Only two hours from Tokyo by plane, Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, is a fantastic choice for a two night / three day get-away. Although the sightseeing choices are endless, here is an itinerary that I personally enjoyed and would recommend to those who really enjoy driving. As Kumamoto does not get much snowfall, we took our trip in January. (*Be aware that it does occasionally snow near Mt. Aso). In most other months, Kumamoto will be a lush green.
On Day 1, we took a very early flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Kumamoto Airport. Flights leave Haneda on Solaseed, ANA, or JAL. Jetstar is less expensive, but their flights leave from Narita. Upon arrival at Kumamoto Airport, we picked up our rental car and spent the first part of the day in Kumamoto City. First, visit the Kyu-Hosokawa Gyobutei, a wonderful example of a high ranking samurai’s home.
If you have time, also stop by the Kengun Jinja, Kumamoto City’s oldest shrine. To see more of the shrine, check out my photo story on JapanTravel.com
In the late afternoon, we drove out toward Mt. Aso in order to stay the night in Kurokawa Onsen. One of my favorite ‘mini onsen towns’, there are many wonderful Japanese inns there to choose from. We stayed at the Yama-no-yu Ryokan. This is the bridge to the Shinmei-kan, an inn that is famous for its cave baths.
On Day 2, we spent most of the day sightseeing around Mt. Aso. The Aso Shrine was also heavily damaged during the earthquake, but the town around the shrine is lovely, and they really need the support of tourists. While there, spend some time along Aso Shrine’s Monzen Shopping Street.
Hidden nearby, within walking distance, is the Kyu-jogakko-ato. Formerly a school, it is now a ‘retro’ complex filled with interesting shops and cafes. Don’t miss it!
We then drove along the Aso Panorama Line to the Aso-san Ropeway. It was closed on our visit (and still is) due to the volcanic activity of the mountain. However, it was fascinating to see everything covered in ash, and the nearby landscape is fantastic. There is a observation area not far from the ropeway where you can take some great photos.
*Due to the volcanic activity, it might be a good idea to stop at the Tourist Information Center beside Aso Station before heading up to Mt. Aso. They can tell you if any roads are closed, where it is safe to drive, etc.
No matter what, do not miss the Laputa-no-michi. At the top of this narrow, winding road is one of Japan’s most scenic lookouts.
From the Aso area, we then drove three hours to Amakusa, which consists of a number islands connected by bridges to a peninsula just south of Kumamoto City. After all the driving, we stayed at one of my favorite Japanese hotels, Tenku-no-Fune. Read about the hotel here, and see an example of meals here.
For more ideas on where to go, take a look at other articles/photo stories about Kumamoto on JapanTravel.com – especially those written by Kumamoto expert, Mandy Bartok.