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Nara Tanjoubi

2009 was the year we first visited Japan. On that month-long trip we travelled all over the country and fell hopelessly in love with too many aspects of Japanese culture to ignore. A few years later and we had moved here to live; a grand adventure had begun. 

It was on that very first trip, though, that we spent a very special day in Nara deer park on rented bicycles. The memory of this day stuck with us so strongly that when we were choosing places to potentially live in Japan, Nara topped our list. Alas, we were assigned Fukuoka (a city that until then we had never even heard of, but which has become a true second home over the last four years), and since then we hadn't had the chance to return to Nara until last week.

When we realised we would be in Osaka for my birthday this year, I requested we spend the day in Nara surrounded by beautiful deer - a dream come true. This time too we rented bicycles and fed deer and took in the traditional charm of this lovely city. I couldn't have asked for a better 26th birthday.


Rainy, rainy Osaka

Last week we hopped a plane to Osaka to meet K's parents travelling from Australia. We took a morning flight hoping to spend the entire day exploring Osaka before we met up with K's mum and dad in the evening but, unluckily, we arrived to typhoon rains. After wandering around in the miserable rain with umbrellas for a little while, browsing Standard Bookstore and American Apparel in Amerikamura and eating some takoyaki we decided to call it a day and head back to our hostel. Last time the two of us were in Osaka for a day K had a stomach bug and it was raining too. We've come to the conclusion that Osaka just doesn't like us.

Not to worry! After a nice dinner and family reunion across town, we decided to walk home through Dotonbori so that Kamil wouldn't totally miss out on seeing Osaka (for a second time).  So here are some mega stereotypical tourist photos of Osaka's famous and rather surreal neon strip.

Next time we'll pin you down Osaka.



Cape Hyuga

It's the start of Golden Week in Japan, so we spent the last two nights in lovely Hyuga, Miyazaki.  The main reason we went was so that K could try out his new surfboard (Miyazaki is famous for its surfing beaches). In between some very refreshing sessions in the ocean, we drove up the coast a little to check out the Cape Hyuga area, with a wonderful lighthouse and the splendid Umagase cliff. 

Bonus food photos!
Here are a few notable meals from our Miyazaki two-nighter

✩Chicken nanban

✩Japanese breakfast

✩Beef Udon

Thanks Hyuga, we had a great time as always. 

Wisteria dreams at Kurogi-machi, Yame.

Last year's trip to the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu awakened in me a sudden but true love of wisteria gardens. The lilac blossoms drip from the branches, twinkle in the wind, and make my heart flutter. We have always heard about the wisteria in Kurogi-machi, Yame so this year we finally made it there to have a look. The place was really stunning (but Kawachi is still my favourite spot for wisteria). 



my kyushu recommendations

Over the course of the four years we've lived in Fukuoka I've had many friends and acquaintances from home contact me for tips on travel in Japan, and Fukuoka/Kyushu in particular. Although there's lots of information out there, it's always good to get a few tips from a local or a friend with similar interests. This time, when updating the list I usually send to people, I decided I may as well do a good job of it and share it here.  By no means is this meant as a comprehensive Kyushu travel guide - it's just a collection of places I've been and would recommend based on my experiences. I still have so many places in Kyushu to explore (and I will add them here once I've been!)

I hope this helps with your travels to the wonderful island of Kyushu - if you have any questions please leave a comment and I'll be happy to reply.


Fukuoka Prefecture is home to Japan's sixth largest city, Fukuoka City. There's a great quality of life here, with a busy city centre, year-round festivals and major events, gorgeous mountains, nice beaches, great weather and great transport links to the rest of Kyushu and Japan (via shinkansen, high-speed trains, buses and LCC flights). Fukuoka isn't as big as Tokyo or Osaka, but it has enough going on to keep you occupied without ever feeling overpopulated. It's laid-back but it has so much to offer. Maybe I am biased because I have lived here for four years, but I will always love Fukuoka.

Saga is in the North-West of Kyushu and is best known for its porcelain production in Arita, Karatsu and Imari. Saga is a great place to see by car, with lovely countryside scenery and there are some hidden gems in the Prefecture to discover.

