Depart Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, by Shinkansen bullet train and travel to Kumamoto, a journey of approximately 45 minutes.
After arriving in Kumamoto, head to Kumamoto Castle, the symbol of the city.
The castle, which has a history of over 400 years, was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2016. However, thanks to restoration work, it has been possible to visit the castle tower since April 2021.
The castle has 49 turrets and a circumference of 5.3 kilometers. It was built with what was, at the time, cutting-edge technology and was considered to be impregnable.
Enjoy a lunch of Honmaru gozen, a cuisine that dates back to the samurai era. Aoyagi has its own distinguished history as a Kumamoto restaurant and makes generous use of locally sourced ingredients.
In the afternoon, visit Suizenji Joju-en, a kaiyushiki tei-en, or “strolling garden,” created by the lord of Kumamoto Castle. The garden uses natural spring water that flows from Mt. Aso into Kumamoto. In the front of the garden, there is a artificial mountain that resembles Mount Fuji, a symbol of Japan.
Accommodation for the evening is at Kumamoto Castle Hotel.
Conveniently located in the center of the city, Kumamoto Castle Hotel is a Kumamoto landmark. Its past guest list includes members of the Imperial Household. The views of Kumamoto Castle from the hotel are stunning.
Leave the hotel in the morning and head to Kumamoto Station.
Board sightseeing train Aso Boy and travel to Aso, a journey of approximately 90 minutes.
Note how the splendid Aso scenery unfolds as you leave the city behind. There are a number of switchbacks along the way to allow for the change in altitude.
The first stop after arriving at Aso is Aso Shrine.
Said to be 2,300 years old, the shrine has played an important role in the lives of the local communities since it founding. Spend a moment here praying for the safety of your travels.
From the shrine, head to the popular grass-covered plateau of Kusasenri-ga-hama. As you pass through the pastures, which have been reworked for millennia, look out for “akaushi,” the famous Japanese Brown cattle of Kumamoto.
At Kusasenri-ga-hama, enjoy views of the active volcano Nakadake and the sight of horses being ridden.
Nakadake is your next destination. At the sight of smoke rising out of the volcano it is easy here to imagine the Earth as a living organism.
* Volcanic activity may prevent a visit to the Nakadake crater itself.
In the afternoon, stroll around a local village and spend time with the people who live there, observing how their lives coexist with nature.
Accommodation for the evening is at Aso Plaza Hotel in the Uchinomaki onsen area within the Aso caldera. The panoramic views of Mt. Aso from the guestrooms and communal baths are stunning.
Start the day with an exclusive breakfast.
Breakfast on the Tagoyama mountaintop is limited to Aso Plaza Hotel guests and must be reserved in advance. Enjoy breakfast while marveling at Mt. Aso.
*If you are staying at another hotel, you can enjoy views from the Daikanbo mountaintop. Breakfast is not included.
After breakfast, stop by Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi, Japan's largest pedestrian suspension bridge. Located in the Kuju mountain range, the bridge has a span of 390 meters.
In the afternoon you arrive at Beppu, the world's No. 1 hot spring resort city. Enjoy a tour of the city’s geothermal hotspots, known as the “Hells of Beppu.” These include Umi Jigoku (“ocean hell”) and Chi-no-ike Jigoku (“pool of blood hell”).
Take the Beppu Ropeway aerial lift to the top of Mt. Tsurumi for an unbroken view of Beppu.
Accommodation for the night is at ANA Intercontinental Beppu Resort & Spa, which opened in 2019. All rooms have balconies and beautiful bamboo furnishings.
Spend a relaxing morning bathing in the hotel’s hot springs or those within the city itself.
Once rejuvenated, visit the Beppu City Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center to see the celebrated bamboo artistry of Oita Prefecture. No other prefecture produces more bamboo than Oita. The traditional skills have been handed down through the generations.
Lunch is at Otto e Sette Oita, a recipient of a “Food Sustainable Award” through its commitment to SDGs. Almost all ingredients used are locally sourced, while hot spring water, steam and heat are used for cooking.
After lunch, head to Beppu Station and return to Hakata by train.
Kumamoto, where the eminent swordsman Miyamoto Musashi spent his last years, has a flourishing martial arts scene. Consider spending time at the Shimada Museum of Art, where portraits of Miyamoto and his swords are on show, or visit Reigando, a cave where Miyamoto trained and meditated. You can also take part in a traditional archery workshop that is not available in either Tokyo or Kyoto.
If you love the wind in your hair and the feel of nature, then jump on an e-bike. (Different course are available to match individual physical strengths.)
We also recommend staying at a ryokan, or traditional inn, at Kurokawa Onsen or spending the night at KAI Aso.
Also available are cruises of Beppu Bay aboard a pleasure cruiser operated by ANA Intercontinental Beppu Resort & Spa.
Art lovers should make a beeline for Galleria Midobaru, which mostly exhibits the work of local artists.
Pottery enthusiasts will love the Onta ware studios in the city of Hita.
One of the largest volcanoes in the world, Mount Aso was formed by a series of eruptions over a huge timespan. The mountain is located in the center of Kyushu and is a symbol of the region.
Mt. Aso has erupted a number of times over the past 270,000 years and has long been an object of worship. It is a natural wonder around which communities thrive, their traditions, ways of life and culture passed down through the generations.
As you tour the region, which attracted further international attention when it hosted matches during the 2019 Rugby World Cup, enjoy these many human elements and the spectacular nature.