A prefecture on the island of Kyushu in the central southwest region, Kumamoto Prefecture is filled with bountiful nature, featuring a number of national and prefectural parks. With 20% of Kumamoto’s scenery protected, its dynamic and diverse landscape includes volcanoes, forests, and river rapids that drain into the sea. To the east, Mount Aso is Japan’s largest active volcano standing at 1592 meters tall. Its mountains make up the largest inhabited caldera in the world, now designated a UNESCO Global Geopark. As a result, Kumamoto has many onsen baths and hot spring towns with quaint ryokans, such as the popular Kurokawa Onsen, just 20 kilometers north of Mount Aso. Considered among Japan’s most attractive, the rustic traditional architecture of wooden buildings, earthen walls, and stone stairs complement the gently flowing river and luscious natural surroundings. The tranquil ambiance can be enjoyed from a number of outdoor baths.
Once a part of the ancient Higo Province, Kumamoto is divided into 3 areas. The eastern portion is known as Hinokuni (the “land of fire”) for its volcanic landscape and major fire festivals. Further beyond, visit historic stone aqueducts in Yamato and Tsujun Bridge, or explore a 5-kilometer long limestone cave at Kyusendo. Ride a traditional boat or a modern raft down the Kumagawa rapids, or take the Hitoyoshi Steam Train. Take in beautiful views paragliding down Daikanbo, while to the west lies Amakusa, a set of lush subtropical islands with a dense Christian population.
Kumamoto is the historical and geographical heart of Kyushu, now represented by the well-loved kawaii bear mascot with celebrity status in Japan, Kumamon. On the banks of the Shirakawa River is the western prefectural capital of Kumamoto City where Kumamoto Castle is celebrated as one of the top 3 castles in Japan. The extensive historical events of Kumamoto have been well-documented, with its people fueled by the local cuisine of basashi (raw horse meat), dago jiru (vegetable dumpling soup) and Kumamoto ramen (thin, chewy noodle soup with a tonkotsu pork broth).
Basashi (raw horse meat), is a local dish in Kumamoto. Enjoy the horse sashimi dipped in soy sauce or accompanied with grated ginger. It is also sometimes served as nigiri sushi.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the Three Famous Castles of Japan, which includes Hyogo’s Himeji Castle and Nagano’s Matsumoto Castle. Suizenji Jojuen Garden, built in the 17th century, is another popular place to visit due to its unique layout and greenery.
Isshingyo Park is one of the best places to view cherry blossoms in Kumamoto, and it is even home to one particular sakura tree that is over 400 years old. You can try the cherry blossom milk pudding and sakura dango when visiting.
Kumamoto is known for its natural beauty like Mt. Aso, historical attractions like Kumamoto Castle, and food delicacies like basashi (horse sashimi). One of Japan’s famous mascots, Kumamon, originated in Kumamoto and is an icon for the prefecture.
Chosen-ame is a sweet made of sugar, glutinous rice, and glucose syrup. It has a light flavor and a 4,000 year history, making it the perfect present. Kumamon merchandise also makes for great souvenirs. This iconic Kumamoto character is found on clothing, food packaging, and as stuffed animals.