Oita is located in Kyushu's North-East, and is most famous for its hot springs. Tourists flock to Beppu and Yufuin for their onsen, and both areas are easily accessible from Fukuoka on public transport.

Nagasaki borders Saga Prefecture, and most of the prefecture is on the coast. Due to its interesting history as the first major trading point between Japan and the world, the multicultural influence in Nagasaki City is still present today. There are many wonderful sightseeing options in Nagasaki, and a lot of history to learn on your visit.

Kumamoto is at the centre of Kyushu and home to the active volcano Mt. Aso, as well as Kumamoto Castle, and the incredible Kurokawa hot spring town. One of the most stunning prefectures scenery-wise, driving through Kumamoto is a pleasure.

Miyazaki is on the Eastern coast of Kyushu and its beaches are the real deal. Miyazaki always feels like a warm vacation spot when we visit, plenty of water to swim in, places to see and one of my favourite spots there is Takachiho Gorge.

Kagoshima is at the very bottom of Kyushu, and unfortunately it's our least explored place so I don't have too much insight. In Kagoshima City you'll find Sakurajima, an active volcano. Our visit to Kagoshima was for a very specific reason, to climb Kyushu's tallest mountain and explore the landscapes that influenced the Ghibli film "Princess Mononoke" at Yakushima Island. If you have a chance to get to Yakushima, you're in for some magic.

Hakata area is the traditional heart of Fukuoka, and a good place to start your exploration. There are some great shrines, lots of shopping options, and when night comes street vendors set up food stalls known as "yatai" along the Nakasu River.

Traditional Hakata sights include Shofukuji- Japan's first Zen temple, a five-tier red pagoda and wooden Daibutsu (giant buddha statue) at Tochoji, the charming Kushida Shrine (pictured below) which is connected to old-style shopping arcade Kawabata Shotengai (where you might find some good souvenirs), and the nearby Hakata Machiya traditional crafts centre (textile weaving etc.). Many of Fukuoka's traditional festivals take place in Hakata throughout the year, the largest being the epic Hakata Gion Yamakasa in July, so check tourist sites for festival info before your trip.

Canal City (Hakata) is a famous shopping centre with canals running through the main building. There are plenty of good shops to be found here if you don't mind big facilities full of tourists; to mention a few, there's an awesome Studio Ghibli merch store, comprehensive UNIQLO and MUJI stores, ABC Mart for sneakers, plus international clothing giants Zara and H&M. There are lots of restaurants too, including a Shakey's all-you-can-eat pizza buffet & a very cute Moomin Cafe, as well as a cinema complex, game centres (with lots of arcade games and purikura machines), and Ramen Stadium for all your ramen needs. HP:

JR Hakata City/Amu Plaza (Hakata), the large shopping complex above Hakata Station is so packed with shops that too much time spent wandering around here can give you a headache. But if you know what you are looking for, you'll be fine. There's a Pokemon Store, a big branch of Tokyu Hands, a Maruzen book shop with a very decent amount of English magazines and books. I like to check the Tsumori Chisato shop for inspiration, but like many of the shops here it's rather pricey. There's a cinema, and loads of great eating options on the 9th and 10th floors. A few favourite restaurants of ours: Isoragi for fresh sushi donburi and great views, Hakata Original Tonbei for unusual okonomiyaki, El Borracho for great Mexican, Ippudo for ramen. There's also ELLE cafe on the 4th floor of Hakata Hankyu. The panoramic view from the rooftop garden is great (access is free). HP:

Tenjin / Daimyo areas sit side-by-side and make up the city centre. While Tenjin is a bustling city hub with shiny department stores a'plenty, Daimyo's streets are old, charming & maze-like, with many small independent shops and cafes to discover.
ACROS building (Tenjin) is one of the city’s best landmarks. It's a huge step-shaped eco-building covered in plants. You can climb the exterior of the building for free to take in views of the city (Note: the steps are open to the public every day, but the very top floor look out is only open on weekends). HP:

