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What to Do in Kumamoto Prefecture

By Nahoko Sato |

Kumamoto, the newly registered UNESCO Heritage Site in Japan has great traditional Japanese food, a gigantic volcano, and fun dolphins you’ll love to see.

On busy days, you might dream about chilling out in a beautiful natural setting, enjoy tasty food and relax. That’s why we’ve suggested traveling to places such as the hot springs in Hidalgo, Mexico, and the beaches of Langkawi in Thailand. But Japan doesn’t fall short of dreamlike destinations, and we know the perfect one where you can replenish your energy.

Catch the first flight to Japan because today we are heading to Kumamoto, a place where you can soak yourself in a wonderful natural environment and re-think the meaning of “tasty”.

Kumamoto is located in the northwestern part of Kyushu Island. It’s about 2 hours away from Tokyo by air. The area this prefecture covers is about 7,400 km² and it has 1.7 million inhabitants. What’s more, Kumamoto is rich in nature, culture and tasty food.

Car Rental in Kumamoto

Begin your journey at Kumamoto Airport. If you’re planning to fly from Tokyo, take the earliest flight in order to make the most of your day. This way you might land at Kumamoto Airport at around 9:00 h.

Once you’ve arrived at the airport, rent a car. Since Kumamoto is a big prefecture (Tokyo covers a territory of 2,188 km², and Kumamoto is over 3 times bigger), driving is one of the most effective ways to move around this city. Book it in advance and you might get a discount.

Visit Mt. Aso in Kumamot

First, head to Daikanbo to visit Mount Aso. This mountain is famous for its beauty, but also because it’s one of the active volcanos in Japan. Mt. Aso is registered as Aso UNESCO Global Geopark. The whole park includes Aso Gogaku (Mt. Takadake, Mt. Nekodake, Mt. Kijimadake, and Mt. Eboshidake) as well as one of the biggest craters in the world. The crater measures approximately 18 km from east to west and 25 km north to south. With an area of 350 square kilometers, it is one of the world’s largest collapsed volcanoes.

On this trip, you’ll get to see the geological antiquity of Daikanbo, the tallest peak of Aso mountain chain. And if you like mountain climbing, you can climb Mt. Aso. However, as it’s an active volcano, you must check the safety measures.

Try Dengaku

After Mt. Aso, head to Takamori for a very tasty lunch. Here, we invite you to try dengaku, a dish of traditional Japanese cuisine we are sure you’ll love.

When was the last time you had the chance to observe and listen to your food being slowly cooked in front of you? Imagine juicy meat and vegetables being broiled before your eyes. Now is the time to enjoy that experience while eating tasty Takamori Dengaku in a thatched-roofed house. Believe us, you’ll want to take out your camera to remember this moment forever. The restaurant itself is quite photogenic from the outside, but wait until you taste all the delicacies they serve inside!

In this restaurant you will travel to another era. The whole floor is covered with tatami or wood and the ceiling is very high. Also, you will see an Irori (traditional Japanese hearth), which will be the table for this day’s lunch.

How to Cook Dengaku?

In ancient times, Dengaku was a ritual dance performed to ask for an abundant harvest of rice, and the namesake dish derives from this dance. It’s skewered tofu with miso flavoring that you have to bring near the fire and wait until it’s cooked. Depending on your preference, vegetables, rice ball, or meat will also be served. As a suggestion, make sure the tofu is correctly skwered. Otherwise, your food will fall into the ashes!

Next, place the skewer on the grill while you enjoy a good conversation with your travel companions. In the meantime, your food will be slowly cooked on the grill. Take in the sizzling sound; it will make you hungrier!

Once cooked, add the flavored miso and bite it. The taste will have been worth the wait.

Eat Horse Meat and Dairy Products in Kumamoto

Kumamoto is famous for selling raw horsemeat. It’s like a horsemeat sashimi. It might surprise you to eat raw meat. No worries! It’s actually quite soft. However, if you are not fond of raw meat, try Kumamoto Akaushi. This cut has a moderate amount of fat; the meat is quite soft and its taste intense. There are several varieties and ways to enjoy this type of beef. Grill it, cook it as a steak, or use it to fill a hamburger. Try them all until you find your favorite way!

Dairy in Kumamoto

Since Kumamoto is rich in nature, there are lots of cows, which means there are also lots of different dairy products. For this reason, DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, suggests going to the market and getting some milk. You’ll notice that it’s really thick and even sweet. Trust us; the milk you have been drinking is completely different from this. This is THE milk! As you can imagine, if milk is tasty, all dairy products in Kumamoto are even tastier. Try some ice cream, soft cream, cheese, cheesecake, pudding… What’s your favorite? Pick one and pamper yourself!

Discover the New UNESCO World Heritage

In previous articles, we wrote about Mount Fuji and the Great Buddha of Kamakura, both declared World Heritage Sites. But Japan has 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites (18 cultural and 4 natural). One of the cultural sites that was recently registered is the Hidden Christian Sites, in the Nagasaki Region. Nagasaki prefecture is the main region where you can find these sites, but you can also find them in Amakusa City, in the Kumamoto prefecture. We would like to highlight this city because it is precisely our next stop.

Amakusa City

Located in the northwestern part of Kyushu Island, this property consists of ten villages, the Hara Castle, and a cathedral built between the 17th and 19th centuries. They reflect the era of prohibition of the Christian faith, as well as the revitalization of Christian communities after the  prohibition was officially lifted in 1873. These sites are a unique testimony of the cultural tradition nurtured and preserved by Christians in the Nagasaki region who secretly transmitted their faith during the period of prohibition.

In order to get here, fly from Kumamoto to Amakusa and then rent a car. Of course, you can also drive from Kumamoto to enjoying the wonderful sceneries along the road.

Sakitsu Church in Japan

Head first to Sakitsu church. This Gothic style church was designed by Yosuke Tetsukawa, architect of the Nagasaki prefecture. Yet, the current church was re-built by Fr. Halbout, a French missionary in 1934.

There is a cross spire on top of the church. Inside, you’ll find a mixture of Japanese and western styles. For example, it has a Tatami floor, which is quite unique in a church.

When visiting Sakitsu Church, please bear in mind that:

  • Photography is not allowed.
  • Mass is held on Sunday mornings. During this time, visitors are not allowed inside.
  • Before your visit you must make a reservation. Do it 2 days in advance by clicking on this link.

Dolphin Watching in Amakusa

After visiting Sakitsu church, go dolphin watching! Amakusa is famous for this, and there’s a 98% chance of you being able to see them!

These mammals enjoy swimming next to boats. Sometimes you even get to see the female dolphins swimming next to their babies. They are very friendly creatures that also happen to be very photogenic, so take your camera with you!