Bangkok based travel writer Andrew Wood explores Japan’s third largest island with fellow traveller Pichai Visutriratana.
THAI have daily flights to Fukuoka from Bangkok. 4.5 hours flying time. Night time flight.
•Grand Hyatt Fukuoka $$$
Perfectly located just 15 mins from the airport and 5 mins from Fukuoka’s Hakata Railway Station.
It’s an ideal base for a visit to Fukuoka, with everything you’d expect from a top quality hotel brand. The hotel is luxurious and spotless and the service is a dream. One of the best executive lounges in Asia.
They say location is key and you can’t do better than this. Adjacent and linked to Canal City mega-shopping mall and a short stroll to the high street with its vibrant walking street with restaurants and nightlife a plenty.
•Japan Railway Pass
Purchased from my travel agent before we left Bangkok for ¥18,000 (US$150) each. I bought the 5 days Kyushu pass for unlimited travel throughout Kyushu’s extensive and ultra-efficient rail network including the famous 260 km/h (160 mph) Shinkansen bullet trains.
Other options are available including an all Japan pass.
•Shopping In Fukuoka – Canal City Hakata
The city’s largest and most elaborate shopping complex with 250 shops centred around a large fountain and canal.
Canal City Hakata is a mega-mall at 2.5 million square feet. Beyond shops, it has two hotels, movie theatres, a performance theatre and food court.
•Kushida Shrine Fukuoka
Kushida is a mid-sized shrine in downtown Fukuoka that dates to 757 AD, making it the oldest shrine in the city. It’s dedicated to Amaterasu, the Shinto goddess of the Sun and the Universe.
Kushida Shrine is busy with locals. It’s intimately tied into local life with a busy schedule of ceremonies and rituals. While we were there Pichai and I saw a flower arranging exhibition being prepared.
Entrance is free open 04.00-22.00hrs
•Tochoji Temple Fukuoka
Built in 806 AD this important Buddhist temple is located in the heart of the city and the temple contains the largest seated wooden statue of Buddha in Japan.
Entrance is free open 09.00-16.45hrs
•Fukuoka’s Best Dish – DARUMA RAMEN
The soup simmers for two days. Producing a silky smooth rich broth made from pork bones.
Pichai had been talking about Ramen noodles for two weeks…and now is his time!
The guide books says the noodles and soup are the most famous in Fukuoka. When we were there it was clearly popular with locals – always a good sign. Carefully boiled down the soup is thick and almost creamy with a savoury pork flavour. It also has plenty of collagen for your natural beauty!
Service was fast and it was a great lunch. ICE cold beer too. Just a 10 min walk from the Hyatt. A bowl of noodles ¥800 (US$6.50)
•Toyoko Inn Kumamoto $
The hotel is literally next door to the railway station. Kumamoto is an intermediate station of the Kyushu Shinkansen and the Kagoshima Main Line and a terminal station of the Hohi Main Line. Just 45 minutes south of Fukuoka.
It’s clearly a commuter hotel and popular with rail travellers, with its convenient location.
A simple budget hotel our rate included breakfast in the DIY cafeteria style restaurant in the lobby. Simple Japanese fare but tasty.
We arrived late morning but were informed our room would not be ready until 4pm. We went out for lunch and then sight-seeing. We later found out check-out time is 10am and check-in 4pm.
On our return we gained access to our room which was compact but efficient. The size, including en suite bathroom, was approx 24 sqm. Comfortable and clean with everything you needed for a short overnight stay.
Kumamoto Castle is just 15 mins from the Toyoko Inn and the railway station, by tram the journey costs ¥150 (US$4).
Kumamoto Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle and was extremely well fortified. The castle is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan, along with Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle. Thirteen structures in the castle complex are designated Important Cultural Property.
You can almost see the Sho-gun and Samurai warriors. It must be very special when the cherry blossom is out.
Kumamoto is Twinned with San Antonio in Texas and a Japanese garden was constructed there in 1989. The design of the garden was inspired by the famous Suizenji Park that is over three hundred years old, located in Kumamoto.
The castle opens at 08.30 and closes at 17.30hrs (April-Oct) and the entrance fee is ¥500 pp (US$14). Open daily except 29-31 Dec.
•Amazing Train Journey-The Hisatsu Orange Railway Company
A gourmet train that winds its way along the coast through small communities. The train journey is approx 3 hours with lunch stopping at 28 local villages on the orange grove route. At various places we exchanged a voucher for a gift. Many of them local snacks.
For full details see:
Discovering Asia: Great Small Railway Journeys – the Hisatsu Orange Railway Co, Japan’s Gourmet Railway
•Amami No Sato Japanese Gardens And Silk Making Factory – Kagoshima
We visited this amazing Japanese garden and toured the factory featuring Oshima silk production.