Big department store shopping (Tenjin) at a glance:
  • PARCO expanded into two huge buildings in early 2015 and is full of interesting shops. I rate this as my top department store in Fukuoka. Don't miss WALL in Building 1 (3F), or Wrapple and HandsBe in the New Wing. (Favourites: Once a Month, Bonjour Records, WALL, Swimmer, Wrapple, HandsBe
  • Tenjin CoreAimed largely at a teen girl demographic, this place can be mind-numbing so I usually make a bee-line for a couple of shops - especially Super Spinns with its mix of cheap vintage and Tokyo trend items. (Favourites: Super Spinns, WEGO)
  • Tenjin Vivre, connected to Tenjin Core and another youth demographic department shop, with a few good shops hidden away (Favourites: Grapefruit Moon, Hanjiro)
  • IMS, a classier department store with some great pit stops. My favourite green tea shop is on the B1F, and there's usually something interesting on display in the exhibition space (Favourites: Usagi Pour Toi, HP Deco, Tagashiro Chaho)
  • Mitsukoshi, a large nationwide chain department popular with mature/wealthy ladies, but with an incredible basement food floor (Favourite: depachika food floor!)
  • Mina Tenjin, not too flashy or exciting, but with a few staple shops that keep you coming back (Favourites: UNIQLO, MUJI, Yuzakawa craft shop, TutuAnna) 
  • Tenjin Chikagai, the huge underground shopping streets that connect to all main points in Tenjin. Very convenient for getting between places on foot quickly, or avoiding the rain. Many shops to look at... almost too many. (Favourites: Kutsushitaya for cute socks, Aoyama Flower Market, Natural Kitchen, It's Demo)
  • LOFT, a multi-level "everything shop" with so much to look at (apparently they stock 70,000 items on 7 floors!): homewares, beauty, toys, Made-in-Japan items, and I particularly love the stationery floor.  
Vintage shopping (Tenjin/Daimyo) There are a good amount of vintage/secondhand shops around Fukuoka City. You'll find that a lot of the vintage is sourced from the USA and Europe, but you can come across some local gems too. An ongoing project is my vintage shopping guide, check it out here:

Other Fukuoka City Spots
✩Ohori Park is one of my favourite places in Fukuoka City. A large park around a manmade lake, complete with paddle boats, swan boats, castle ruins, Japanese Gardens, an Art Museum and a well-placed Starbucks with a view. It is on the subway line, easy to access.

Momochihama Beach is home to the landmark Fukuoka Tower and is a nice place for a walk on a sunny day - or for spotting newlyweds around the Marizon Wedding Island.

Nokonoshima is an island only 10 mins by ferry from the mainland. Really nice for bike riding, and for swimming in the summer. The botanical gardens are full of seasonal flowers and rolling hills, and the beach offers views of the Fukuoka City skyline, places to eat and BBQ/camping facilities in summer.

Dazaifu Tenmangu is one of Fukuoka's most famous temples and a good day-trip. There's an architecturally awesome Starbucks there (pictured below) along the approach to the shrine. Try the local sweet "umegae mochi". The Kyushu National Museum is located here too. HP:

Atago Jinja is Fukuoka City's oldest shrine, sat atop a hill that overlooks the west side of the city and the ocean. A lovely shrine, beautiful scenery, and because it's less popular with tourists you can almost always guarantee a peaceful visit. Climbing the stairs from ground level gets the heart rate up nicely!

Uminonakamichi Marine World, hop a ferry here to hang out with the seals, sharks, dolphins, stingrays and lots of other fish.  

The Fukuoka Botanical Gardens is home to a great range of plants including a rose garden and a greenhouse with orchids, a butterfly house and a cacti garden. Various lookouts provide nice city skyline views. Connected to the zoo, but I can't recommend the zoo.

☞Culture tip! Public Art Fukuoka has some awesome public statues by famous artists around town. My favourite are two by Yayoi Kusama (a yellow pumpkin outside the Fukuoka Art Museum in Ohori Park, and some big spotty hats outside Airefu Hall near Akasaka) as well as the amazing pink poodle in Jigyou Central Park near Momochihama.

