From hot springs and volcanoes to a unique food culture, Kyushu is a land of endless charms. Here's why visitors to the 2019 World Cup should include it on their itinerary
Kyushu, the must-do destination for fans going to the 2019 Rugby World Cup
It’s less than a year until Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off in Japan, with the hosts opening the tournament against Russia on Friday 20 September. Games will take place across the country, with the spotlight in particular on Japan’s southern main island of Kyushu, which stages some important fixtures in the Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto prefectures.
Kyushu will be hosting many of the top-ranked nations expected to compete for the cup, including New Zealand, Wales, Australia and Ireland. With former Japan coach Eddie Jones’s England team also making Miyazaki prefecture their training camp base during the tournament, Kyushu will be an enticing destination for fans of the game.
As well as the rugby, Kyushu promises a wealth of cultural and gourmet discoveries across diverse natural environments, making it well worth a visit for rugby fans from all over the world. Here we outline Kyushu’s main attractions and the top things to do and see during a visit here during the 2019 Rugby World Cup…
Where is Kyushu? The main facts
Located at the western edge of Japan, Kyushu is about half the size of Scotland, yet home to seven prefectures. Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Oita and Saga are located to the north, with Kagoshima and Miyazaki in the south.
Kyushu offers a unique charm in comparison to the rest of Japan, being a compact region that combines both urban and natural environments – perfect for spending time during the tournament. The region offers a range of sightseeing attractions, including hot springs, volcanoes and historical landmarks, while Kyushu’s local cuisine is revered nationally.
In addition, Kyushu is pleasingly affordable compared to Tokyo and the Kansai/Kyoto area, with any trip here offering good value as well as a huge range of hotels and minpaku private lodgings to choose from when staying.
Thanks to Kyushu’s international airport in Fukuoka, the region can be reached in less than two hours from Asia’s main transit hubs, such as Incheon, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo itself. For visitors travelling by Japan’s famous shinkansen bullet train – where the Japan Rail (JR) Pass offers great value – Kyushu can be reached in about two hours from Osaka.
Kyushu’s Rugby World Cup Destinations
Welsh fans will definitely want to consider being based in Kyushu’s Fukuoka prefecture. Not only is the team’s training camp located here but neighbouring Oita and Kumamoto will be hosting two of their matches: Wales v Fiji (Wed 9 Oct) and Wales v Uruguay (Sun 13 Oct).
Fukuoka has been Kyushu’s biggest city since ancient times, and has flourished as a place where visitors can enjoy the culture by day or night.
During the day, the region offers such historical sacred sites as the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine, dedicated to Sugawara Michizane. For those feeling far from home, the main street’s Starbucks may offer a welcome break – it’s worth a visit just to admire the unique wood lattice store design and sport connection. It’s the work of famous Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, who is also designing the National Olympic Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Further afield in the Izuka area, the Former Residence of Ito Denemon offers traditional architecture and Japanese gardens; it provides tranquillity and the chance to step into the past, offering scenes reminiscent of a miniaturised Kyoto of sorts.
By night, Fukuoka offers a vibrant nightlife, thanks to its diverse entertainment and shopping culture, and the city’s many bars and restaurants.
But to experience Fukuoka properly you must visit one of the many yatai street-food stalls in the evening, where you can eat and drink alongside the locals and really get a feel for what this city is about. For their size, yatai stalls offer a surprising menu, anything from ramen, gyoza and oden to yakitori or beef and vegetable skewers.
For those looking to celebrate a rugby win with a few more drinks, there are many tachinomi standing bars around the city open until late.
Fukuoka is the home of Tonkotsu ramen, which is made from pork-bone broth noodles. With ramen culture steadily gaining in popularity around the world, trying the local Tonkotsu ramen comes recommended with a visit to Fukuoka; many of the top nationwide brands, such as Ichiran and Ippudo, are originally from this city.
Besides ramen, Fukuoka is renowned for its Mentaiko (spicy salted cod roe), Motsunabe (beef/pork tripe), Tetsunabe gyoza (pan-fried, Chinese-style dumplings) and local favourite Suke-san udon noodles, served with burdock tempura. Its unique food culture makes it highly rated among Japanese, with the city seen as one of Japan’s top gourmet cities.
- Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium
- 2-1-1 Higashihirao Koen, Hakata-ku Fukuoka, 816-0052
- Capacity: 22,563
- 25 min by bus from Hakata Station
- 15 min by bus from Fukuoka Airport (5 min by taxi)
- Italy v Repêchage winner (Thu 26 Sept)
- France v USA (Wed 2 Oct)
- Ireland v Samoa (Sat 12 Oct)
Kumamoto prefecture, where Wales will play Uruguay on 13 October, is home to many of Kyushu’s top sightseeing spots, including Kumamoto Castle – one of Japan’s three famous castles – and Mount Aso, an active volcano with one of the world’s largest calderas.
Whilst the castle will take decades to fully restore following a 2016 earthquake, it is perfectly safe and a visit is highly recommended. The visitor centre there provides a fascinating insight into one of Japan’s best-loved castles, including a fantastic VR (virtual reality) presentation outlining the castle’s hidden defensive strengths.
As well as the chance to run into Kumamon – the prefecture’s beloved red-black character whose charming face adorns much of Kumamoto (and even Kyushu) – Kumamoto also offers delicious food. Dishes includes aka-ushi beef bowl with wasabi, Taipien (originally from China) and the local garlic-infused ramen.
Food challengers may also be interested in the wasabi-beating Karashi-Renkon (spicy lotus root) and horse-meat sashimi – you might be surprised by how tasty it is!
- Kumamoto Egao Kenko Stadium
- 2776 Hirayamamachi, Higashi Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 861-8012
- Capacity: 32,000
- 7 min by taxi from JR Hikarinomori Station (or 35-minute walk)
- 50 min by bus from JR Kumamoto Station / Kumamoto Bus Terminal
- 10 min by taxi from Aso Kumamoto Airport
- France v Tonga (Sun 6 Oct)
- Wales v Uruguay (Sun 13 Oct)
Oita is Japan’s most famous prefecture for hot springs, with Beppu particularly well-known as having the largest number of hot spring sources in Japan.
What makes Beppu so remarkable is the unique ‘Hells of Beppu’, seven hot spring locations across the city that no visitor will want to miss. These locations are primarily for viewing, rather than bathing, yet show Beppu’s onsen prowess in a fun and colourful light.
Over at Umi Jigoku, this ‘sea hell’ offers cobalt-blue hot spring waters steaming away against a backdrop of red torii gates, whereas the nearby Oniishibozu Jigoku promises an encounter with boiling mud pools. Other highlights include Chinoike Jigoku – blood-red waters – and the Tatsumaki Jigoku, which erupts every 30 minutes in a hot geyser.
In recent years, travellers have come from many countries to discover Yufuin, a popular spring resort about 10km inland from Beppu. But many other unique hot springs can be found in this region too, including the secluded and magical Yunohira Onsen town area.
These areas offer a more tranquil, relaxing and soothing experience, and were historically visited by Japanese to recuperate and recover from various ailments thanks to the restorative powers of the hot spring waters — don’t be surprised to see the rugby players themselves make a trip here!
Yufuin itself is comparable to one of Japan’s other famous retreats, Karuizawa, offering secluded nature (including Lake Kinrin), small arts and craft shops, and local delicacies surrounded by gorgeous scenery.
For an insight into the local culture, drop by the Stone Buddhas in Usuki, some of the oldest stone buddha statues in Japan that overlook a rural area of rice paddies and wildflower fields.
- Oita Stadium
- 1351 Yokoo, Oita, Oita Prefecture 870-0126
- Capacity: 40,000
- 66 min by bus (South Liner) from Oita Airport to Park Place Oita, then 15-min walk or 5 min by taxi
- 35-40 min by bus from Oita Station to Oita Sports Park, then 5-min walk
- New Zealand v Repêchage winner (Wed 2 Oct)
- Australia v Uruguay (Sat 5 Oct)
- Wales v Fiji (Wed 9 Oct)
- QF1 (Sat 19 Oct) & QF3 (Sun 20 Oct)
For those cheering on Eddie Jones’s England team at this World Cup, the tropical climes of southern Miyazaki prefecture should be on your itinerary. The England squad’s training camp is located here, with potentially a quarter-final appearance in neighbouring Oita Stadium to look forward to.
