future.
And for those thinking of the future, with Michizane becoming a deity of education, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine has enjoyed popularity amongst students. They are often seen visiting to pray for good grades and success in their exams and future career. With the Rugby World Cup likely to present a searching examination for many of the tournament’s younger players, the jury’s out on whether this luck will carry over to the rugby scores!
Access: Five-minute walk from Dazaifu Station, which is about 30 minutes south of central Fukuoka by train.
7. Takachiho Gorge
Located in a land known for being the home of Japan’s mythical legends, Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki represents the perfect ‘power spot’ – a location thought to be flowing with mystical energy – thanks to its dragon scale-esque rocky basalt cliffs, waterfalls and emerald waters.
Set to a backdrop of dense foliage that this valley provides, several points along the Gokase River walking route here provide great views of Minainotaki waterfall. If you want to get a closer perspective, try renting a boat to row down the river.
Access: From Miyazaki, take a limited express train (80 min) to Nobeoka Station before transferring to a bus bound (90 min) for Takachiho Bus Centre. From central Kumamoto, take a bus (3 hours) bound for Takachiho Bus Centre, which stops by Kumamoto Airport en route.
8. Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle is one of the country’s top three castles and one of the best examples of a defensive fortress seen in modern Japan. Although major earthquakes in April 2016 caused considerable damage to a number of turrets and keeps, restoration is well under way and the site is still worth a visit for its sheer scale, even if the central areas cannot be accessed.
Built in 1607 by daimyo Kato Kiyomasa, it has become well-known for its advanced defensive features, such as sloping castle walls almost impossible to scale, iron spikes at entrances, and a unique inner layout and survival tricks designed to withstand siege conditions.
While there may be few practical takeaways for any World Cup team hoping to defend against the top-ranked teams, Kumamoto Castle’s sheer ingenuity in defensive thinking will surely inspire the lesser-ranked teams looking to steal a result or two!
Access: Kumamoto Castle is about a 15-minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station.
9. Kyushu’s first! Kyushu’s largest ‘Matsuri in Kyushu’ in Kumamoto!
The ‘Matsuri in Kyushu’ festival is a great opportunity to enjoy the 40 festivals in the region of Kyushu and Yamaguchi at once in Kumamoto. This festival is held for supporters going to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and promises to showcase the Japan you have not known or can’t experience normally. In addition, you can buy various special products of Kyushu there.
Date: Sat 28-Sun 29 September 2019
Access: Kumamoto city centre.
10. The whole of Kyushu!
Kyushu is everything you could wish for and more in a tourist destination. We hope your 2019 Rugby World Cup adventure will be a wonderful journey!
Why should Kyushu be on every rugby fan’s itinerary at the 2019 World Cup? Click here for a tour of the prefectures.
What should supporters eat at the tournament? Click here to find out about the classic dishes of Kyushu.