Hot Springs Tip! Seiryu Onsen A bus picks you up for free from a spot in Tenjin and takes you to this wonderful onsen in the nearby countryside. This is perfect for those who don't have time to travel for a dip in the hot springs.  HP:

Cat Tip! Keurig Neko Cafe (Daimyo) Looking for your Japanese cat cafe experience? Keurig is a really fun spot to spend an hour or two with cafe food and drinks and a bunch of kitties to play with. Bonus points because all the cats are rescued strays. HP: (English info & access).

☞ OtakuTip! MANDARAKE is a huge Japanese pop culture shop in between Tenjin and Akasaka stations. The store originated in Tokyo and is impressive to see even if you're not a manga-lover (I'm not, but I find the shop fascinating). The bottom floor is mostly manga and figurines, and upstairs on the 2F there's more manga aimed at girls, plus Blythe and other dolls and lots of cosplay stuff. HP:

Antiquing Tip! Flea Markets Fukuoka is home to some decent Flea Markets. The two main markets are held at shrines,  there's the Hakozaki Shrine Flea Market and the Gokoku Jinja Nominoichi Flea Market - both held regularly.

Food Tip! Local Specialties. Here are some special Fukuoka foods to try whilst you're here: Tonkatsu Ramen (pork broth ramen, try it at Ichiran or Ippudo), Motsunabe (cow intestine hot pot, much more delicious than it sounds), Mentaiko (spicy cod roe, although I'm not a fan), Amaou strawberries, Hakata Torimon (special Hakata sweets that you'll see everywhere. They come in a yellow box and are so yummy!) You should also have a drink and some gyoza at a yatai street stall for the local experience.

Some other good eats in Fukuoka...
Corduroy (cafe), Cat & Fish (cafe and bar), Elle Cafe (ladies' cafe), Tagashira Chaho (green tea cafe), Ragruppi (bakery cafe), La Spiga (bakery cafe), Bar Rosa Rosa (Spanish), Gamlangdii (Thai), Akemenohama (okonomiyaki), Brooklyn Parlor (hamburgers), Isoragi (sushi).
Fukuoka Prefecture Day trips are also an awesome way to explore and get a feel for life outside the city. Here are some of my favourites, all possible as one-day trips. It helps if you have a car, so consider a rental.

✩Itoshima, home to Fukuoka's most beautiful beaches, plentiful mountains and great countryside scenery, is the place to be in summertime. Points of interest include Ito SaiSai Farmer's market, the famous "Futamigaura" beach (pictured below), Keya Point for swimming, Shiraito waterfall, and an array of beachside cafes, to name a few. Access by car or train (about 1 hour from Tenjin).

Yanagawa is a popular tourist destination for good reason. This charming town's main attraction is its canal boat rides, which are a highly recommended experience to have whilst in Japan. A trained and knowledgeable guide paddles your boat down the canal, pointing out buildings of historical significance and singing old Japanese songs. Stunning scenery. Don't forget to try the steamed eel - a local specialty - and if you're a fan of secondhand clothing then you'd best visit the large warehouse thrift store Nishikaigan. Access by Nishitetsu train (less than an hour from Tenjin).

✩Akizuki (Autumn, Spring) in Asakura City is home to castle ruins and a delightful traditional machi (town area) which is peaceful and comforting. Spectacular seasonal changes - the area is both a popular local kōyō (autumn leaves) spot and a sakura wonderland. About an hour from Tenjin by car.

Kawachi Fuji Garden becomes a lilac dreamland every year around Golden Week (late April, early May). There are around 150 flowering wisteria trees (fuji) planted here. When in bloom it's hard to believe such a place exists, as you dodge fat bumblebees to revel in the beauty of nature. Access by car (about 1.5 hours from Tenjin).

✩Yame (photos in AutumnWinter) is  known nationwide for its green tea. The streets of the traditional town "Fukushima" area are full of old-world Japan charm. If you travel by car, make sure to drive to the top of a hill overlooking the big tea plantation 八女市中央大茶園. There's a green tea museum in Yame too. Access by car (about an hour from Tenjin).


