Kyushu’s dramatic scenery is one formed out of conflict both geographic and anthropological. However, while castle cities and Nagasaki’s world war past have left their mark, it’s the natural world that takes centre stage.
The tropical demeanour of Japan’s southernmost main island is pockmarked with grand volcanoes whose over-enthusiastic activity has formed jagged peaks and canyon troughs pumping out billows of sulphuric gas. It’s a landscape that makes for stunning hikes. And, in the quiet laneways of mountainside towns such as Kurokawa and Unzen, the Japanese have long harnessed this power into steaming onsen baths, which – along with kaiseki feasts – have become the hallmark of the region’s traditional ryokan inns. However, between seven thousand year old knotted forests, picturesque beach slices and one of southern Japan’s tallest mountains, some of Kyushu’s most impressive verdure can be found on its south coast islands.
And, perhaps taking notes from this violent geology, the region’s warlords – in Japan’s uncertain 1600s – armed themselves in towering timber castles, the best example of which can be found in Kumamoto. However, it was the events of WWII that eventually had the biggest impact. Although the nuclear bomb left many a historic site in ruins, Nagasaki’s unique international outlook remains intact. Thanks to its relative proximity to the Asian mainland it was the only port open to foreign trade during Japan’s sustained period of isolation. As such, Catholic churches rub shoulders with Shinto shrines while pretty gardens look out over a picturesque harbour backed by green mountains and cobbled streets. For a taste of modern Japan, head to Fukuoka’s rooftop gardens, the ideal launchpad to Dazaifu’s impressive 7th century temples, Nanzoin’s giant 41 metre long reclining Buddha and Yanagawa’s moated castle.