Kyushu’s Feudal Heart
Kumamoto is the capital of the eponymous prefecture located in the western part of Kyushu island. It is one of Japan’s largest agglomerations with more than one million inhabitants. Tourists know the city for its majestic castle and proximity to Mount Aso. Despite great damages due to the important earthquakes that impacted the area in April 2016, visitors are still kindly welcomed.
Kumamoto is an inland city in the center of Kyushu island, surrounded by several mountain ranges, and crossed by Shirakawa River. It started to develop early in the history of Japan: from the Middle Ages, that was marked by clan wars and the necessity to fortify the positions acquired. The city spread below its castle 🏯, that was built and extended between the 15th and 17th centuries. Kumamoto flourished then in a long period of cultural and military development under the reign of the powerful Hosokawa family during Edo period (1603 – 1868). After this Golden Age, the modern period came to be less rewarding for the city: regularly stricken by earthquakes and bombed during WWII, it slowly lost its influence on the benefit of Fukuoka, which became the largest city in the south of Japan.
Authentic historical sites
Kumamoto downtown still shelters authentic sites of the feudal period. We particularly recommend the three following major spots:
- The Japanese garden Suizenji Jojuen: located eastward, this 17th century garden is worth the detour, and displays a green miniature version of Mount Fuji as a bonus!
- Kumamoto’s castle: it was severely damaged by April 2016 earthquakes, so indoor visits were suspended. The keep is however scheduled to reopen in spring 2021. An outdoor observation platform and a walking trail have been constructed to enjoy the place during the renovation works.
- Honmyo-ji temple: the visit of this Buddhist complex of the Nichiren sect offers a nice view above the city and beyond.
A pop culture and gourmet reference
In addition, the prefecture works to promote its identity, or more precisely its kawaii face with the famous local mascot Kumamon. The cute bear with red cheeks is found everywhere in the area. One of the official stores, where it is possible to buy any object bearing its effigy is in Kumamoto: Kumamon Square in Tsuruya shopping mall.
As for gastronomy, Kumamoto is renowned for its meat specialty dishes, such as ramen 🍜 with pork or chicken broth and fried onions, as well as tender wagyu beef cooked in many fashions.
On a side note, famous manga artist Eiichiro Oda, the author of One Piece was born in Kumamoto. He donated ¥800 million (~7 million dollars) to the city after 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. A statue of Luffy, his main popular character, stands in front of the prefecture’s offices.
Kumamoto as a large regional agglomeration possess a good public transportation network. The city is easily accessible by plane ✈️ or by Shinkansen 🚅 train form Japan’s other islands. In the city, buses, trams, or bicycles for the sporty ones are the main transportation methods. Several local museums and covered arcades provide for shopping and urban leisure.
The city is a good and convenient choice for a cultural break between two natural sites explorations.