Miyazaki prefecture is known as the stage for many of Japan’s mythical legends, and provides a mystical setting thanks to its many famous ‘power spots’. These are locations thought to be flowing with mystical energy, and particularly include Takachiho Gorge and its dragon scale-esque rocky basalt cliffs, waterfalls and emerald waters.
For those staying in the Takachiho area, don’t miss seeing a sacred Yokagura (night kagura) dance performance at Kagura-den, held daily from 8pm. The performance retells popular folklore tales and an English handout explains the plot to help you enjoy the story.
South of central Miyazaki City, Aoshima island provides a paradisiacal retreat along the eastern coast, with a large red torii gate on arrival on the beach, and basalt rock formations making for a fantastic view. The shrine here is said to offer good luck for marriage, making it a romantic visit for couples or those looking for love.
For those looking for a little more luck (perhaps before one of the World Cup games!), Udo Shrine further south along the Nichinan Coast is an idyllic shrine built into the cliff-face overlooking the ocean. It provides impressive panoramic views.
The shrine itself is set inside a small cave and there is a rock face outside that is said to bring good luck – if you can hit it with one of the small ceramic lucky balls available at the shrine.
Miyazaki also has a rich food culture, from mangos to chicken, and local craft beers, such as Hideji Beer. Chicken Nanban – deep-fried chicken served with a tartar sauce – is a dish loved across Japan that originates from Miyazaki prefecture. It’s easy to find at many of Miyazaki’s restaurants, where chargrilled Jitokko free-range chicken is also served, often alongside a spicy Yuzu Kosho (citrus pepper) sauce.
A fascinating experience is also guaranteed in the Kagoshima prefecture in the far south, which shares a strong historical connection with England. Despite the initial conflict of the 1863 Satsuma-England War (Satsuma being the old name for modern-day Kagoshima), what followed was a series of exchanges that helped forge deep ties between the two.
The tale of the Satsuma Students tells how 19 Japanese students defied the Tokugawa ban on foreign travel and set sail abroad, eventually arriving in England with the goal of learning all about Western science and technology to bring back home. Upon their return, they were quickly followed by a trail of key English engineers and doctors, who were invited to Kagoshima in the following years.
In addition, Admiral Togo, a great naval hero and admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was originally born in Kagoshima and spent much of his early life studying and training in Britain before returning to a successful career in the Japanese navy.
Kagoshima promises mesmerising views of Sakurajima island from most parts of the capital city – it’s technically still an active volcano and typically erupts a few times each week, albeit on a minor scale. It’s certainly a sight to behold if you set eyes on an ash cloud.
Fans of the classic James Bond films may also be aware of Kagoshima’s significance, with Mount Shinmoe-dake, further north of Kagoshima City itself, featured in the 1967 spy film You Only Live Twice as the location of SPECTRE’s secret headquarters.
One of the best places to view Sakurajima is from inside Sengan-en, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the western coast of Kagoshima Bay. The grounds here offer a beautiful Japanese garden and peak inside a traditional Japanese house, occupied by several generations of the Shimadzu family.
Travel – how to get around
The Kyushu Shinkansen, or bullet train, connects Fukuoka in the north and Kagoshima in the south, offering a convenient journey time of about 1 hour 20 minutes one way.
The rest of Kyushu is covered well by a combination of local trains and regional express trains, with a large number of Sightseeing Trains also providing more scenic routes, added comfort and local culture (this is one of the best ways to travel between Kumamoto and Kagoshima – via the Isaburo Shimpei and Hayato no Kaze services).
Kyushu is also well connected by bus, with the SunQ pass offering unlimited bus travel for multiple days (including highway and local buses). Choose from the All Kyushu 4-day Pass (14,000 yen), the All Kyushu 3-day Pass (11,000 yen), the Northern Kyushu 3-day Pass (9,000 yen) or the Southern Kyushu 3-day Pass (8,000 yen).
All the passes except the Southern pass also include bus travel to and around the Shimonoseki area in neighbouring Yamaguchi prefecture.
In addition, there is a discount pass available which gives you unlimited access to the highway. For details, click here.