Looking for the best things to do in Kumamoto, Japan? You’re in for a treat. This city offers a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that will leave you enchanted.
From the magnificent Kumamoto Castle to the stunning landscapes of Aso-Kuju National Park, there’s no shortage of attractions to visit in Kumamoto.
So, whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, a food enthusiast, or someone simply seeking a unique cultural immersion, read on to find the best Kumamoto activities you can’t miss.
Explore Kumamoto Castle
Let’s start with one of the top attractions in Kumamoto, Japan: Kumamoto Castle. As one of Japan’s finest castles, Kumamoto Castle is a must-visit.
This expansive fortress, established in the 15th century, boasts majestic towers and fortified gates that make you feel like you’re in a Samurai movie.
Also, don’t miss the elaborate gold leaf-covered rooms in the reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace, where the castle’s lords once resided.
The admission fee for Kumamoto Castle is 500 yen for adults and 200 yen for children.
It is open from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM and is closed from December 29 to 31.
The castle is easily accessible by public transport – just a 15-minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station. Nearby you can find the Kumamoto City Museum and Sakuranobaba Josaien, perfect for a day of historical exploration.
Sample local cuisines
Now, let’s talk about food! Kumamoto is a paradise for food enthusiasts. Make sure to savor the local delicacies that define this vibrant city.
Start with the mouthwatering Akaushi beef, known for its intense marbling and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Seafood lovers will be thrilled with Shijimi clams from the Ariake Sea, often used to create soulful soups and fresh sushi offerings.
And don’t miss out on Kumamoto ramen, a delicious treat with its flavorful pork bone broth topped with garlic chips and fragrant mayu oil made from garlic. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you!
And remember, your culinary journey isn’t complete without a glass of shochu, Kumamoto’s beloved rice spirit.
Stroll Sakuranobaba Josaien
This charming district is nestled at the foot of Kumamoto Castle and takes you on a nostalgic journey through the Edo period.
You’ll find reconstructed samurai residences, townhouses, and shops selling local crafts and specialty foods.
Treat yourself to unique dishes like Basashi (horse sashimi) and Ikinari-dango, a sweet potato dumpling.
And if you’re up for it, catch an animated film about Kumamoto’s history at the Wakuwaku-za theatre or participate in traditional performances and workshops.
The district is just a tram ride away from Kumamoto Station, making it easily accessible.
Unwind at Kurokawa Onsen
For a truly rejuvenating experience, head to Kurokawa Onsen, a famous hot spring town located in the northern part of Kumamoto Prefecture.
Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush forests and rivers as you experience the authentic Japanese hot spring culture.
Grab an onsen-hopping pass for a holistic experience, and consider staying in a traditional ryokan in Kurokawa for a taste of Japanese hospitality.
Oh, and if you have time, a visit to the nearby Aso Volcano adds an adventurous element to your onsen trip. It’s truly a nature lover’s paradise!
Getting there: Kurokawa is a two-hour drive from Kumamoto City, with bus services available from Kumamoto Station.
Hike Kikuchi Gorge
If you’re seeking natural beauty, a hike through Kikuchi Gorge is a fascinating activity to do in Kumamoto.
Located in the northern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, this charming paradise offers crystal-clear water flowing from the Aso Mountains.
With well-maintained trails suitable for all fitness levels, you can enjoy the stunning views of cascading waterfalls, vibrant flora, and the surrounding natural splendor.
Take advantage of the picnic spots for a leisurely break, and keep an eye out for the local wildlife
Kikuchi Gorge is open year-round, and entrance is free.
It’s about a 90-minute drive from Kumamoto City, so renting a car is the best option to reach this hidden gem.
And while you’re in the area, consider visiting Kikuchi City, known for its hot springs, for a perfect day trip.
See Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine
If you’re looking for a serene and spiritual experience, then add Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine to your Kumamoto bucket list.
Nestled in the lush mountain forests of southern Kumamoto Prefecture, this ancient shrine holds serene beauty and spiritual energy.
As you climb the steep stone steps, you’ll discover smaller shrines and stone monuments, each steeped in serene beauty and spiritual energy.
At the shrine, you can partake in the Shinto practices such as ringing the sacred bell, offering a coin, and saying a silent prayer.
And if you’re lucky enough to visit during cherry blossom season or autumn, you’ll be treated to picturesque views that will leave you in awe.
Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine is accessible around the clock, and admission is free. From Kumamoto, you can take a train to Aso Station, then a bus to the shrine.
While in the area, consider visiting the nearby Takamori Dengaku, a traditional dance performance site.
Enjoy Museum time
To unravel Kumamoto’s cultural tapestry, don’t miss out on its prominent museums.
The Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto (CAMK) showcases exhibitions by renowned artists, both local and international.
The Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art, on the other hand, presents a well-curated collection of Japanese and Western art, with a special focus on the Hosokawa clan, a powerful samurai family that ruled Kumamoto during the Edo period.
And history enthusiasts will find the Kumamoto City Museum fascinating, offering insights into the region’s past from ancient times to the present day.
Stroll Suizenji Garden
For a tranquil escape within Kumamoto City, take a stroll through Suizenji Garden.
This picturesque Japanese landscape garden was built in the 17th century and offers a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.
As you wander through its pathways, miniature landscapes, and vibrant flora, you’ll encounter a scaled-down version of the famous Tokaido trade route, complete with a miniature Mount Fuji at its center.
Suizenji Garden also houses the Izumi Shrine, where you can partake in traditional Japanese customs.
The garden cafe is a delightful spot to take a break and enjoy matcha tea with a sweet Japanese confectionary, overlooking the serene pond and lush greenery.
Suizenji Garden opens from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and the entrance fee is 400 yen for adults.
It’s a mere 20-minute tram ride from Kumamoto Station to the Suizenji Park stop.
Cruise Lake Ezu
If you’re up for a little adventure, take a short drive from Kumamoto Station to Lake Ezu.
Enjoy a boat tour over the calm waters, taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding greenery, city skylines, and park landscapes.
Birdwatchers will be delighted by the diverse bird species that call this lake home.
And if you’re feeling more active, you can rent paddle boats, go fishing, or simply relax with a picnic by the lake. It’s a great way to spend a leisurely day in Kumamoto.
Lake Ezu is open throughout the year, and boat tours can be taken from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and prices start from around 700 yen for 30 minutes.
Explore Aso-Kuju National Park Landscapes
Next, let’s explore the captivating landscapes of Aso-Kuju National Park.
Located about an hour’s drive from Kumamoto City, this national park is a nature lover’s dream. The highlight is undoubtedly Mt. Aso, the largest caldera in the world.
The park’s unique topography is a result of multiple volcanic eruptions over thousands of years, shaping it into an intriguing destination for nature lovers.
Hiking through the picturesque forests and idyllic farmlands will leave you in awe of the park’s unique topography shaped by volcanic eruptions.
And if you’re in need of relaxation, indulge in the park’s natural hot springs or onsen.
Be sure to visit the Kusasenri Prairie for panoramic views of the Aso Caldera. And take the Aso Panorama Line, a scenic 25-kilometer driving route offering breathtaking views of the caldera and its grasslands.
Don’t miss the visit to the Aso Volcano Museum for an educational insight into the region’s unique geology and the power of Mother Nature.
The park is open year-round, but the best times to visit are from April to November.
The visitor centers typically open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
There’s no entrance fee to the park, but some attractions, like the Aso Volcano Museum and certain hot springs, have separate admission fees.
The easiest way to reach the park is by car or by taking a bus from Kumamoto Station to Aso Station. You should set aside a whole day to explore this vast natural paradise.
Journey through time at Yamaga
If you’re interested in samurai, head to Yamaga, a small town located in the north of Kumamoto Prefecture.
It’s best known for its beautifully preserved traditional samurai residences, offering visitors a step back in time to the Edo period (1603–1868), when samurai ruled Japan.
In Yamaga, you can take a leisurely stroll through the narrow, winding streets lined with traditional wooden houses.
Many of these samurai residences are open to the public and are remarkably well-preserved, giving you a genuine sense of how the samurai lived during the Edo period.
While there, don’t miss the chance to learn how to craft traditional Yamaga Toro lanterns, made entirely from paper.
There’s no entry fee to explore the town of Yamaga, but some samurai residences may charge a small admission fee. Yamaga is about an hour’s drive from Kumamoto city.
Public transportation is also available – you can take a bus from Kumamoto Station to Yamaga, which takes around 90 minutes.
For history buffs, a visit to Yamaga offers an unforgettable journey into Japan’s samurai era.
Say hello to animals at Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Animal lovers, there’s something for you, too – the Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens! It’s just a tram ride away from the city center.
This family-friendly attraction in Kumamoto is spread over 49 acres, with plenty of animals to see, from lions and elephants to kangaroos and giraffes.
Little ones will enjoy the interactive exhibits and the ‘Kodomo no Kuni’ section, which offers chances to feed and pet friendly animals.
The Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens are open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last entry 4:30 PM) and closed on Mondays (or Tuesdays if Monday is a national holiday).
Admission fees are 500 yen for adults, 200 yen for high school students, and 100 yen for children.
Explore Kumamoto by tram
Here’s another fun and unique thing to do in Kumamoto – hop on the Kumamoto City Tram, or “Shiden,” as it’s known in Japanese.
In Kumamoto, the trams aren’t just about getting from point A to B. This tram network is like a moving timeline, with a mix of different styles of tram cars chugging along the city streets.
