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Explore Kyushu: The Adventure Wonderland of Japan

Between you and me, if I had to pick only one island in Japan to visit for the rest of my days, it would be Kyushu. It is an island with pristine nature, outstanding cuisine, vivid daily and cultural life, and a deep history tied to the first phase of Japan's encounter with Western culture.

Kyushu is also Japan's outdoor adventure wonderland with a mild climate, mountainous terrain, small islands, and an endless coastline, all adequate for outdoor activities. Offering the best of all worlds to its visitors, the island, with its well-established tourism infrastructure, is home to an array of outdoor experiences that blend the island's nature, culture, and history.

In this article, I will introduce you to two multi-day experiences in Hirosaki Island and the Kunisaki Peninsula of Kyushu, opening the door for you to enjoy the unique culture, nature, and history of the island not only as observers but as active participants. These trips will take you to mountaintops where you will be greeted by shrines, down to UNESCO Heritage villages, onto a paddle board in the ocean, and will allow you to experience the calming yet still thrilling allure of rural life in Kyushu.

From the mountains down to the sea, explore Hirado Island

The historical Hirado Island holds a very important place in Japan's history. The harbor of the island was one of the places where the Portuguese ships arrived in the 16th century, kicking off the first phase of interaction between Japanese and Western cultures.

As a result, the highly intriguing and mystical island is one of those unique places in Japan where the traces of Western culture, such as churches, are as noticeable as traditional Japanese architecture and sites.

In this three-night, four-day tour, you will get the opportunity to encounter what makes this island a unique destination. While Hirado Island is connected to the mainland Kyushu by a suspension bridge, the tour starts with a boat trip, allowing visitors to appreciate the island's topography from sea level.

Soon after arriving at the port, you will get on your bikes to explore Hirado town. The first stop is Hirado Castle, which offers panoramic views of the town. It was originally built right before the start of the Edo Period, although the current castle tower was restored in 1962. The first day includes stops at a mix of sites related to both Japanese and Western culture and history, from a museum dedicated to the ruling samurai clan of the island to churches located next to Buddhist temples.

After a relatively easy first day, the second day will take you deep into the mountains. The hike to UNESCO Heritage Yasuman-dake offers a glimpse into a side of Japan that I greatly admire: how any outdoor experience also profoundly relates to the country's culture. You will be greeted by stone steps leading up to the mountaintop, leading the way to a shrine frequently visited by locals. The mountain, seen as a sacred place by Shintoists, was also designated as such, although secretly, by the Hidden Christians of Japan, who had to practice their faith in secret during a period when Christianity was banned in the country.

The descent from the mountain will take you down to Kasuga Village, also listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. With scenery dominated by rice fields, the village offers the perfect, and visually delicious, representation of the rural and agricultural life on the island. Kasuga is also among the places in coastal Kyushu that had once been a gracious host of the Hidden Christians.

On the third day, prepare to be out on the sea on a fishing boat operated by locals! The breakfast will consist of freshly caught fish that you will (hopefully) catch. The marina outing will be followed by a relaxing biking trip on the neighboring Ikitsu Island, where you will ride on a road with dramatic cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. You will take a lunch break at Ohbae Lighthouse. The afternoon will involve more cycling, this time taking you through the island's villages to observe the local island life.

The remainder of the tour focuses more on culinary experiences with a night out in a local izakaya (Japanese pub) with locals, as well as trying your hand at making Hirado's local specialty, casdoce - a confection inspired by western cuisine.

To arrange the tour, please contact the Hirado Tourism Association:

  • Address: 776-6 Sakigatacho, Hirado-shi, Nagasaki-ken 859-5104, Japan
  • Email: info@hirado-net.com
  • Official Website: Hirado Tourism Association

The Kunisaki Peninsula, the allure of untouched Japan

The Kunisaki Peninsula, located in Oita Prefecture, faces the Seto Inland Sea and offers the chance to experience the Japan of a thousand years ago. Passing through rural scenery from the valley formed by Mount Futago, located in the center of the peninsula, to the coast, visiting the peninsula feels like traveling back in time.

Home to a Buddhist culture unique to the area, Rokugo Manzan, Kunisaki has small local temples, allowing for an intimate experience, as well as large and famous ones, with a commanding presence.

This four-night, five-day tour puts together the best experiences the peninsula has to offer. The tour starts in the lovely Kitsuki town, home to a historical merchant district sandwiched between two samurai districts and the picturesque Edo-era Kitsuki Castle overlooking the sea. The best way to explore the town and the surrounding rural region is by cycling. After a leisurely ride through the town, more serious cycling will take you to Tashibu no So through rice terraces and rural towns that seem to have resisted the passage of time over the centuries.

While the route requires some climbing, luckily, the e-bikes you will be using turn the hills into a fun adventure rather than an exhausting one. Tashibu no So, known for its idyllic countryside scenery dominated by rice fields, is a perfect place for a lunch break. You will enjoy delicious charcoal-grilled delicacies in the company of locals. The rest of the day will introduce you to the Buddhist heritage of the peninsula. Your first stop will be Maki Odo, where a large selection of Buddha status is on display, followed by a visit to Fukuji Temple, the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu and registered as a national treasure.

The second day takes you deep into the mountains in the footsteps of the mountain monks. But before that, you will return to Fukuji Temple for a morning meditation session under the guidance of a monk. The day's hike starts at Saihoji no Sato and has many stops along the way, including Ofudo Iwaya, a naturally formed rock cave. The cave offers fantastic views of the region and makes a perfect place for a lunch break. The descent will lead you to Sentoji Temple, a modest temple frequented by the small local community. The visit will be followed by another ascent that will lead you to Itsutsuji Fudo, a small picturesque shrine clinging to a rock face.

On the third day, you will explore Himeshima Island, where you will have spent the previous night. The small island boasts a surprisingly high number of attractions, including a Halloween-like festival, the fox dance, during which attendees can wear handmade fox masks. Visitors are more than welcome to try their hand at making their own masks, painting them with colors of their own choosing. Interestingly, Kyushu is known as the land of fire thanks to its volcanic terrain. In fact, your next stop on Himeshima Island will be a volcano, introducing you to the fiery side of the island. But don't worry; Mount Yahazu has been dormant for a while, last active some 90,000 years ago. In addition to the opportunity to see the lava spread around, Mount Yahazu is also a great location for views of the Kunisaki Peninsula.

The last activity on this trip will introduce you to the ocean surrounding the peninsula. After a night spent in Myoban Onsen town, you will explore Beppu Bay in the morning. Led by a local guide, you will venture out to a secret ocean cave on a SUP. After your aquatic adventure, enjoy a kaiseki-style lunch at Tekizan-so, with an authentic Japanese vibe and all-wooden interiors, marking the end of this trip.

To arrange this tour, please contact Toyonokuni Millennium Heritage Tourism Zone:

How to access the locations listed in this article

Sasebo City is connected to Tabira Port, the starting point of the Hirado Tour, via the Matsuura Railway followed by a bus ride. As for Kunisaki Peninsula, the starting point of the tour - Kitsuki town - is only 45-minutes by bus from Oita Airport.

After these two multi-day trips, you may join my tribe and start calling Kyushu your favorite island in Japan! It sure deserves it.

Sponsored by: Kyushu Tourism Organization
Featured image by: Tourism Oita.