Exploring Kumamoto Japan: A Place of Nature and Tradition

Kumamoto Prefecture: A Brief Background and Guide

It is an undeniable fact that Japan has plenty of amazing travel locations. Within its realm of forty-seven prefectures, almost every location has something unique to offer – either on food, historical landmarks, amusement parks, natural sites, onsens, and even crazy nightlife. Among Japan's many prefectures, Kumamoto is a lesser-known travel destination. However, that does not necessarily mean that it has nothing to offer. This article will aim to provide its readers with a couple of reasons why Kumamoto must be included in the next travel itinerary, as well as relevant tips for traveling to Kumamoto.

So what exactly is Kumamoto Prefecture? Obviously, Kumamoto is not as popular as Tokyo, Hokkaido, Fukuoka, or even the remote island of Okinawa. Its land area is relatively small as well, compared to other Japanese prefectures. It is situated in the southwestern part of Japan and on the west side of Kyushu island. At the dawn of the Meiji Restoration, the province of Higo was officially renamed to Kumamoto, which meant "origin of the bear" in Japanese.

Additional Information: Kumamoto Japan's Zip Code and Railway Map

While being on the far side of Kyushu Island, Kumamoto is still accessible through Japan's state of the art rail systems. Both the subway and bullet train system has made it easier to travel to Kumamoto despite its far location. The following rail systems are present within the Kumamoto area: JR Kyushu Railway, Kyushu Shinkansen, Kagoshima Line, Hohi Line, Hisatsu Line, Misumi Line, Kumamoto Electric Railway, Kumagawa Railroad, South Aso Railway and Hisatsu Orange Railway. Upon seeing this list, it may seem too excessive, however, it is quite normal in Japan to have interlocked railway systems from different providers as this makes traveling to and from other locations an easy feat. For those who are looking into traveling to Kumamoto, it is easy to find maps or guides all over the internet on the railways connected to and from Kumamoto.

For those who are interested in sending any package to an address within Kumamoto Prefecture, it is quite easy to find the exact zip code of any address within the area. A lot of websites have intensive lists of zip codes for all the towns under the Kumamoto Prefecture. Thanks to the power of Internet, almost anyone has access to that information.

Recent News: 2016 Earthquake Shook Kumamoto Japan

A little less than a year ago, Kumamoto, Japan gained worldwide popularity and their area was plastered all over news sites, and shows. Unfortunately, the reason for this situation is a tragic series of earthquakes that shook Kumamoto prefecture. This is one of the most severe quakes that Japan experienced in the recent years. Due to Japan's natural geographical location, the country has been experiencing several earthquakes, with a high magnitude one occurring within one or two year's interval. This was attributed to the movement of oceanic plates that surround Japan.

Five years earlier, Japan experienced a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that caused massive damage and had a death toll of almost twenty thousand, known as the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake was nowhere near the tragic earthquake five years prior, however, an earthquake is still an earthquake. With the main shock recorded at 7.0 magnitude and a foreshock earthquake at 6.2 magnitudes, there was still serious damage brought about by this earthquake. Fatalities were recorded at fifty persons, but injuries spanned to more than three thousand people. During that time, Kumamoto was declared to be in a state of calamity.

The whole duration of the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake was two days, this was a common occurrence in Japan wherein a foreshock, the main shock, and succeeding aftershocks ranged into days. In between the two days, Kumamoto Prefecture (along with Oita Prefecture), experienced chaos as structures collapsed and individuals were trapped within rubbles. The capital city, Kumamoto City, had zero water supply as an aftermath of the earthquake. Airport and bullet train operations were ceased for a period after the earthquake as well, with the shinkansen tracks experiencing damage as well.

Aside for the fatalities, another saddening impact of the Kumamoto Earthquake of 2016 was the damage that this had brought to the historical sites that were located in the area. For one, the Aso Shrine, which was one of the preserved cultural sites within Kumamoto, had extensive damage from the earthquake. Several facilities of the shrine collapsed completely. Another significant historical site that was not spared from this earthquake was the Kumamoto Castle, which takes pride as one of the grandest castles in Japan. The only upside is that there were no areas that collapsed completely within the castle, and the damage was mostly on exterior walls and roofing.

