Kyushu, also known as The Land of Fire, stands as the southernmost prefecture of Japan’s main island. Renowned for its active volcanoes, beaches, and natural hot springs, it boasts serene natural landscapes, charming traditional towns that transport you back in time, bustling cities, and incredible food. Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, is the birthplace of the world-famous tonkatsu-style ramen, also known as Hakata ramen. Overall, Kyushu has so much to offer in sight, experiences, and taste that it truly warrants more than a mere three days. However, with limited time to explore Japan, I’ve condensed the must-see and must-do spots across Kyushu into an action-packed 3-day itinerary, outlined below.
Table of Contents
- Day 1: Fukuoka
- Day 2: Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine & Takachiho Gorge
- Day 3: Yufuin
- Day 4: Leaving Kyushu
Day 1 & 2: Stay in a hotel Fukuoka
- We stayed at APA Hotel near Hakata station for convenience. It is small, but clean and had everything we needed.
Day 3: Stay in a traditional ryokan in Yufuin with an onsen.
- We stayed at Sanso Tanaka, a lovely ryokan run by an older Japanese couple. There are three private onsens (two inside, one outside), and is tattoo-friendly.
Day 1: Fukuoka
- The first morning of the three-day trip in Kyushu is reserved for travel. Kyushu is on the southern tip of the main island of Japan. There are two efficient ways to get there and that is by plane or train.
We traveled by train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo Station to Hakata Station (the main train station in Fukuoka), which took about 6 hours. We were able to get some sleep in and enjoy some bentos.
- Fukuoka is the birthplace of Ichiran and Ippudo, popular Japanese ramen chains featuring Hakata-style ramen (tonkatsu) with rich, flavorful, forthy pork broth. Although you can eat at one of the many locations throughout Japan, there is just something about eating at the original Ichiran or Ippudo.
Ichiran was our first meal in Fukuoka. Afterward, we stopped by Canal City Hakata, a shopping and entertainment complex, to walk off the food and do some light shopping and casual snacking.
- Experience a traditional yatai (food stall) for dinner at Nakasu Yatai Yokocho which is a quintessential Fukuoka experience.
Day 2: Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine & Takachiho Gorge
The main destination for this day is Takachiho Gorge, which is in a pretty remote area in Miyazaki. You can either take a tour or rent a car, which takes about 2.5 hours to Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine or 3 hours to Takachiho Gorge. As of 2023, there is no good public transportation option to Takachiho Gorge. I chose to book a tour via Klook which combines Kamishiki Kumanoimansu Shrine and Takachiho Gorge.
Morning: Travel to Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine:
- Start early and head towards Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine ~2.5 hours by car/tour bus.
- Explore Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine: The hike to the shrine is an easy hike predominantly consisting of steps and inclined paved paths. Once you reach the shrine, which sits at the top of the series of steps, you can continue up a winding paved path to see an arched rock at the top. Enjoy the peaceful surroundings and the spiritual ambiance. 45 minutes should suffice for the visit, even at a casual pace.
As for restrooms, there are two per gender after the entrance of the shrine which is very nice and equipped with bidets!
Afternoon: Takachiho Gorge
- Lunch: Find a spot near Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine or somewhere along the way to Takachiho Gorge to dine at. Try some regional delicacies like Miyazaki Beef and Jidori Chicken.
- Travel to Takachiho Gorge: Leave for Takachiho Gorge, which is approximately a 30-minute drive from Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine.
- Exploration Takachiho Gorge: Arrive at Takachiho Gorge and start exploring. The main viewing point of the gorge is on the small bridge road that overlooks the gorge. It is located right before the bus stop (which stops in front of a gift shop). Be careful, because this bridge road has no sidewalks and is open to car traffic.
If time permits, take a boat ride along the gorge. To secure your spot, you can make reservations online. There is also a short path to see some waterfalls that can be found on the left when walking past the bridge from the bus stop.
To the right of the bridge (when walking from the bus stop) are some small gift shops and restaurants. The gift shops serve Cremia ice cream, so it is a good opportunity to try one out.
Mangoes and Hyuganatsu Orange are also specialties of the area and gift shops have a lot of mango and Hyuganatsu orange-flavored treats. I highly recommend picking some up before leaving.
- Head back to Fukuoka: Aim to head back to start heading back to Fukuoka around 4-5 pm from the gorge. The travel back takes about 3 hours, but it may take longer due to rush hour traffic.
- Dinner in Fukuoka: Motsunabe (offal hot pot) and Udon are some other dishes notable to Fukuoka. Try a spot in the city, or other local cuisine or grab more yatai or ramen.
We opted for some street food hopping and highballs along the Hakata River near Nakasu.
Day 3: Yufuin
- Make your way to Yufuin, about 2 hours away by train from Hakata Station
- Check into the ryokan (or have them store your luggage if arriving before check-in)
- Downtown & Yufuin Floral Village: Visit Yufuin Floral Village, a charming area with shops, cafes, and beautiful gardens. Browse through boutiques offering local crafts, souvenirs, and artisanal goods, and try some snacks from shops along the way.
- Head to Kinrinko Lake, a picturesque spot surrounded by nature. It sits at the end of Yufuin Floral Village.
- Dinner: Grab dinner on the main street (which spans from the train station to Kinrinko Lake). The recommendation is to try Beef Mabushi, a specialty dish of Yufuin.
We dined at Yufu Mabushi “Shin” Yufuin Ekimae Branch which is located a short walk from Yufuin Station.
- Soak in an onsen: Yufuin is an onsen town, so soaking in an onsen is a must. The ryokan we stayed had private onsens on a first come first serve basis.
Day 4: Leaving Kyushu
I know this is a 3-day itinerary, but I want to cover Day 4 just a bit since there is still a bit to do in the morning before departure… if you wake up early enough 😉.
- Watch the sunrise: Be the first person in the world to see the first light of the new day. Japan is called the Land of the Rising Sun for a reason, and what better than to watch it in the serene town of Yufuin with a mountain backdrop?
- Onsen soak: After the sun has risen, make your way to the onsen for a last soak and to wash off the sleep before getting ready to depart from Kyushu to your next destination.