There’s something about Japan’s geography that lends itself to the world of fantasy. If the snowcapped peaks of Takayama are akin to the north wall in A Game of Thrones, then Kyushu is something like the stretch of land between Rivendell and Mordor, with its fantastical floating waterfalls and spewing volcanoes. These are the temperamental landscapes that helped inspire the captivatingly strange yokai spirits, following a belief that all objects are infused with a magical energy. This week on the journal, we’ll zip across Kyushu from the jagged cliffs of Takachiho gorge to the southern coast where the sea meets the sky, to see if we can find a little bit of magic to bring back home.
Walk through a Wisteria Tunnel// Kawachi Fuji-En
Despite being Instagrammed a thousand times over, the Kawachi Fuji Garden hasn’t lost its charm. For most of the year, the wisteria are an entanglement of snaking branches, only to bloom into delicate, swaying pastels for a few weeks in April and May. Entry fees vary depending on the state of the season, and advance reservations are required.
Pitch up at Takachiho Gorge// Mukoyama, Takachiho, Nishiusuki District
Takachiho Gorge is one of the most beautiful spectacles of Kyushu; a chasm which slices through the land to reveal a jade toned river. If the weather permits, you are free to bring your own camping gear and pitch up for the night on top of a nearby hill. Take advantage of nearby cafes for a bowl of hot soba with the best view in Kyushu.
Hike up a Caldera // Kirishima National Park
The most striking part of Kirishima National Park is a massive caldera, which exposes layers of crimson and jet-black volcanic rock. Despite the difficult ascent due to its crumbling footpath, the view at the top of the volcanic mountain range is otherworldly, as though you’re trekking through the alien surface of Mars. If you make it to the top of Mount Takachiho-no-mine you’ll be greeted with a spear sunk in the mountaintop, said to play an integral part in the legend of Japan’s origins.
Soak in a Sulphuric Onsen // Kirishima Yunotani Sanso, 4970 Makizono-chō Takachiho
If you can get over the eggy-ness of the sulphuric fumes, the medicinal hot springs of Kagoshima are famous for their ability to heal and nourish sensitive skin. We were travelling with two eczema sufferers who claimed to feel much better after their bath, even weeks after we had returned home.
Eating at at your Ryokan is an integral part of travelling through Japan. Each Ryokan you stay at will have their own menu of specialities, ranging from the familiar to the extreme (raw horse meat was a notable dish at Fujimoto Inn listed below). Kaiseki chefs take particular care to bring a sense of balance between taste, texture, appearance, and colour to each meal, with inspiration taken from the changing seasons and their surroundings.
Roadside Ramen // Chun Chun Ramen, 984-3 Uchinomaki Aso, Kumamoto
Crossing Kyushu by car means long rides and rumbling bellys. Thankfully, there exist a number of roadside options for weary drivers, such as Chun Chun Ramen in Aso. We were lucky enough to savour their last few bowls of the day before they ran out: a rich and peppery pork bone broth to counter the chilly showers of late April.
Boozy Izakaya // Akadorisumiyakidaiyasu, 9-1 Yamanokuchicho Kagoshima Kagoshima
There’s nothing like winding down after a long day of travelling with a few cold beers and good company. Akadorisumiyakidaiyasu is most famous for their yakitori chicken, grilled closely over a charcoal fire to infuse the dish with a savoury smokiness. There are hundreds of izakayas in Kagoshima to choose from, but we returned to this joint for seconds.
There many ryokans and inns to choose in Kyushu, but these two picks are exceptionally scenic. If you are driving south from Fukuoka, book a night at Ryokan Fujimoto (869-2402 Kumamoto, Minamiogunia).This isolated ryokan serves as a perfect escape from the lively streets of Kyushu’s big cities. Located in the Kurokawa Onsen area, many of the guests make their way here to unwind and enjoy the stillness of the countryside. Similarly, albeit a much larger hotel, Kayoutei Inn (4124-5 Shuku-kubota, Makizono-mach) also immerses itself in its natural surroundings. Both of the ryokans have private outdoor baths alongside the banks of creeks, where the only sound to be heard is the gurgling movement of water and rustling of trees.
This guide was specially written and shot by our funnest jet-setter, Anne Berry.