•Syusuien Hotel $$$ And Ibusuki Sand Baths
A traditional award winning ryokan in Ibusuki, Kagoshima and a visit to the volcanic sand baths.
For full details see:
Discovering Asia – Japan’s award winning Syusuien Ryokan and hot sand baths in Ibusuki, Kagoshima
Nishi Oyama is Japan’s most southerly railway station and close to Mount Kaimon
•Tosenkyo Flowing Somen Noodles
Delicious fresh somen noodles (somen are very thin white Japanese noodles made of wheat flour, less than 1.3 mm in diameter and usually served cold) in ice cold flowing spring water a great and fun stop for lunch.
•The Chiran Peace Museum For Kamikaze Pilots
The airbase at Chiran, Kagoshima, Japan, served as the departure point for hundreds of special attack or kamikaze sorties launched in the final months of World War II. A peace museum was established in 1975 dedicated to the pilots who died.
The Imperial Japanese Army airbase with its two runways, was the principal kamikaze base during the Battle of Okinawa. Of the 1,036 army aviators who died in these attacks, 439 were from Chiran. Of the total number, 335 were classed as “young boy pilots”.
This was a hard visit for me. It was an intensively sad place, young men learning to die for their country and trying not to disgrace their families, they obediently followed what their superiors told them to do. They were drafted to fly these missions. They didn’t volunteer. The museum was filled with letters of sons saying their farewells to their families. Young men who would not see past their next birthday.
The museum was built to end the tragedy of war and to ensure it never happened again, but it made me feel woeful. The waste of humanity and youth and to know that these soldiers would end their lives in unimaginable horror for themselves and others. They were given last suppers and toasted with sake by their superiors knowing they would never return…
Pictures inside the museum are understandably not allowed. The entrance fee is ¥500. Open daily 09.00-17.00hrs
•Hotel Shiroyama $$$
Perched atop of the city this is an elegant hotel with spectacular views across the bay to Sakurajima island.
•Big Pot Shabu-shabu, Kagoshima City
At Nanshukan restaurant. With the famous black pork of the region this is a great ‘family-style’ dining experience. Delicious! Approx ¥5,000 pp.
•Across To Sakurajima Island By ferry
Sakurajima (Cherry Island) is an active composite volcano and a former island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The lava flows of the 1914 eruption caused the island to be connected with the Osumi Peninsula.
The volcanic activity still continues, dropping large amounts of volcanic ash on the surroundings. As of September 2015, the volcano is under a Level 3 (orange) alert by the Japan Meteorological Agency, signifying the volcano is active and should not be approached.
•Fukuyama Black Vinegar Company
Fukuyama company located in Kirishima city, produce the famous brand Kakuida (secret land) vinegar here at the facility which was founded in 2003. See how it’s produced, have a superb lunch in their fine dining restaurant and finally browse in their well appointed factory shop.
For full details see:
Discovering Asia: Kirishima – Japan’s black vinegar city | Story and pictures by Andrew J Wood
Set in the forests of Kirishima, this is a beautiful historical Shinto shrine that was founded in the 6th century.
A very photogenic place that exudes peace and calm. You feel at ease as you walk around and explore. Well worth a visit.
The shrine surrounded by towering 800 year old cedar trees is also a famous autumn leaf spot, a popular place to visit when the leaves turn into their autumn colours.
Visit this working farm and farm shops. Try their ice creams and yoghurts.
•The Kirishima Iwasaki Hotel $$$
The hotel has the most amazing thermal spa, quite unique with its magical forest setting. One of my most memorable spa experiences. Very special.
•Sengan-en Gardens. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Sengan-en is a traditional Japanese garden and stately home that has been passed down in the Shimadzu family for over 350 years. The garden boasts spectacular views of active volcano Sakurajima, and the house provides a glimpse into the lifestyle of a powerful feudal lord.
Sengan-en and the surrounding area was fundamentally important in the modernization of Japan. It was here that Western industrial technology was introduced to Japan, studied and used in the creation of modern factories.
Open daily 08.30-17.30hrs entrance fee ¥500
A great morning learning to make sushi from the masters. Includes lunch and certificate. Chefs apparel provided. ¥3,000 per person. Well worth a visit.
About the author: Andrew J. Wood (left) is a travel writer and a regular university guest lecturer. A long-time resident of Thailand, Andrew is a former hotel General Manager and Immediate Past President of Skal International Thailand. Both Andrew and Pichai Visutriratana (right) are Directors of Worldwide Destinations Asia Co Ltd in Bangkok.