Taipei Escape: 4-5 Days in Japan’s Kyushu

Literally 2 hours away by plane, the south island of Kyushu is a great escape from Taipei and can be enjoyed throughout the whole year.

by Stuart Hill

The smaller cities and rural countryside make for a relaxing trip to Kyushu, with most of the travel to key locations easily accessed by train. Kyushu is a holiday destination for many Japanese, so it is a good idea to avoid long public holidays in order to make bookings easier. While there are many hotels available around most Japanese railway stations, prices and availability can be impacted by local festivals and events. It pays to book ahead.

Kyushu train travel

Travel around Kyushu, whether from the Airport in Fukuoka, further south to Sasebo or Nagasaki, can be easily done via a combination of rail and local bus. A multi-day JR pass and local city day passes for buses, are an economical and hassle-free approach to travel, especially if you a settled in a city for a few days.

Kyushu is an important place in Japanese history for the role it has played in interacting with the outside world, for good or bad. The port city of Nagasaki was the first city designated by the Japanese government as an import and export trading hub, triggering a new era in exchanges — technological, commercial, and cultural — with Western nations and China.

Shimonoseki was the site of the signing of a Chinese-Japanese peace treaty in 1895, the peace conference being delayed by an assassination attempt on the Chinese delegation. The conference saw the surrender of Taiwan and Korea by the Qing Dynasty.

Taiwan and China’s connection with Nagasaki goes back even further, as it was the home town of Zheng Cheng-Gong’s (Koxinga) mother and the base of his father’s shipping business. Sun Yat Sen would visit Nagasaki several times to drum up financial support for his national revolution. He had enthusiastic and well-placed connections there.

With the opening of Nagasaki to Western trade, the Dutch created a trading route between Nagasaki, TaiNan in Taiwan, and their colony in Indonesia. Trading routes also stretched to Shanghai and other Chinese ports, Russia and Europe.

More recently, Nagasaki was also one of the sites the American’s and British chose as targets to drop the two atomic bombs designed to cripple and demoralize Japan’s forces to bring a decisive end to World War II.

While there are many things to do — and any travel guide will  provide no shortage of ideas — here are some suggestions for a short 4-5 day trip around the island state. You could easily add an extra day or two to really give justice to Nagasaki, and another 2-3 days for exploring other cities, volcanic springs, and the rural countryside.

Glover Garden, Nagasaki

Glover Garden Nagasaki

Sitting on top of a hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor, Glover Garden consists of the residences and school (photo above) of several key foreign families that exploited the opening of Japan to overseas trade. Today the houses and surrounding gardens allow a glance back to the lives of how these western merchants lived from the 1860s up until World War II.

The Waterways of Yanagawa

Kanagawa, Kyushu

The old castle city of Yanagawa is still a maze of canals. You can take an easy tour along the waterways. Much of the trip is in the open, and while the barge company rents straw hats for a small fee, it might be worth bringing your own long-sleeve shirt in the summer months. The end of the trip dispatches you at the Okihati punt dock. A famous steamed eel on rice restaurant is near the disembarkation point, and sits on the edge of the canal. The Ohana Villa of the local clan includes a small museum of family relics — including armor, swords and toys.

Kujukushima, Sasebo

Kujukushima, Kyushu

One claim to fame of Kyushu’s “99-islands” is that a shot of the islands appears in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samuri movie. The islets and rocky outcrops create a calm inland sea that can be enjoyed best on the water, whether a rented kayak, jet ski, or boat cruise such as on the Pearl Queen (above). A walk to the top of the hill behind the Sasebo Zoo provides the same vantage point near the Ishidake Observatory enjoyed by Tom Cruise’s film crew.

Shimonoseki Fish Market, Kyushu

Fish market

Fish markets everywhere are best observed in the early morning, but no matter when you go, Shimonoseki’s fish market buzzes with the enthusiasm of fish traders and eaters alike. The area is famous for its preparation of puffer fish or “fugu” sushi (if you are game).

Night Lights of Nagasaki

Nagasaki night view

Many of Japan’s cities offer spectacular night views, typically from the top of a tower or department store building. But the Mt Inasa Observation Platform provides a bird’s-eye 360 degree panorama of Nagasaki and its surrounding mountains. No doubt the daytime view is impressive, but the night view is mesmerizing, and was reportedly designated as one of the word’s top 3 locations. It is best to arrive after 8pm when the sun has well and truly set. The platform closes at 10pm.

The Hot Springs of Beppu, Oita

Beppu hot springs, Kyushu

The Beppu region of Oita Prefecture in Kyushu is famous for its volcanic geography, and is Japan’s leading area for various types of hot springs. Whether you are soaking in them or just viewing/photographing the color and steam, the hot springs are much better appreciated during Autumn to Spring.

Other Travel Ideas for Kyushu:

  • The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Memorial, and Peace Park
  • Anywhere in Kyushu during cherry blossom season (April)
  • Eat authentic local ramen noodles or buy Portuguese Castella sponge cake in Nagasaki

Travel Tips:

  • Book accommodation online via sites like Booking.com, such as at JR Hotel
  • Cathay flies between Taipei’s TaoYuan airport to the Fukuoka airport
  • Buy a multi-day JR Kyushu Rail Pass at the Fukuoka JR railway station. The ticket office is opposite the tourist information office. Ticket info and timetables are available in English
  • Catch a local subway train from Fukuoka (Tenjin) to Yanagawa. If you have time, change at Futsukaichi for the connection to Dazaifu to check out nearby shrines and temples
  • There is a free shuttle from outside the Aquarium within Kujukushima’s Pearl Sea Resort that can take you to the Sasebo Zoo
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