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Top 5 Places in Kumamoto I’ll Miss the Most

As you read this, my house is in shambles.

I’m assuming so at least, since I have set this blog to auto-post. (And the rest of the week’s posts as well. Hello, hotel living.) Today is the day the movers come. The internet has been unplugged, the fridge has been emptied, the furniture wrapped and the possessions crated. By this time of the day, reality must be hitting. I’m leaving. It’s here. I am actually leaving.

And I am heartbroken.

Oh, part of me is psyched. I love Tokyo and I am SO very excited to start our new adventure there. But Kyushu has been good to me. I’ve loved my three years here and there are many MANY places I will miss. But the five below are those that have made the deepest impression.

So here is my “love letter” to the Kumamoto countryside, counted down to the place I’ll miss the most.

5. Mt Aso

Mt Aso

Mt Aso

I can see Mt Aso from my house. (And unlike some politicians who can claim to see Russia, this claim is true. 😛 ) As I drive my daughter to preschool every day I am faced with the smudge of the five peaks of Aso on the near horizon. I have explored it from all its sides – hiking Tawarayama in the south, witnessing the fire festival to the north and peering into the crater itself before recent eruptions made it off-limits. Rare is it to live in a city and be a 30-minute drive from the mountains, a fact I will sorely miss in Tokyo.

4. Kikuchi Gorge

Kikuchi Gorge

Kikuchi Gorge

I hear Kikuchi Gorge is at its best in autumn, when the leaves are changing and the gorge is aflame. I have only ever seen it in the summertime but when it is cloaked in green, it is equally attractive. Here is a spot of beauty with easy trails, few crowds (at least in summer) and captivating river scenes at every turn. If it were more accessible via public transportation, it would be mobbed.

3. Yamaga

Yamaga's Winter Lantern Festival

Yamaga’s Winter Lantern Festival

My first visit to Yamaga was for the winter lantern festival. My second, too. And while I did indeed return for a third straight year, I also managed to visit the city in the daylight hours. It has a beautifully-walkable main street, lined with old shops, sake breweries and new cafes. It has a storied theater with a stunning interior that showcases traditional kabuki performances and the local lantern dance at certain times of year. And on the outskirts, you’ll find flower gardens, onsen and old underground tumulus mounds. Yamaga keeps me coming back in every season but I know this winter, I’ll feel the strongest pull to return for a fourth time to my favorite festival in Japan.

2. Gokanosho

Momigi Suspension Bridge in Gokanosho

Momigi Suspension Bridge in Gokanosho

Kyushu isn’t talked up for its autumn leaves and that’s a shame. Or perhaps to my benefit. Because it means that the fiery forests of Gokanosho remain virtually empty of tourists. The roads here require a lot of courage (I’ve never driven anywhere with narrower lanes) but the payoff is huge. Hidden villages, impressive waterfalls, suspension bridges and the most photogenic fall foliage spots on the island.

1. Kurokawa Onsen

Open-air bath at Kurokawa Onsen

Open-air bath at Kurokawa Onsen

Did you know that Kurokawa Onsen has about 20 outdoor baths? After my first trip here, I made it a goal to try them all. I almost succeeded. What kept bringing me back? The atmosphere of the village, the host of amazing hot springs, the myriad cafes scattered in the surrounding woods, the natural scenery, the nearby mountains … shall I go on? Have you ever visited a place that just makes your heart sing as soon as you arrive? I know there will be others, but Kurokawa Onsen will always have a special place in my memory.

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As the move progresses, there may be a lack of entries on the blog on occasion. As I get back up and running again in Tokyo, I’ll share some of the new discoveries from our long (leisurely :P) drive to our new city.

6 thoughts on “Top 5 Places in Kumamoto I’ll Miss the Most

    • Thank you for the well wishes and the reassurance that maybe, the mountains won’t be too unreachable for city dwellers! We’ve become quite spoiled living 20-30 minutes from Mt Aso!

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