Kumamoto Travel Guide
A classic castle town popular among tourists for decades, Kumamoto was devastated to see its landmark fortification crumble in an earthquake that occurred in 2016.
Despite this, there is more to this city than that. With a stunning garden, a stately samurai mansion, and a painfully cute mascot, this place is a must-see on a trip to Kyushu.
Come check out our Kumamoto travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Kumamoto, Japan.
As home to one of the twelve remaining original castles of Japan, it is imperative you make Kumamoto Castle the first stop on your tour of Kumamoto. Although it was badly damaged in a 2016 earthquake, viewing the exterior of this castle makes a trip to Kumamoto well worth the effort.
The first piece of the castle set to be reopened will be the plaza – it will be open during the Rugby World Cup, which is scheduled to take place between October 5-14. After that, it will be open on Sundays and national holidays.
The main keep is slated to be ready for visitors by 2021, but the rest of the grounds may take 20 years to be fully restored to its former glory. Be sure to drop by the grounds in spring, as the cherry trees planted around its perimeter create a festive atmosphere at this time.
The lords that once inhabited Kumamoto Castle depended on the defence provided by samurai warriors. Take is the former abode of one of these fighters by visiting the Former Hosokawa Mansion. Unlike the castle, this quiet manor is a peaceful spot, getting a fraction of the visitors.
From its simple yet dignified rooms to its elegantly-cultivated courtyard garden, it is well worth getting a combo ticket to see this place despite its distance from the castle grounds.
Take in some of the best visual works from Japan’s best creatives – stop by the Contemporary Art Museum of Kumamoto during your time in town. Within this modern structure, you’ll find works from famed local Nobumichi Ideno, as well as contemporary art luminaries like James Turrell, Marina Abramović, and Tatsuo Miyajima.
Have kids? Drop them off in the factory workshop area, where they will have fun learning to create their own contemporary masterpieces.
Fans of religious points of interest will want to ensure that Kato Shrine is on their travel itinerary during their visit to Kumamoto. It is here where the spirit of Kato Kiyomasa, lord of Kumamoto in the 14th and 15th centuries, is enshrined.
While the usual assortment of relics, documents, and torii gates can be found here, it is especially worth coming here if you are visiting Kumamoto around the 4th of July. It is at this time when the shrine’s annual festival, Seishoko Matsuri, is held. At this time, children dress up like Kato Kiyomasa and go on a parade through the town.
While Kumamoto Castle is mostly closed to visitors thanks to the 2016 earthquake, Suizenji Jojuen Garden, a noted landscape garden, has been restored enough to reopen to the public. Built by the Hosokawa family in the 1600s, it was constructed to represent the Tokaido Road, an important artery during the Edo Period that connected the city of Edo with Kyoto.
The attention to detail is stunning, as there is a sculpted mound that is meant to resemble Mount Fuji. The Kokin-Denju-no-Ma tea house, which was relocated from Kyoto to this garden in 1912, is an amazing spot to enjoy some tea before heading off sightseeing elsewhere in Kumamoto.
Japan is known for its cartoon characters, which accentuate a cultural aspect known as kawaii. While in Kumamoto, be sure to drop by Kumamon Square. This ‘office’ is home to Kumamon, a cartoon bear whose job is to promote Kumamoto throughout Japan and around the world.
Found on the first floor of Tsuruya Department Store in the core of Kumamoto, you’ll get to see the office where all the magic happens, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch him, Kumamon himself. Round out your visit by picking up some souvenirs at the gift shop – it’s filled with very cute items that will have your Asiaphile friends squealing with delight.
Weather not cooperating? While away a rainy day within the protective dome of Shimotori Shotengai. A shopping arcade situated in the centre of Kumamoto, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars to keep you busy all day and night – if you time your visit right, you may get to witness a music or art event, which both occur here on a semi-regular basis.
Tuckered out from a long day of sightseeing in Kumamoto? Sit down on a bench and relax at Suizenji Ezuko Park. Surrounding the scenic shores of Lake Ezu, there are opportunities to bike, boat, and walk in this green gem.