Kumamoto is a vibrant and amazing city in Kyushu, Japan. It’s know for delicious delicacies such as horse meat, and beautiful architecture and castles can be found here, too. Kumamoto prefecture is known for its friendly people and its famous mascot. Kumamon is perhaps the most famous of all the Japanese mascots, and this cute friendly bear has become a pop culture icon who has put Kumamoto on the map. Here are the top things to do and see in Kumamoto-shi and Kumamoto prefecture.
1. Monkey D. Luffy statue
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
A 174-cm (68 in) tall statue of “One Piece” cartoon character Monkey D. Luffy should be proof enough of how much Japanese people cherish one of their most popular export: anime. The statue was erected in 2018 as a tribute to the cartoon’s very own author, Eiichiro Oda, for his contribution to the city’s rebuilding efforts after the region was hit by a major earthquake in 2016.
Monkey D. Luffy statue
Website: Monkey D. Luffy statue
Address: 6 Chome-18-1 Suizenji, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, 862-0950, Japan
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
2. Miyukizaka Hill
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
A gentle slope that leads up to the scenic Kumamoto castle, Miyukizaka Hill is at its best in spring. In March and April, the cherry trees wear their characteristic, delicate pink colour that has become one of Japan’s must-see attractions. If walking uphill doesn’t sound too appealing, why not take the Nagabei path? It starts from the foot of Miyukizaka and runs on the southern bank of Tsuboi River. As you idly stroll along the path, glance across the water where the pink fronds of the cherry trees peek above the castle walls.
3. Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle is one of the most iconic castles in all of Japan, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyushu. It offers an amazing spectacle if you visit during cherry blossom season in the spring. Unfortunately, the 2016 earthquakes in Kumamoto caused major damage to the castle and the restoration won’t be completed for decades, but you can still visit the castle and view it from the outside even though portions of it are now closed for repairs.
Address: 1-1 Honmaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 860-0002, Japan
Website: Kumamoto Castle
4. Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden is a historic site, which dates back to 1636, that offers unparalleled beauty. This garden features a staple of many Japanese gardens called a tsukiyama, which is an artificial mountain. This tsukiyama is designed to look like Mount Fuji. This is a relaxing place to spend the day.
Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
Address: 8-1 Suizenjikoen, Kumamoto 860-0956, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
5. Sakuranobaba Josaien
Sakuranobaba Josaien is located right next to Kumamoto Castle and it features many thing for visitors to do. There is a shopping arcade where you can buy souvenirs and partake in some local delicacies and sweets. Wakuwakuza is a historical facility located in Sakuranobaba Josaien which allows visitors to see what Kumamoto was like in the Edo period, and you can even try on historically accurate kimonos and yukatas.
Address: 1-1-1 Ninomaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 860-0008, Japan
Website: Sakuranobaba Josaien
6. Suizenji Ezuko park
Suizenji Ezuko park is a picturesque and vast plot of greenery in the middle of Kumamoto-shi with plenty to do and see. You can relax and watch the waterfowl on the lake, or you can rent a paddle boat and explore the water at Suizenji Ezuko park. If you go at night you can see fireflies or partake in the Japanese pastime of listening to insects chirping as the sun sets.
Suizenji Ezuko park
Address: 935-1 Hirogimachi, Higashi Ward, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture 862-0906, Japan
7. Sakuranobaba shopping arcade
Sakuranobaba alley has plenty of activities, but you might just want to go there to eat food. One of the best things to do here is eat all the yummy sweets that are prepared for visitors. You can try ice cream flavors like matcha or strawberry. Mochi and dango are popular sweets to try here, and you can even get sweets shaped like Kumamon.
Sakuranobaba shopping arcade
Address: 1-1-2 Ninomaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto 860-0008, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
Website: Sakuranobaba Josaien
8. Kumamon Square
Being the center of entertainment for both local and international travelers, KUMAMON Square is a must-visit in Kumamoto. Kumamon is a popular mascot character in Japan’s southwest region. It is a cuddly character that resembles a black bear that has already existed for a decade. KUMAMON Square is where people can head to find several items based on this fuzzy fellow, including food items based on the well-loved bear. Kumamon himself is present at his own office desk for people to look at in the KUMAMON Sales Manager Office. The square is also interactive, featuring several spaces such as the interaction space, original goods counter, capsule toy machine, and a snack stand. So if you love Kumamon or if you simply want to experience a space specially made for an authentic national character, this is a fun and must-visit place in Kumamoto.
