Must see attractions in Kyūshū

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nagasaki

    Peace Park

    A still, serene and deeply moving place, Nagasaki's Peace Park commemorates the atomic bombing of the city on August 9, 1945, which reduced the surrounding area to rubble and claimed tens of thousands of lives. Together with the Atomic Bomb Museum and National Peace Memorial Hall (both a short walk away), this is an essential stop for any visitor who wants to understand how the disaster shaped the city. The green, spacious park is presided over by the 10-tonne bronze Nagasaki Peace Statue, designed in 1955 by Kitamura Seibō. It also includes the dove-shaped Fountain of Peace (1969) and the Peace Symbol Zone, a sculpture garden with contributions on the theme of peace from around the world. Practically adjoining the park to the south is the smaller Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park, with a monument marking the epicentre of the deadly blast. On 9 August a rowdy antinuclear protest is held within earshot of the more formal official memorial ceremony for those lost to the bomb.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nagasaki

    Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

    On 9 August 1945, the world's second nuclear weapon detonated over Nagasaki, and this sombre place recounts the city's destruction and loss of life through photos and artefacts, including mangled rocks, trees, furniture, pottery and clothing, a clock stopped at 11.02 (the time of the bombing), firsthand accounts from survivors, and stories of heroic relief efforts. Exhibits also include the post-bombing struggle for nuclear disarmament, and conclude with a chilling illustration of which nations bear nuclear arms.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nagasaki

    Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims

    Adjacent to the Atomic Bomb Museum and completed in 2003, this minimalist memorial by Kuryū Akira is a profoundly moving place. It's best approached by quietly walking around the sculpted water basin, commemorating those who cried for water in their dying days. In the hall below, 12 'pillars of light', containing shelves of books of the names of the deceased, reach skyward. Listen to survivors' messages and leave your own digital message for peace at 'peace information counters'.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kumamoto


    Dominating the skyline, Kumamoto's robust castle is one of Japan's best, built in 1601–07 by daimyō Katō Kiyomasa, whose likeness is inescapable around the castle (look for the distinctive tall pointed hat). From 1632 it was the seat of the powerful Hosokawa clan. Unfortunately, the castle, many outbuildings and much of the grounds are closed indefinitely due to earthquake damage, but the site is still worth seeing from the street.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nagasaki


    In 1641 the Tokugawa shogunate banished all foreigners from Japan, with one exception: Dejima, a fan-shaped, artificial island in Nagasaki harbour. From then until the 1850s, this tiny, 15,000-sq-metre Dutch trading post was the sole sanctioned foreign presence in Japan. Today the city has filled in around the island and you might be tempted to skip it. Don't. Seventeen buildings, walls and structures (plus a miniature Dejima) have been painstakingly reconstructed.

  • Sights in Aso-san Area


    The Five Mountains of Aso are the smaller mountains within the Aso-san caldera's outer rim: Eboshi-dake (1337m); Kijima-dake (1321m); Naka-dake (1506m); Neko-dake (1408m), furthest east; and the highest, Taka-dake (1592m). Access roads were damaged in the 2016 earthquakes and at the time of writing were in the process of being repaired, although some areas may be closed due to toxic gas emissions.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Takachiho


    One of Shintō's loveliest shrines honours the cave where the goddess Amaterasu hid. The cave itself is off-limits, but Nishi Hongū (the shrine's main building) sits right across the Iwato-gawa. Ask a staff member to show you the viewpoint behind the honden (main hall). Local 'Fureai' buses leave approximately hourly (¥300, 20 minutes) from Takachiho's Miyakō bus centre.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dazaifu

    Dazaifu Tenman-gū

    Among the countless visitors to the grand, sprawling Tenman-gū – shrine and burial place of poet-scholar Tenman Tenjin – are students making offerings and buying amulets in hopes of passing college entrance exams. The hondō (main hall) was rebuilt in 1591. Behind the shrine is the Kankō Historical Museum, with dioramas showing Tenjin's life (an English leaflet provides explanations). Across the grounds, the Dazaifu Tenman-gū Museum has artefacts from his life, including some excellent swords.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kagoshima


    In 1658, the 19th Shimazu lord laid out his pleasure garden on this hilly, rambling bayside property of groves, hillside trails and one of Japan's most impressive pieces of 'borrowed scenery': the fuming peak of Sakurajima. Allow 45 minutes for a leisurely stroll through the garden, and 30 minutes more for a self-guided tour of the 25-room Goten ('the house' on signage), the Shimazu clan's former villa. As sprawling as it is, the villa is now only one-third of its original size!

