Kumamoto is the capital city of Kumamoto Prefecture and is located on the west coast of Kyushu Island. While many travellers may not know much about Kumamoto, the city has many historical temples and shrines, including one of the top three premier castles in Japan. Moreover, you can see all the best attractions in Kumamoto in one day!
Besides all the tourist attractions in the city, there are many things to see beyond Kumamoto City. One of the top things to do in Kumamoto is visiting Mount Aso as a day trip. And it is not complicated at all to visit the active volcano, you can even visit the volcano without a car.
So if you want to visit a castle, temples, museums, Japanese gardens and sample some of the best cuisines in Kyushu, then follow my 1-day Kumamoto itinerary!
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Table of Contents
Kumamoto Day Trip: What you need to know
Before starting your Kumamoto itinerary, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of information including how to get around Japan and other travel tips.
Here are a few additional travel tips that you may find useful for spending a day in Kumamoto City:
- SUGOCA is the prepaid IC card for Kyushu. It is a rechargeable smartcard where you can take public transportation including bus, train and etc.
- You can see all the attractions in Kumamoto in 1 day
- Walking is the best way to see most attractions in Kumamoto
- Kumamoto City Tram can take you to major attractions like Kumamoto Castle, Suizen-ji Jojien Garden and many more places. Each ride costs ¥170 or buy the one day pass for ¥500 or use SUGOCA.
How to get to Kumamoto Japan
Aso Kumamoto Airport is 17km from Kumamoto City. However, only domestic flights fly into the small airport. If you are flying internationally, you may have to fly into Fukuoka Airport, Kagoshima Airport or other major airports in Japan.
But if you are flying into Aso Kumamoto Airport, you can take an airport limousine bus directly into the city.
- Airport limousine bus: from Aso Kumamoto Airport to Kumamoto Station (45 minutes; ¥800). Check Kyushu Bus website for timetable and fares
Fukuoka to Kumamoto
- Kyushu Shinkansen: from JR Hakata Station to Kumamoto Station (40 minutes; ¥5,030 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
Kagoshima to Kumamoto
- Kyushu Shinkansen: from Kagoshima-chuo Station to Kumamoto Station (56 minutes; ¥6,870 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
Map: Best Things to Do in Kumamoto Japan
Most Kumamoto attractions are within the city centre so it is possible to see Kumamoto in one day. Especially when most attractions are in walkable distance or you can take the efficient city tram.
I pinned all the top things to do in Kumamoto on the interactive map below. Red pins are all the must-see attractions on the Kumamoto day trip, green pins are other things to see outside Kumamoto City, and yellow pins are Kumamoto accommodations.
Kumamoto 1-Day Itinerary: What to See in One Day
1, 2, 3, & 4. Kumamoto Castle
Built in the early 1600s, Kumamoto Castle is one of the best castles in Japan, along with Himeji Castle in Himeji, and Matsumoto Castle in Nagano. The main palace is six stories high while the smaller tower is four stories high. And 13 different structures on the premise are designated as important cultural properties.
Along with the main castle, also look for Kato Shrine, Kumamato-jo Inari Shrine, and the impressive Honmaru Goten Palace.
However, Kumamoto Castle suffered a lot of damages from the earthquake in 2016. The main towers and other buildings in the castle complex suffered severe damages; many walls crumbled and roofs collapsed.
Kumamoto Castle requires extensive repair and is closed to the public at the moment. During your visit, you may only see a small part of the damaged castle which be seen from the perimeter of the castle ground.
As of June 1, 2020, construction continues but there is an elevated walkway (¥500 to enter) where you can see parts of the inner castle ground. But all the buildings remain closed.
5. Honmyo-ji Temple
Located on a hillside, Honmyo-ji Temple is one of the best temples in Kumamoto where you can see a great view of the city.
Take the tram to Honmyo-ji Temple and walk up a flight of stairs until you reach the Niomon Gate, a giant guardian gate made with concrete. The function of the large gate is similar to Nio statues, guardian statues protecting the temple from evil spirits and demons.
Also look for the Chuomon Gate (middle gate), the main temple, and walk all the way to the top to Honmyoji Park and see a gorgeous view of the city. At the top of the hill is Kato Kiyomasa‘s grave. He was a fierce warrior and was responsible for the rebuild of both Kumamoto Castle and Nagoya Castle.
6. Sakuranobaba Johsaien Castle Town
At the base of Kumamoto Castle is a popular tourist attraction called Sakuranobaba Johsaien Castle Town.
Newly opened in 2011, there is a shopping arcade with 23 shops selling souvenirs uniquely to Kumamoto, a tourist information centre, and an interactive historical display where you can learn about Kumamoto’s history. And if you are hungry, sample a few snacks where you can only find in Kumamoto.
7. Eat Kumamoto Ramen at Kokutei
Kumamoto ramen uses thicker noodles, unlike Hakata ramen in Fukuoka. The broth is made with tonkotsu pork, similar to Hakata ramen but has hints of chicken broth in it as well.
What differentiates Kumamoto ramen from other types of ramen is the addition of kogashi garlic. The aromatic garlic flavour is injected into the broth as it is sprinkled on top of the ramen.
Try a bowl of Tamago-iri ramen ¥900 at Kokutei. The restaurant specializes in Kumamoto ramen since 1957. A bowl of Tamago-iri ramen includes two eggs, chashu (roast pork), black Chinese mushrooms, seaweed, kogashi garlic, green onions and of course, thick ramen noodles in tonkotsu broth.