Karatsu is best known for the iconic Karatsu Castle, and the yearly Karatsu Kunchi festival (more below) but my favourite attraction there is the Former Takatori Residence where you can see how a wealthy Japanese coal magnate lived over 100 years ago. Don't forget to have a Karatsu Burger when you're in town, and if you like pottery take a look at some local Karatsu-yaki pottery.

Yobuko was officially merged into the city of Karatsu in 2005, but I think it still deserves its own category. In Yobuko, you'll get the chance to try Japan's freshest squid sashimi, a local delicacy. The fishing port of Yobuko town, the cliffs of Nanatsu-gama and the Yobuko cable bridge that connects the mainland to a smaller island (below) are all great points of interest. Best to come here by car. 

Imari is a small town in Saga famous throughout Japan for it's special type of yakimono (ceramic ware). People come from all over the country to purchase ceramics from the sellers at the annual pottery festival. We visited in 2011 at the time of the festival and spent some time wandering through the winding streets of the town (which is surrounded by beautiful mountains), admiring the different types of ceramic wares. 

Takeo, About an hour and a half drive from Fukuoka into Saga, you'll find yourself in a lovely little onsen town called Takeo City. There are plenty of hot springs to relax in, but for me Takeo is all about the library. Read about it here - but basically it was reopened in 2013 and combines library + bookstore + cafe + stunning design. Take a wander to the nearby shrine, bamboo forest and famous 3,000 year old camphor tree. Another Takeo gem is Mifuneyama Rakuen - a gorgeous Japanese garden full of Japanese momiji maple trees that show their colours in the autumn, cherry blossoms, azaleas and wisteria that bloom in spring.

Yutoku Inari Shrine, Kashima. Dedicated to the wild fox god Inari, this incredible shrine is a well-kept secret in Saga Prefecture. The dramatic red structure juts out on the side of a hill. You can climb up the mountain behind the shrine too, through some tunnels of red torii gates similar to the famous ones in Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine (which is Japan's most important and famous Inari shrine), but not as long or impressive. Still, this shrine may be one of my favourites in Kyushu.

☞ Pit Stop Tip! Nijinomatsubara, a beautiful 5km-long pine grove on the way to Karatsu. Stop for a great photo-op, or grab a bite at the Karatsu Burger roadside van parked mid-way through the grove. 

☞ Festival TipKaratsu KunchiKaratsu's biggest festival of the year has been running for several centuries and takes place over three days in Autumn (early Nov.). The main event involves a parade of 14 huge floats through the streets of Karatsu. The float designs are incredible, and very old (the current versions were made in the 1800s) and the floats are pulled to the sounds of chants, flute & taiko music.

Food Tip! Local Specialties. Try some famous Saga beef, or Yobuko's fresh squid sashimi... so fresh it may still be moving when served! 


Beppu is one of Kyushu's top spots for hot springs, but there's lots to do here in between soaks in the onsen. Visit the jigoku (hells) of Beppu: the bright blue, steamy lagoon umi jigoku is really pretty in real life (photo below). Take a dip in a natural outdoor communal mud bath at Onsen Hoyo Land, one of the most unique onsen I've experienced! A short bus ride from the city there's Takasakiyama, or Monkey Mountain, full of monkeys to meet. If you have time, take a wander around the city area of Beppu. There's a sleepy atmosphere which gets you imagining what it was like in its heyday. There are some good ryokan options here too, ranging in price. 

Yufuin is a huge "spa-town" tourist destination here in Kyushu, so you'll be joining the crowds. Walk up the main street towards Yufudake mountain where there are many little shops and stalls along the way - some are too geared towards tourists, but some are very sweet. Yufuin Floral Village is a collection of souvenir shops where the shopfronts are made to look like a little old storybook village. Of course, Yufuin's drawcard is its onsen which are top class. There's also the picturesque Lake Kinrinko, and you're spoilt with views of Yufudake mountain. 

