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A week on Japan's island of Kyushu

23rd May 2011

Sonia Jones from Noller & Turner Travel Associates has just returned from a week in Japan’s southernmost island, Kyūshū.

I’ll never forget my amazing week exploring some of Japan’s many hidden treasures in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. To put it simply, Kumamoto Prefecture is a combination of virgin forests, stunning natural beauty, rich Japanese history, and overwhelmingly friendly people.

We flew into Osaka and caught the brand new ‘Sakura’ bullet train between islands to Kumamoto city. Alternatively, you can fly into Fukuoka Airport on Kyūshū and catch the train to Kumamoto.

Japanese Inn, Gokanosho

If you’re travelling around the Kumamoto Prefecture, I’d recommend trying wherever possible to stay in ryokans – traditional-style Japanese inns; or their less expensive counterparts, minshukus, which are more like B&B’s. At these you’ll sleep on futons, sit on tatami mats, bathe in hot springs and dine on local Japanese delicacies. This style of accommodation is a fantastic way to experience the traditional culture throughout the duration of your stay in Japan.

Staying in a minshuku while in the Gokanosho area is an absolute must. Gokanosho is a picturesque, unspoilt group of villages surrounded by towering mountains, spectacular waterfalls and dense forests. Here we were fortunate enough to visit the home of a 49th generation samurai. Gokanosho is where the Taira samurai clan fled to in the 12th century to hide from opposing forces. Five families survived and have lived in these tiny villages ever since. A trip to the Gokanosho area is an unforgettable experience and highly recommended.

A few of my other unique experiences while in Kumamoto Prefecture included lunch with the “Hidden Christians” of Amakusa; early morning meditation with a Zen Buddhist priest; watching smoke bellow from the largest active volcano in Japan, Mount Aso; seeing 100 dolphins surfing the waves and jumping out of the water at Amakusa Island.

Despite all these fantastic adventures, the single biggest highlight of my Japanese trip was the people. The locals of the Kumamoto Prefecture are the most peaceful, welcoming and friendly people I have ever come across. They were so excited to see us and so proud to show us their breathtaking sites. I’ll never forget their hospitality and kindness.

The best time of year to travel to this area is late October to early November when the stunning autumn colours are out in full force. Alternatively, you can catch the cherry blossoms in bloom throughout spring, from early March til late May.

This area of Japan has not been affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan or the nuclear crisis at Fukushima. During my week in Japan, there were no disruptions to any transport services, electricity, food or water supplies. The areas of Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima have remained similarly unaffected.

Our experiences are only half the story.  Share yours in the comments section below.