Make sure you slurp the noodles as loud as you can. It is considered to be polite to slurp! It means the noodle is delicious!
8. Suizen-ji Jojuen Garden
One of the main highlights of Kumamoto is the Suizen-ji Jojuen Garden.
The big Japanese garden with a beautiful lake was built in the 17th-century. Each tree, pond, and every other detail was carefully designed. The garden represents parts of the 53 stations of the Tokaido, a vital road from Edo to Kyoto. Part of the garden includes a miniature landscape of Mt. Fuji.
While you are there, enjoy Japanese tea at the teahouse.
Admission for the garden is ¥400.
9. Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto (CAMK)
Since opening in 2002, the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto (CAMK) displays modern contemporary Japanese artwork and features artists from Kumamoto and Kyushu Island.
While the museum changes the exhibitions from time to time, there are permanent displays including the ceiling lighting artwork by James Turrell and glass installation artwork under the staircase by Yayoi Kusama.
Check the CAMK website for information about the latest exhibition.
Admission is ¥1,000.
10. Try other Kumamoto food
Just because you are travelling on your own, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the local specialties. Eating solo is very common in Japan!
For dinner, try some of the local Kumamoto food, including:
- Taipinyen – a large bowl of vermicelli in soup with lots of vegetables, with either pork or chicken broth, various toppings like crab meat, pork, mushrooms, egg, corn, etc. Taipinyen can only be found in Kumamoto. Kourantei Shimotori makes a delicious bowl of Taipinyen.
- Dagojiru – flat dumplings in a broth made of soy sauce and miso, served with daikon, carrots and vegetables.
- Red Wagyu Donburi – a rice bowl topped with red wagyu beef raised in Aso, Kumamoto.
- Basashi – tender pieces of raw horse meat sashimi, a popular Kumamoto regional dish.
- Ikinari Dango – sweet dumplings with yams, red beans, and wrapped in thin dough made with wheat flour. They can be made on the spot and its a Kumamoto favourite!
- Homare no Jindaiko – a gelatin snack with red bean paste from Hokkaido. The dessert treat is packaged in a tin container and is great as a souvenir.
11. Shimotori Shopping Arcade
Your friends and family must be so jealous of your trip to Japan. So why not bring back a few souvenirs for them?
A great place to shop is the Shimotori Shopping Arcade, where you will find over 511 meters of the covered shopping street. It is the largest shopping arcade in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Many major Japanese cities have an old-style covered shopping street called shotengai. And in Kumamoto, you will find everything you want in these shopping arcades. Many Kumamoto souvenirs have the Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture, on the packaging. You will see Kumamon almost everywhere in Kumamoto!
There are also restaurants and bars in the shopping arcade. It is a great place to end your day in Kumamoto.
Kumamoto: Things to Do outside of the city
Mount Aso is an active volcano in Kumamoto Prefecture. At the highest peak, Mount Nakadake, it has one of the world’s largest caldera, a volcanic crater. The crater measures 25 kilometres and has a circumference of over 100 kilometres. Within the crater, it has emerald green hot water.
However, due to continuous volcanic activity, it may or may not be possible to see the crater up-close. Check the latest condition and see if it is possible to see the crater.
But even if you can’t see the crater, there are many hiking trails on the mountain. Plus you can ride horses during the warmer months at Kusasenro-ga-hama, which is just next to the Aso Volcano Museum.
All of these activities make the perfect Kumamoto day trip. And you can visit Mount Aso without a car!
Where to Stay in Kumamoto as a solo traveller
There are excellent accommodations near Kumamoto Station and in the centre of the city, which may be more convenient.
However, budget accommodation isn’t very cheap in Kumamoto. Expect to pay at least ¥2,700 per night for a bunk bed. But the bunk bed is very comfortable and clean.
- Hotel The Gate Kumamoto ($) – A hotel designed for business people. Get a single room (either an upper bunk or lower bunk) but with your own private area. The bathroom is super clean, and the space is tranquil, especially for a hostel type accommodation. Your “room” comes with a locker, and they clean your bed and change your towels daily. Located near Kumamoto Station.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Dormy Inn Kumamoto Natural Hot Spring ($$) – Get a double room with your private bathroom at a popular chain hotel in Japan. The best part about staying at Dormy Inn is the indoor and outdoor hot spring bath and sauna facilities. You can even get a massage at the hotel. Walking distance to the shopping street and tram.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
Are you going to follow my Kumamoto one day itinerary?
And there you have it – all the best things to do in Kumamoto City! And best of all, you can see all the attractions in one day by following my efficient Kumamoto 1-day itinerary.
Let me know what you think of this one day itinerary or if you have any suggestions to make it better.
Thank you for reading my Kumamoto itinerary post
You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan:
Introduction to Japan
- Solo Travel to Japan: 17 best cities for solo travellers
- Things I wish I knew before going to Japan
- 11 Off-the-beaten-path places in Japan
- Japanese Food Culture: 11 must-try food
- One month in Japan: from Tokyo to Hiroshima
- 10-day Kyushu Island itinerary
- 25 Best things to do in Fukuoka Japan
- Day trip to Dazaifu from Fukuoka
- Day trip to Mount Aso from Kumamoto
- 11 Top things to do in Kagoshima Japan
- 1-5 day Okinawa itinerary without a car
- Where to stay in Naha Okinawa: 6 boutique hotels
- Okinawa food guide: 26 best food