✩Hita is where our friend's grandparents live, so we were lucky to be shown around this town in 2013. Hita is known as Little Kyoto because it was modelled after the merchant culture of Kyoto. Walking the streets of the preserved Mameda Town is like stepping back in time, especially if you get the chance to rent kimono (we visited on a festival day and kimono rental was free!). Wooden geta (traditional Japanese shoes) are made here, and there's a wonderful old sake brewery you can wander around - the Kuncho Sake Brewery Museum. Hot springs available too (this is Oita, after all!)

Train Tip! Yufuin no Mori is a beautiful green "resort express train" with luxury interior and amazing Kyushu countryside views. It runs from Hakata Station to Yufuin. Watch the mountains, small towns and trees go by and enjoy a bottle of Yufuin Cider (similar to lemonade) in the buffet car.

Beppu Art Tip! There is a strong art culture in Beppu, with NPO Beppu Project promoting local art events and encouraging the growth of the art scene in Beppu. The annual Beppu Art Month (starting around July) is city-wide event with lots of exhibitions to check out. Make sure to visit the collective of little stores, cafes and art studios under the train tracks near Beppu train station (the Kitakouka Shotengai 北高架商店街). 


✩Nagasaki City is full of good sightseeing options, and is a really pleasant city with a charming tram-network to get around on. Due to its interesting history as the first major trading point between Japan and the world, the city's multicultural influence is still present today. There's a great Chinatown district with many dining options, Japan's oldest remaining Western-style residence "Glover Garden", and Dejima Dutch Trading Post to name a few. Nagasaki is also synonymous with the Atomic Bomb, having been the second city in the world to experience a nuclear attack (following Hiroshima) in World War II. While you're in town, it's important to learn about and remember this part of history with a visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum and memorial site. Also recommended are "Battleship Island" Gunkanjima and the massive Lantern Festival in early February (more on both of these further down).

Sasebo is a US Navy Base location, famous for its US style Sasebo Burger, its Dutch-themed park Huis Ten Bosch (more info below) and a group of islands known as Kujūku-shima (literally: 99 Islands). Take a ferry tour of the islands then eat a burger on the mainland for a good Sasebo experience.

Unzen is Nagasaki's hot springs destination - an active volcanic group up in the mountains on the Shimabara Peninsula. Book yourself into a night in a ryokan and take a leisurely stroll through hell - yep, hell! The main attraction Unzen Jigoku (translates to Unzen Hell) where white steam and a strong smell of sulfur are signs of the volcanic activity. A great overnight experience, and a lovely onsen town.

Nagasaki Biopark is the place where all of your capybara dreams come true! To backtrack a little - the Bio Park is the most humane version of a zoo I've seen in Japan. The animals aren't in cages, they live in environments that mirror natural habitats. This means you can get up close to lots of cool animals: llamas, butterflies, monkeys, pigs, kangaroos, and capybaras. Feed the capybaras, pat them, watch them bathe in the onsen - and while you're at it, plot a way to take home one of these cute, huge rodents.

✩Isahaya is a city in Nagasaki Prefecture where the bus stops are shaped like fruit. Massive strawberries, melons, and more! A perfect example of Japanese "kawaii" culture. I can't comment on Isahaya City itself, but if you are in the area you should make a detour to see these bus stops.

☞ Festival Tip! Nagasaki Lantern Festival. For two weeks in early February every year, Nagasaki rings in the Chinese New Year by illuminating the city with around 15, 000 lanterns. The festival recognises & celebrates the city's Chinese history - with Chinese food stalls, lion and dragon dances, Chinese acrobats, performances and more. We went in 2012 and, aside from the massive crowds, it was very worthwhile.

 ☞ History Tip! Gunkanjima (Nagasaki) The tiny island of Hashima is more commonly known as Gunkanjima - or "Battleship Island". The island is located about 19km SW of Nagasaki harbor, and from 1810 to 1974 it was the site of a full-scale seabed coal mining operation. The island itself is tiny, and sits out in the middle of the ocean where it is subject to harsh waves and winds during typhoon season. Families of the coal miners lived on the island for the whole time that the mines operated. Because of the harsh weather conditions, the island is surrounded by a sea-wall. Although isolated, the island functioned as both a successful coal mining site and a successful community. However, in 1974 Mitsubishi shut down the island's coal mine and gave all residents just three months to completely vacate the island. From this time onward, the island was deserted and left to crumble (both by the forces of nature and vandalism) and only in 2009 was attention cast back towards Hashima, when the island was included on a tentative list of sites being considered for World Heritage status. Since, tour boats have been taking groups of intrigued tourists over on guided tours of the island. In 2012, the island was featured as a location in the James Bond film Skyfall.

