Last Updated on April 5, 2021 by queenie mak
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 Kumamoto attractions in the same 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 erupting 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 one-day Kumamoto itinerary!
Related Post – Kyushu 10 day itinerary: from Fukuoka to Kagoshima
What you need to know before visiting Kumamoto
Before you visit Kumamoto, 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 additional travel tips that you may find useful for travelling to Kumamoto:
- 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.
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How to get to Kumamoto
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.
From Airport to Kumamoto
- Airport limousine bus: from Aso Kumamoto Airport to Kumamoto Station
- Time: 45 minutes
- Cost: ¥800
- Check Kyushu Bus website for timetable and fares
And if you are coming from Fukuoka or Kagoshima, taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) is the fastest way to get to Kumamoto. Check Hyperdia for schedules and fares. Here are a few sample routes below.
From Fukuoka to Kumamoto
- Kyushu Shinkansen: from JR Hakata Station to Kumamoto Station
- Time: 40 minutes
- Cost: ¥5,030 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
From Kagoshima to Kumamoto
- Kyushu Shinkansen: from Kagoshima-chuo Station to Kumamoto Station
- Time: 56 minutes
- Cost: ¥6,870 (covered by JR Pass except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains)
You can use Japan Rail Pass and JR Kyushu Rail Pass for your journey to Kumamoto.
There are several kinds of JR Kyushu Rail Passes, but you have to purchase the passes before you leave for Japan. Check out the website and see if you can benefit from getting a rail pass for your travel in Kyushu.
Where to stay in Kumamoto
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 ($) – A hotel designed for business people. Get a single room (either an upper bunk or lower bunk) but with your own private area. The bathroom is super clean, and the space is tranquil, especially for a hostel type accommodation. Your “room” comes with a locker, and they clean your bed and change your towels daily. Located near Kumamoto Station.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Kiihotel Shimotori ($) – If you want to stay in the centre of Kumamoto, then stay at Kiihotel Shimotori. Get a capsule bed and a shared bathroom for a budget price. Located on the main shopping street where you can close to all the retail stores and restaurants.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Dormy Inn Kumamoto Natural Hot Spring ($$) – Get a double room with your private bathroom at a popular chain hotel in Japan. The best part about staying at Dormy Inn is the indoor and outdoor hot spring bath and sauna facilities. You can even get a massage at the hotel. Walking distance to the shopping street and tram.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Kumamoto ($$) – Get a semi-double bed in a standard room and your own private bathroom. Located close to the centre of the city and Karashima Park.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
Kumamoto: things to do in the capital city of Kumamoto Prefecture
Wondering what to do in Kumamoto? Follow my one day Kumamoto itinerary and see the best sights!
All the Kumamoto attractions are pinned in the interactive map below. You can find more information about each activities in Kumamoto by clicking on the individual pin.
1, 2, 3, & 4. Visit Kumamoto Castle, one of the grandest castle in Japan
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. See a panoramic view of the city from 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. Tour the 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. Try a bowl of 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. Get zen at 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. See modern artwork by local artists at 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 while dining solo
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. Buy souvenirs at 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.
Day trips from Kumamoto
Visit Mount Aso, an active volcano
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!
Are you including Kumamoto City in your Japan 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 itinerary.
And if you have any other questions, leave a comment below.