Overall, the whole Kumamoto Earthquake incident caused damages that result into billions of dollars. The estimated value for all the damages ranged for $ 5.5 B to $ 7.5 B. Luckily, the insurance system of Japan is more organized than most countries. Within a couple of months, more than half of the insurance claims were already settled.

Travel Tips: Things To Do in Kumamoto, Japan

Upon visiting Japan, one would easily find that each area offers a unique experience for its tourists. This also applies to tourists headed to Kumamoto. This section will go through almost every must-visit location or must-try activity within the prefecture.

For those who are looking for more than just a scenic view, and want to actually engage in physical activities, Lake Ezuko offers both. The area itself is beautiful, and tourists may just opt to take photos of the natural surroundings. However, there are also several recreational activities being offered for the more adventurous ones. A variety of water-related sports is available for those who are up for stretching a bit of muscle.

While water sports may not be appealing for some, taking a relaxing hot bath is definitely for everyone. Japan is known for having hundreds (or even thousands) of onsens scattered within the nation. Almost every prefecture has a couple of onsens or an onsen village present. The same case applies to Kumamoto as well. However, it is worth noting that the onsens in Kumamoto are not just relaxing, but they also provide an old world vibe of the beautiful Japan back in the days. It's like hitting two birds with one stone: both a cultural experience of bathing in a traditional onsen at an old Japanese setting, as well as an opportunity to unwind and relax. Surely, no one can pass this up.

When it comes to cultural experience, however, nothing quite beats visiting Kumamoto Castle. As one of the three biggest castles in Japan, its opulence is definitely worth seeing in person. Having experienced hundreds of years of feudal wars, and evolution of culture, visiting the Kumamoto Castle can make anyone feel like he or she is back in Japan’s olden days. The architecture alone is already stunning, as government efforts have successfully preserved the structure and reinforced it with new material in order to stand the test of time longer. During cherry blossom season, the surroundings are covered with beautiful pink and white leaves. The interiors are equally amazing as well, with old underground passages preserved to this day. The grand rooms inside have also been preserved for public viewing. It comes to no surprise that this castle is one of the top two tourist destinations of Kumamoto.

A less grand but still culturally significant location that lies within Kumamoto is the Hosokawa Residence. Back in the feudal age, the Hosokawa were a powerful family that controlled the area. This area has been preserved well in order for people to view and experience how the elite families lived back then. The structure has preserved the old-school zen type homes in Japan, but of course, this was a bit grander since it housed a prominent family.

The Hosokawa family's influence was so strong a couple of hundred years ago, that they commissioned man-made garden that still stands to this day. The Suinzenji Garden, though closer to Kumamoto station than the castle unlike the Hosokawa residence, features a vast expanse of open land that is covered with greenery, surrounding a big pond in the middle. It is a beautiful location for taking peaceful walks while enjoying the green-filled surroundings.

The other famous tourist destination in Kumamoto was the Aso Shrine, which is perhaps one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. It is another example of a preserved structure from Japan's olden days. Unfortunately, the Aso Shrine experienced extensive damage from the earthquake that hit Kumamoto in April of 2016. This has caused several areas of the shrine to completely collapse. Tourists should not fret since there are other alternative itinerary worthy locations in Kumamoto.

There is no doubt that Kumamoto Prefecture offers premium tourist locations for those who are interested in seeing Japanese culture, architecture, and design – thanks to the preserved cultural heritage sites within the area. However, their offering on natural locations such as lakes, hot springs, gardens, and even a mountain, are also worth seeing when taking a trip to Kumamoto.

More Travel Tips: Food To Eat in Kumamoto, Japan

Of course, no one could travel to Japan without having a gastronomic experience. It is known for a fact that Japanese food is delicious. There are various regional offerings within Kumamoto that one must consider trying. For example, Kumamoto's regional cuisine features delectable yakitori style skewers made from taro, fresh fish or tofu.  These have been popular snacks in Kumamoto, particularly in the area surrounding Mt. Aso. The skewers are grilled directly on a charcoal powered grill and are best enjoyed with a side of miso sauce.

Kumamoto region also takes pride in having their own regional variant of ramen. However, one would find that the ramen style there is very similar to the traditional ramen style in most of Japan. Imagine sipping into a rich broth, filled with thick noodles that are cooked into just the right amount of firmness. It is mouth-watering to think about. Kumamoto Ramen also features hints of garlic flavor, coming from the presence of dried garlic chips as well as oil from cooked garlic. This just brings the flavor to another notch, as it melds the taste of the broth, vegetables, and the Tamago together.  A unique regional offering, in a slightly different format, is the Dagojiru. The soup base of the Dagojiru closely resembles soy-miso based ramen, however, there are no noodles present in this dish. Instead, there are bits of flat dumplings and vegetables to make an interesting medley of tastes.