Address: Tetorihoncho 8, 〒860-0808 Kumamoto, Chuo Ward, Japan
Website: Kumamon Square
9. Kumamoto Contemporary Art Museum
Japan is all about the mix of modern with the past, and this museum focuses on the modern aspect of contemporary art, but it also hasn’t forgotten the past. The pieces at the Kumamoto Contemporary Art Museum focus on a modern aesthetic. The museum has many temporary exhibits that it alternates regularly. Recently it featured a showcase called “Animals”, which displayed the sculptures of contemporary Japanese sculptor Misawa Atsuhiko. Last year the museum had an exhibit which focused on the classic architecture from Studio Ghibli films.
Kumamoto Contemporary Art Museum
Address: 2-3 Kamitori-cho, Chuou-ku, Kumamoto city, 860-0845 Japan
Website: Kumamoto Contemporary Art Museum
10. Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens
This zoo is more than just a zoo. It’s actually a zoo, botanical garden and amusement park all wrapped into one. The zoo features 120 different species, and the botanical garden is a relaxing experience. However, many large animals have been moved to other zoos because of the 2016 earthquake. Despite being damaged in the 2016 quake, the zoo is still welcoming guests one year later. The zoo is located on the edge of Lake Ezu, so you can even rent a bicycles and travel along the river’s edge. The zoo offers guests the chance to view animals at night, too. If you are interesting in helping rebuild the zoo then visiting now would be a great idea because they need your support.
Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Address: Japan, 〒862-0911 Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Higashi Ward, Kengun, 5 Chome−5−14−２
Website: Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens
11. Lafcadio Hearn Residence
This historical site was the home of Greek writer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in Kumamoto and wrote Japanese books about supernatural folklore and ghosts. His haunting books inspired generations, and his works such as “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” and “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things” still remain popular to this day.
Address: 2-6 Ansei-machi, Kumamoto, 860-0801 Japan
12. Try Kumamoto Ramen
Ramen is undeniably one of Japan’s most popular, if not the most popular, dish. And if you ever find yourself in Kumamoto, you just have to try their local version. With most cities and neighborhoods in Japan, the taste and ingredients of ramen will vary. Kumamoto ramen was invented in Kurume. Slowly, as it was introduced to the nearby areas, it has developed its own distinct flavors and features - non-oily broth with a milder flavor, thick noodles, and freshly fried garlic. Kumamoto ramen is also famous for including sesame oil in their recipe which complements the noodles and ultimately brings out a very distinct taste.
13. Kumamoto City tram
One way to live like a local is to try their local public transportation, which in Kumamoto is their city tram. It’s the locals’ most preferred way of transportation from the east to the west of the city. Not only for locals, but the tram also proves to be very useful for tourists looking to hop around places and explore them conveniently. The tram service halts at several significant destinations like the Kumamoto Station, Kumamoto Castle, Suizen-ji Joju-en garden, Kumamoto shopping arcade, and a lot more. The two-city tram systems are also cost-effective, such that fares are the same throughout the city, and offer a one day pass.
Kumamoto city tram
Website: Kumamoto city tram
Single Use Ticket: 170 JPY/1.50 USD (Adult), 90 JPY/0.85 USD (Child)
14. Horse meat
This may seem odd to some, but horse meat dishes are actually very popular in Kumamoto. Horse meat sashimi that is cherished by locals is called basashi which comes in different forms of cuts - fatty, marbled, and lean. Another term for horse meat is called ‘sakura-niku’ or ‘cherry meat’. Eating horse meat dates back to World War II, as a result of pork and beef scarcity. Just like all other types of meat, horse meat is rich in protein and vitamins, but it’s considered healthier because it is relatively lower in fat. Cooking recipes include the basashi mentioned earlier, fried horse meat, grilled horse meat, horse meat casserole, and more.
15. Visit Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Centre
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
If you’re into arts and history, the Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Centre is a must-visit. With local historical crafts and arts available on display or for sale, you can know more about the city’s culture just by paying the center a visit. Some of the items displayed here include the famous Higo Zogan gold inlay metalcraft, knives, ceramics, and more. The center comprises three gallery rooms, a store where items for sale are displayed, as well as a permanent hands-on exhibit. The entrance fee is at 210 JPY (2 USD) for adults, 130 JPY (1.20 USD) for university students, and free for high school students and younger. It is closed on Mondays and stays open from 9am to 5pm for the rest of the week.
Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Centre
Address: 3-35 Chibajomachi, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, 860-0001, Japan
Opening hours: Tue - Sun: 9am - 5pm (closed on Mon)
Price: 210 JPY/2 USD (Adult), 130 JPY/1.20 USD (Child)
Support Kumamoto and visit the area
2016 was a very bad year for Kumamoto because of the devastating earthquake, but the people are still as friendly and welcoming as ever. While some spots are closed because of damage, there is still plenty to do and see. You are still able to visit some of the tourist spots that were damaged by the quake, but others are completely closed. Visting Kumamoto now is a great way to help the city rebuild, so consider it the next time you are in Japan.
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