Holiday of 2013: Kyushu, Japan - The Itinerary

Hey everyone! I'd just returned from Japan!!!

First of all, I'm totally sold on the idea that free and easy is the ONLY way to travel, especially if you are going to countries which are not too risky such as Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, UK and US. This is my second time in Japan and I enjoyed it a lot more because it was self-drive and free-and-easy. My husband enjoys driving and even if you don't, Japan is a wonderful country to drive around in as the drivers are courteous and the roads are as smooth as a baby's bottom, even in the countryside!

The plus sides are: Taking your time, visiting places you want to visit and spending more time at each location, taking in the scenery, stopping for a photo opportunity, a more personal interaction with the locals and less group stress. Do I need to say more?

The downside is: Hours and hours of preparation.

I always plan our family/group trips such as to Malacca, Cameron Highlands, Penang, Thailand etc. and so, planning itineraries are nothing new to me. This itinerary took me over 30 hours of research but it was a happy process! That's why I've decided to post this itinerary up which I hope might help YOU in your future planning to Kyushu - specifically, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures. I realized also that tons of people have visit Hokkaido in the winter so there is waaaay more material you can find on the internet if you are going there but there are not much guides available for Kyushu.

Also, I will definitely be writing further blog posts on detailed sights in Kyushu which can't be missed! I will try my best to go through all the juicy details of our trip by sharing beautiful photos and detailed locations in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, this was our intinerary!

5D4N to Discovering Kyushu

Day One:
0830 Arrive at Fukuoka (FUK) Airport.
0930 Take subway to Hakata Station and pick up your car. I highly recommend Toyota Rental which is everywhere in the country. If you have a little free time, be sure to check out the huge shopping mall at Hakata JR Station but don't get lost!
1030 Early brunch at Yanagibashi Rengo Ichiba - it is a hidden gem of a fish market open to the typical Japanese aunties. They get few tourists but certainly welcome them! And you can't get fresher sashimi/seafood elsewhere than here. I recommend the Uni Rice Bowl, fresh oysters and also their Amao Strawberries. Make sure you take away some food because you might miss lunch today (and a midday snack is always welcomed).
1130 Drive to Sakurai Futamigaura to take in the wonderful beach view at Saga Prefecture and a spot of photo-taking.
1230 Drop by Keyano-Oto which is a short drive away from the beach and enjoy the grand view of the strangely shaped rock. There's also a little entrance to a hiking trail where you can enter a romantic forest trail and you can also view the cliffs from a different angle, which I highly recommend. That's the awesome thing about free-and-easy right?
1530 Drive to Karatsu Castle. Along the way, if you see pop-up food trucks selling hot Karatsu burger and ice-cream, you're in luck! If they are not there, you can still enjoy your takeaway lunch at Karatsu castle. Karatsu Castle, although small, is popular because it is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. The autumn/winter look there is a great difference to what we get in Singapore.
1730 Mikaeri no Taki - When you are surrounded by mountains and nature, you are nearly obliged to view a waterfall and there is none more picturesque than Mikaeri. Take plenty of photos too!
1830 Go to Dinner. You can choose to go to Tenjin or Nakasu areas and eat at Yatai stalls (open-air pop-up food stalls along the street) if the weather is good. When you are there, you MUST try their ramen at least once, otherwise you will definitely regret it.
2000 Check into your hotel in Hakata, shower (or enjoy an onsen) and rest!

Day Two:
0830 Breakfast (at hotel)
0930 Pack and Leave for Nagasaki: Okawachiyama - Traditional Porcelain Town. Ever heard of the phrase "A bull in a china shop"? If you are hopelessly clumsy, then keep your hands to yourself because every house you go to contains handcrafted and beautiful porcelain. The amazing thing is, no two shops are alike! Like top artists and craftsmen, they each have their own style and iconic design. Tip: Do ask before you take photos! I personally loved this little quaint town a lot. BONUS Tip: If you are adventurous (and you DO have a car), make use of it and drive slowly and discreetly up into the town towards the houses and have a look around at the way the traditional houses are built there. Some of them looked extremely ancient. There's also a little mountain trail but don't go too far otherwise you might get lost!
1230 Lunch - You could try Shinci Chinatown's Champon and Saraudon but I personally didn't like it as it tastes like Chinese dish gone wrong (sorry Japan!). Another dish that might go down better would be the Turkish Rice (maybe the Turks would disagree) but I found it pretty good!
1330 A trip to Nagasaki won't be complete without going to the Nagasaki Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. So, get there and get it ticked off your checklist. You will also get in touch with your sensitive side *sniff*
1430 For the rest of the afternoon, pick ONE theme park that suits you: Martyrdom of 26 Saints of Japan, Dutch Slope & Glover Garden, Penguin Aquarium, Dejima island etc. There's only time for one! Or if you prefer, take the chance to go shopping at Youme Saito.
1800 For dinner in Nagasaki, you can find excellent seafood restaurants in the area and do try their LIVE squid sashimi. Or if you feel squeemish, try out their Motsunabe, which is like organs hot pot. Okay... that's squeemish too? How about Mentaiko (spicy roe) rice? In my opinion, Fukuoka has an amazing selection of food so you'll definitely not go hungry here.
2000 Drive to Mt Inasa aka Inasayama and don't miss the top three best night view of the world. Be careful that it gets very windy up there (think sub-zero wind chill factor) so come prepared with sturdy camera gear for night shots. My photos didn't turn out great so this tip is for you so you don't make the same mistake!
2100 Check into hotel in Nagasaki, and do whatever you like to clean up and rest. For me, I will go to the onsen any chance I get!