You can get around the city on a retro-style tram car straight out of the 1950s, with all its vintage charm.
Or find the sleek, brand-new trams designed with barrier-free low floors to make them accessible to all.
What’s even better is the low flat rate for a ride, so you can sit back, relax, and take in the sights without burning a hole in your pocket.
And if you want unlimited travel, grab a 1-Day Tram Pass! It’s the perfect way to make the most of your Kumamoto adventure.
Go shopping at Kamitori and Shimotori Shopping Arcades
Craving for a shopping spree? The Kamitori and Shimotori Shopping Arcades in the heart of Kumamoto city will not disappoint.
These bustling arcades have been around since the 1970s, offering several shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Kamitori, the northern street, is home to high-end fashion boutiques and cosmetic shops, while Shimotori, the southern street, is where you’ll find trendy clothing stores and mouth-watering eateries.
Trust me, you can spend an entire day here and never run out of things to explore.
And the best part? Both arcades are just a 10-minute walk from Kumamoto Station and conveniently close to other attractions like Kumamoto Castle.
Oh, and don’t forget to check out the seasonal decorations and special events during the festive seasons. It adds an extra touch of magic to your shopping experience!
Admire Craftsmanship at Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center
The Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center is another must-visit attraction in Kumamoto.
Here, you can admire traditional crafts like Higo Zogan (gold inlay on iron), ceramics, bamboo crafts, and much more.
Even better, you can participate in hands-on workshops and learn from skilled artisans.
And if you’re looking for a unique souvenir, the center’s gift shop is a treasure trove of local crafts.
Don’t worry about admission fees – entry to the Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center is completely free. You can easily reach it via public transportation, just a 10-minute walk from the Karashima Koen tram stop.
Discover the Arched Elegance of Tsujun Bridge
If you’re a fan of architecture, you’ll be mesmerized by the Tsujun Bridge.
This arched stone bridge from the Edo period is a testament to the engineering genius of the era.
Time your visit during the annual Water Discharge Festival for an unforgettable experience.
You can savor a delicious bowl of locally made soba, crafted from buckwheat grown in the surrounding hills, while taking in the breathtaking view.
Tsujun Bridge is open year-round, and the best way to reach it is by car, which takes roughly 50 minutes from Kumamoto City.
If you prefer public transportation, take a bus from Kumamoto Station to Yamato Town, and then hop in a taxi to the bridge.
See Hydrangeas at Sumiyoshi Nature Park
Visiting the Sumiyoshi Nature Park during hydrangea season is truly one of the top things to do in Kumamoto.
Imagine being surrounded by a sea of vibrant colors – we’re talking about over 2,000 hydrangeas, all in full bloom.
If you’re planning to visit in June, well, lucky you! That’s when these gorgeous flowers put on a show like no other, bursting into full bloom and transforming the park into a natural rainbow.
But wait, there’s more. Nestled in the park, at the top of a flight of stairs, is the historic Sumiyoshi Shrine. With a history spanning 900 years, the shrine adds a touch of spiritual tranquility to the vivid setting.
Capture the Cityscape from Kumamoto City Hall
If you’re looking for a view of Kumamoto, head to Kumamoto City Hall.
It’s not just a government building; it also features an observatory deck on the 14th floor.
From there, you can soak in a sweeping view of the cityscape, including iconic landmarks like Kumamoto Castle and Mount Aso.
Trust me, the night view is something special, with the city lights twinkling like stars.
You can also check out the gallery that showcases local artists.
Kumamoto City Hall Observatory is open from 8:30 am to 10:00 pm daily, and admission is free.
It’s conveniently located in the city center, within walking distance from the Karashimacho Tram Stop.
What is the best time to visit Kumamoto?
Kumamoto is a year-round destination with its own charms in every season. If you want to see cherry blossoms, spring (March to May) is the perfect time, and autumn (September to November) offers vibrant foliage. Winter (December to February) is a great time to enjoy hot springs and experience seasonal festivals. Ultimately, the best time to visit Kumamoto depends on your preferences and what you’d like to experience during your trip.
Can I visit Kumamoto as a day trip from other cities in Japan?
Yes, Kumamoto can be visited as a day trip from nearby cities like Fukuoka. Hop on the Shinkansen (bullet train), and in no time, you’ll find yourself in Kumamoto, ready to explore its highlights. It’s a great option if you’re short on time but still want to experience the beauty and charm of Kumamoto.
Is Kumamoto suitable for a family trip with kids?
Absolutely! Kumamoto offers a plethora of family-friendly attractions that will keep both kids and adults entertained. The Kumamoto Zoo and Botanical Gardens are a perfect choice, offering a chance to see various animals up close and explore beautiful gardens. Your little ones will love the interactive exhibits and the opportunity to feed and pet animals. Additionally, Yamaga town, with its samurai residences, provides an educational experience for kids to learn about Japanese history.