For those who are into exotic food, Kumamoto has their own offering on weird food to try. Those who are brave enough to try it may find basashi quite appetizing. Upon first glance, Kumamoto's basashi looks extremely similar to the famed Japanese sashimi. However, the only similarity between the two is that they are both raw meat. Sashimi is usually made from raw seafood, while basashi is made from raw horsemeat. The combination of horse meat and raw can be a terrifying concept for others. However, foodies who have tried this previously rave about this delicacy, because it is both unique and delicious – not to mention, low on cholesterol.

Even More Travel Tips: Understanding Kumamoto, Japan's Climate and Weather Forecasts

Any smart tourist would know that looking into weather forecasts is a definite must while traveling to a foreign land. This avoids plenty of hassles such as packing weather-inappropriate clothes, dissatisfaction due to canceled plans, or even serious health issues due to exposure to the heat or cold. Topographical locations are also a consideration when checking locations since there are areas that are naturally hot or cold.

Tourists who are traveling to Kumamoto must know one sure fact: it is hotter here than the rest of Japan. With Kumamoto situated at the very bottom of Japan (along with Miyazaki and Kagoshima), it is closer to the equator than most of the other prefectures. Naturally, there are months in Kumamoto that could get quite hot, especially for those who are accustomed to colder climates. The official term for Kumamoto's climate is "humid subtropical climate", and this also applies to neighboring prefectures within Kyushu region. In layman's terms, this means that Kumamoto experiences both hot and cool days.

With that said, those who are not particularly fond of hot, humid weather may want to steer clear from June and August, wherein the temperature can get really hot at approximately 28 to 32 degrees Celsius. During these months, the temperature can even shoot up to a level of 38 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, the coldest period in Kumamoto annually is between December to February where the temperature is approximately 10 to 13 degrees Celsius. In between, the temperature gradually increases from March, April, and May, and decreases during September, October, and November.

Since Kumamoto is a coastal location, another important thing to note is precipitation. With that said, it does rain quite a lot in Kumamoto, so tourists must know beforehand to equip themselves with umbrellas, jackets, and footwear that can survive rain showers.  It is particularly rainy during the months of June and July, so do note that as well.

 Meanwhile, it is hard to pinpoint the exact weather on a day-to-day basis. Of course, basic knowledge of geography and climate can help one to be prepared. However, another good travel tip is to look at weather forecasts for the duration of the trip. It may not be a solid 100% accurate, but it was crafted with a lot of scientific data so it is still better than coming in unprepared. For this purpose, websites like Accuweather come in really hand. Smartphones are even equipped already with custom apps to predict day to day weather forecasts.

One Last Travel Tip: Picking the Best Hotels in Kumamoto, Japan

To conclude this article, one final tip that readers must always inculcate within their mind is to wisely pick a hotel when traveling. It is the next most important thing, next to booking flight tickets. There are several considerations to make, such as the proximity of the hotel from public transportation. Naturally, the best choices for picking a hotel are within a few km away from train stations. This would allow easy travel to different areas within the prefecture, or even outside.

For those who are looking to stay in the main business and shopping district of Kumamoto, Hotel Nikko might be an ideal choice. It also gets plus points for being conveniently located close to the Kumamoto Castle. Plenty of reviews all over the Internet show mostly positive feedback about this hotel. The rooms are spacious and roomy, and the facilities of the hotel are decent, though it is best not to expect luxury hotel level of amenities.

However, the hotel does fall on the pricier. Budget travelers, such as young adults, may bank on the popularity of hostels. One of the most popular hostels worth checking out in the Kumamoto region is Dyeing and Hostel Nakashimaya, which specifically targets budget young adult travelers. Interestingly, this hostel does target young adults specifically, as they have an age limit of 49 years old for their guests.

Regardless of where one would stay, whether it is a spacious hotel or a budget-friendly hostel, the important thing is to plan everything ahead of time to make sure that the itinerary can be executed properly so that the trip can be enjoyed without any hassle.