 ☞ Non-Japanese Attraction Tip! Huis Ten Bosch (Sasebo) is Nagasaki's large-scale theme park which recreates the atmosphere and architecture of a Dutch village. There are castles, canals, tulips and Dutch town squares, as well as some rides. I admit, it's kind of weird to visit a Netherlands-themed park while visiting Japan, but if you're stuck for things to do on New Year's Eve (notoriously quiet in Japan), they hold a great countdown event on Dec. 31. HTB also holds annual tulip and rose garden festivals in spring, and a fireworks competition in the summer.

Food Tip! Local Specialties. Nagasaki Champon (pictured), Sara Udon, Manju pork buns... Nagasaki is full of wonderful local foods inspired by its historical links to China. Make sure to grab a bowl of champon when in town.

Kumamoto Castle is my favourite Japanese castle I've visited. Located centrally in Kumamoto City, the castle structures have been really well restored and there's a great lookout from the top floor of the main keep. 

Kurokawa is one of the most magical little towns I've visited in Japan. Secluded, self-contained, peaceful, full of olden day Japanese charm, and with plenty of amazing baths to soak in; Kurokawa will always be my go-to onsen spot in Kyushu. Amazing onsen and amazing food go hand-in-hand, and although accommodation is a little pricey, it's worth the splurge for the experience. Accessible by bus from Fukuoka City.

✩Aso, land of rolling green hills, Japan's largest active volcano, and fresh local milk. The volcano area was designated as a Global Geopark in 2014, and the scenery here is just stunning. One of my favourite sights of Aso is the iconic Kome Zuka (pictured below) located in the caldera. Hiking, horse-riding and camping are good options here too. 

Amakusa is a bunch of islands off the coast of Kyushu. A great location for a summer holiday, with dolphin watching as a top attraction, and beautiful beaches and waterfalls to swim in. There are five famous bridges in Amakusa that make driving fun, but even without them the scenery here is generally great. 

☞ Driving tip! Mt. Kuju Scenic Sightseeing Road. When driving to or from Aso, pay a toll to take the Mt. Kuju Scenic Sightseeing road, especially during Autumn. 

☞ Bathing tip! Cave baths One of Kurokawa's most unusual bathing experience is the "cave onsen"at Shinmeikan ryokan. You don't have to stay at the ryokan to use the baths. After paying, strip off, leave your clothes in a basket and enter the cave, with its beautiful natural rock walls and steamy water. It's like stepping into another world, highly recommended.

☞ Hike Tip! Climbing Mt. Aso. If you're not satisfied with driving up to get a good vantage point of the caldera, why not tackle the rocky hike up to Taka-dake? At 1,592m it's the tallest peak of Mt. Aso and a nice challenge. Your reward? Spectacular panoramic views and a feeling of accomplishment. 


✩Takachiho Gorge is a truly beautiful spot, a V-shaped gorge formed by the rapid cooling of an ancient lava flow. Rent a rowboat to get a close view of the 17m waterfall and enjoy the scenery. Make sure to arrive early if you're planning to rent a boat in peak season, as the line gets long quickly and the reception area is closed early when the day's quota is reached. Highly recommended.

✩Shimo Aso Beach, Nobeoka This was an unplanned rest stop for us while road tripping our way from Takachiho to Yufuin in early summer, 2014. The beach here is all pretty white sand and sparkling turquoise ocean and is the northernmost swimming spot of Miyazaki. A great spot to take in some fresh air or a dip in the ocean.

✩Udo Jingu, Nichinan. Located on an oceanside cliff, the grounds of this shrine offer incredible views out to sea. The main building of the shrine is located inside a cave, which is just as cool as it sounds. Outside the cave there is a booth selling ceramic pebbles, which visitors buy and try to land in a rope-marked target on a rock off the cliff. If you land it, good fortune is yours!