Day Three:
0830 Breakfast (at hotel)
0930 Checkout and leave for Unzen district.
1130 Leave for Unzen Jigoku via Nita Pass. It is a lovely drive through the mountains and close to the summit, you get a multiple lookout points which are all fantastic and gorgeous.
1230 Enjoy lunch at Unzen district.
1330 Take a breath-taking (literally) walk up to the actual "hell" area (you'll get used to the smell). The trail is around 30-45 mins long. You can buy some hotspring-cooked eggs and enjoy it while listening to the bellows of steam pouring out of the Unzen Jigoku. If you have time (see below), do enjoy onsen at one of the hotspring baths opened to the public or you can go for a quick and free foot soak.
1530 Drive to Shimbara to take a ferry to Kumamoto. DO: Google "Ocean Arrow Kumamoto Ferry" to get their departure times, and arrive about 30-40 mins early in order to buy tickets and board the ferry. It sure beats the 3-4 hour drive up the peninsula to Kumamoto. You can buy lots of awesome local products (from the entire Fukuoka-Nagasaki area) - often at discount - at the Ferry Terminal and also have a nice tea break there.
1800 You should have now arrived at Kumamoto, depending on sea conditions. It is a short drive into the town of Kumamoto and you can check into your hotel.
1900 Dinner: You're in luck! Kumamoto is like food heaven. Do try Basashi (raw horse meat), Karashi Renkon, Ramen, Fresh Oysters and you can get all other kinds of Japanese cuisine here.
2030 Check into your Kumamoto hotel. Shower and rest.
2200 If you are into supper, make sure you ask the reception for izakayas around your hotel. I had the best yakitori I've ever had in my life in a little nonedescript izakaya. Don't be afraid to try out new things! (more on this in future blog posts!)


Day Four:
0730 Breakfast at hotel. A little early than usual but it is a pretty long drive back to Fukuoka.
0900 Visit the Kumamoto Castle first and then Hosokawa Mansion. At the castle, you can try the sweet treat: ikinari dango. This castle is just huge! However I enjoyed the smaller Hosokawa Mansion much more. Hosokawa Mansion is a traditional samurai house, kept in exactly the same way in the past, unlike the castle which is a reconstruction. The castle is also filled with tourists and Hosokawa is definitely a hidden gem that tour buses do not stop over. So, I highly recommend a trip down to the Hosokawa Mansion. You can get discounts also if you buy tickets to both attractions.
1130 Early lunch: I had mine at a traditional sushi restaurant that serves sushi over the counter. The chef prepares sushi in front of you and watches you eat! A little initimidating for firstcomers but definitely must-try as tour groups don't usually bring you to sushi counters (which tend to provide a more personal service, the chef serves no more than 4 people at a time.)
1230 It is a long drive back to Fukuoka, about 3 hours. Road conditions are usually fantastic in Japan but Kyushu drivers tend to stick to the speed limit so there's no chance of trying to beat the system in most places!
1530 Since this trip is focused on discovering Kyushu, why not visit the Kyushu National Museum. You will discover many interesting facts and artefacts of Kyushu!
1730 Drop by the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. If this is your first time in a japanese shrine, this place is a real eye-opener! It has a beautiful ancient feel about it and yet very lively as you will see many students there praying for good grades. Outside of the shrine, you will see a couple of shops selling a sweet treat called Umegae-mochi. It is very oishii!!!
1830 Dinner: Since you are back in Fukuoka, try out more of their amazing cuisine! I've listed some on the first day above.
2000 Check into Hakata hotel, rest, wash up... and prepare to miss Japan.


Day Five:
0800 Breakfast
0900 Checkout and leave for airport.

Finally, I want to say, keep it simple and relaxed. Try not to rush about, you are on vacation after all! I can guarantee plenty of pleasant memories even if you don't get to visit all the sightseeing spots. If you wish to extend your tour, I recommend one more day in Kumamoto for sure! There are plenty of other sights to see there and I love the quiet, laidback town. I have no qualms about visiting all the places mentioned above in a different season and experience it all over again! I simply love Japan and hope you enjoyed my intinerary.
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