  • Sights in Nagasaki

    Glover Garden

    Some two dozen former homes of the city's Meiji-period European residents and other important buildings have been reassembled in this beautifully landscaped hillside garden, with breathtaking views across the harbour. Glover Garden is named after Scottish merchant and industrialist Thomas Glover (1838–1911), who built Japan's first railway and helped establish the shipbuilding industry, and whose arms-importing operations influenced the course of the Meiji Restoration.

  • Sights in Nagasaki

    Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park

    A must-see for anyone coming to Nagasaki for its historic significance, this park houses a smooth, black-stone column that marks the point above which the atomic bomb exploded. Nearby are bomb-blasted relics, including a section of the wall of the Urakami Cathedral.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Aso-san Area

    Naka-dake Crater

    Naka-dake (1506m) is Aso's active volcano – very active in recent years, with fatal eruptions in 1958 and 1979, and other significant eruptions in 1989, 1990, 1993 and 2016. Access to the crater area may be closed when there's an increase in volcanic activity, such as dangerous sulphurous-gas emissions. Check the website for current conditions. People with asthma, bronchitis or head colds are advised to stay away.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dazaifu

    Kyūshū National Museum

    Built into the tranquil eastern hills of Dazaifu and reached through more escalators than can be found at the average airport, this striking structure (built 2005) resembles a massive space station and chronicles the cultural flow between Asia and Kyūshū (and, by extension, the rest of Japan). The permanent, 1500-sq-metre 'Cultural Exchange Exhibition' on the 4th floor includes priceless pieces from across the continent; English signage and an audioguide help illuminate it all. A must-visit for architecture and history buffs.

  • Sights in Nichinan Coast & Cape Toi


    Reached via a coastal path, this brightly painted Shintō shrine occupies an open cavern overlooking unusual rock formations in the cove below. In 2017 the Japanese government designated it a site of special scenic beauty. It’s protocol to buy five undama (luck stones; ¥100), make a wish, and try to hit the shallow depression on top of the turtle-shaped rock.

  • Sights in Aoshima

    Aoshima Island

    The first thing you'll notice as you cross the Yayoibashi bridge (120m) to the island of Aoshima is the unique geological feature surrounding it. Called the devil's washboard ( oni no sentaku-ita; 鬼の洗濯板), the rows of rock formations look just like a washboard of centuries ago. They're best viewed at low tide. An estimated 200 plant and animal species (including some 5000 biro palm trees, up to 350 years old) can be found within the island's 1.6km circumference.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Chiran

    Chiran Peace Museum

    There is perhaps no more eloquent monument to the futility of war than this harrowing museum about WWII kamikaze pilots. Around 2km west of town, Chiran’s air base was the point of departure for 1036 WWII tokkō ('special attack forces', as the pilots were formally known), the biggest percentage in the Japanese military. On the base's former site, this large, thought-provoking museum presents aircraft, mementos, photographs and footage of the fresh-faced young men selected for the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Karatsu


    Nicknamed Maizuru-jō (Dancing Crane Castle), this elegantly proportioned white castle (built 1608, rebuilt 1966 and refurbished 2017) is picturesquely perched on a hill overlooking the sea. Inside are antique ceramics, samurai armour and archaeological displays, amid walls lined with Karatsu-yaki (Karatsu pottery) tiles. Download the Karatsu Castle app to scan QR codes for detailed English descriptions of select pieces. The climb up the hill can be a slog, especially in muggy summer heat, but there's a diagonal elevator.

  • Sights in Aso-san Area


    This gorgeous hilltop shrine and 'power spot' was pretty much left alone until it became the model for the set of the popular 2011 anime film Hotarubi no Mori e. It's easy to see why directors chose it. You ascend the approximately 230 (some uneven) steps along a lantern-lined path through an old-growth cedar forest to the main shrine. Continuing uphill (phew!), you eventually reach the ridge and a massive natural stone formation, with an opening (to heaven?) peeking through.

  • Sights in Kunisaki Peninsula


    The sprawling, wooded and water-crossed Usa-jingū, the original of which dates back some 1200 years, is the chief shrine among some 40,000 in Japan dedicated to the warrior-god Hachiman. An audio 'touch pen' guide (¥500), available at the tourist information office near the bus stop, offers detailed descriptions in English. Allow one to two hours to view the entire grounds, up to four hours if you listen to all the audio content.

  • Sights in Aoshima


    This colourful, photogenic shrine on the island of Aoshima is a favourite of visitors seeking luck in love. To the right of the main shrine, a path lined with a few heart-shaped arches leads to a smaller shrine at the island's geographic centre. Next to it are twin palm trees called meoto (female and male) biro. Would-be lovers can purchase brightly coloured strings (¥100) to tie to ropes between the trees as an offering.