 Aoshima is a tiny island connected to the Miyazaki mainland by a short bridge. At the centre of the island is Aoshima Jinja - a unique and colourful shrine inside a subtropical jungle. At low tide, rows of black basalt rocks can be seen around the island. The strange formations are known as "devil's washboard".

 Heiwadai Park, Miyazaki City. Unfortunately we didn't get enough time to explore Miyazaki City completely, but Heiwadai Park's sprawling grounds were a wonderful spot to take some time out. There's a huge "Peace Tower" and the park is also home to a 9,000m2 garden with earthenware replicas of ancient Japanese haniwa burial statues- 400 moss-covered statues that seem frozen in time.

✩ Aya-cho Suspension Bridge. At 142m tall and 250m long, walking across this bridge is actually scarier than you'd expect. The view of the glorious evergreens surrounding the bridge is well worth conquering your fears for, however.

✩Hyuga / Kanegahama - two popular beaches amongst Kyushu's surfers and known for great waves. Beautiful sunrises, long, flat beaches to walk along, warm water to swim in.

Food Tip! Local Specialties. One of my favourite things about visiting Miyazaki is the excuse to have a plate of Miyazaki-style chicken nanban (pictured). This delicious dish was created in Miyazaki in the 1960s. We were recommended by many people to try nanban at the restaurant where it originated in Miyazaki City, but found it to be nowhere near as good as any that we tried at small restaurants around Miyazaki. If deep-fried chicken with tartare sauce isn't your thing, Miyazaki also has amazing 100% fat free Jidori chicken (delicious in a soba or udon dish), as well as Miyazaki mangoes. But seriously, try the nanban.

Kirishima sits on the border of Miyazaki and Kagoshima. The "kiri" part of the city's name means "mist" and "shima" means island. So, literally translated, Kirishima means "Misty Island". Well, Kirishima isn't an island but it certainly lives up to the other half of its name - the area was clouded in mist frequently throughout our visit, giving it a creepy fairtyale feel. Take a little 30 minute hike up to see Onami-Ike, one of the largest crater-lakes of Kirishima, or the more extensive Karakuni-dake hiking course. Beautiful scenery, great campgrounds and lots of local wild deer.

Yakushima, the island off the coast of Kagoshima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its lush forests, which inspired the landscapes in the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke. Yakushima is home to wild deer, monkeys and the Japanese cedar "Yakusugi" - the most famous example of which is a tree called Jomon Sugi, the largest and oldest yakusugi estimated at somewhere between 2,170 and 7,200 years old. Add to that already impressive list Mt. Miyanoura which, at 1935m, is Kyushu's tallest mountain peak. We did a two day hike and it was the adventure of a lifetime, but there are many other options if you are short on time.

Seasons in Japan, a word association: The season you visit Japan may greatly influence what type of holiday you have. Here are some words I associate with each season in Fukuoka/Japan, maybe it will help you decide when to visit...

SPRING: Sakura, hanami, azalea, Golden Week holidays, koinobori, wisteria, dontaku, spring sunshine. 

SUMMER: Rainy season, humidity, ajisai, summer matsuri, Yamakasa, the beach, watermelon smashing, Sunset Live, Fuji Rock, semi (cicada), waterfalls, somen nagashi, fireworks festivals, handheld fireworks, beer gardens, fireflies, kakigori, yukata, sunflowers.

AUTUMN: Koyo, Hojoya, lantern festivals, Akihaku, Oktoberfest, Halloween, kaki (persimmon), chestnuts, cosmos, perfect weather.

WINTER: Strawberry picking, hot water bottles, heat-tech thermals, Christmas illuminations, hot wine, hot umeshu, nabe, kotatsu, Christmas get-togethers, New Year's period/Oshougatsu, Hatsumode, kakigoya, ume plum blossoms, canola blossoms, snow (if you're lucky!)

In conclusion, Kyushu is the best. If you ever get a chance to visit, please do!