This was our third trip to Kyushu in less than 3 years. We travelled in a party of 10 people and basically, with my limited Japanese, I was the tour guide. I was SO tired after this trip (and also 6 months pregnant). Anyhow.
Kyushu is a large island and there is SO much to explore. To be honest I wasn’t keen on going there again so soon, but any holiday is better than nothing. For this trip we decided to head all the way down south of Kyushu to Kagoshima, famous for their wagyu beef, tuna, etc.
It happened that before the trip I attended a talk at the Japan Rail cafe, organized by HIS Travel and Kagoshima Prefecture. It was insightful particularly because we have always done it free and easy and planned the holidays on our own so it was good to learn about new sites to visit. Do look out for more talks if you are thinking of heading to Japan!
So here we go!
(That’s the plane we took into Fukuoka, leaving for Singapore.)
After the usual red eye flight from SIN to FUK, from the airport we picked up our car at Budget car rental. You can get around by train pretty easily, but with kids we feel it’s convenient to have a car and also the landscape is quite pretty. Also we like Budget because there is a direct shuttle from the International terminal to the car rental, unlike the car rentals at the domestic airport – you’d need to take the airport shuttle bus to domestic then walk a short distance to the car rental. Walkable but with kids and luggage in tow, it’s a little troublesome.
After picking up the car we then headed to our favourite local tempura joint (which you can find in our previous posts). After that we proceeded for a short stop at the Tosu Premium Outlets, before our final destination for the day at Yufuin town.
On our previous trip, we skipped Yufuin to head to Beppu, both are well known as onsen towns. I felt that Yufuin is very touristy. But it is a rather quaint town, whereas Beppu is more like a city. Between the two, I think I would prefer Yufuin.
One of the highlights here in Yufuin is Lake Kinrin, which looks really lovely in this photo but honestly it was more like a small pond. I wasn’t impressed.
From the Lake, we walked to the Floral Village. It’s worth walking around here because the shops are so cute!! I brought the 4 kids to the Owl Enclosure while the other adults walked around. The kids loved seeing the various owls, and petting them! and I’m glad I was the only adult who went because it’s a very small enclosure and not really interesting for everyone unless they’re interested in owls, and wouldn’t have been worth paying for everyone. I wouldn’t have minded bringing them to the cat cafe too but I think the adults were too bored making ten rounds of the Floral Village already.
At Yufuin the less touristy highlight was really lunch at Shanshoro 山椒郎. I can’t even remember how I found this place. It is a small quiet local eatery, with really good value for what you get, and a lovely view of Mt Yufuin (flowering, no less!) and the padi fields. After lunch the kids enjoyed spotting insects and creatures living in the padi fields so much that we had to drag them away. Swipe to see more photos on the IG post.
At Yufuin we also ate at Yufubushi. The food was good!
Here we stayed in two ryokans. The first was Baien. It has a lovely garden and a very nice private onsen that you can book.
Our next ryokan was Tsukanoma, this ryokan features meals steamed by the onsen. The rooms come with a little kitchenette. I loved having a private onsen in the room, because you can adjust the temperature. None of the rooms are large enough to fit 5 pax, but we were traveling as a group of 10 so I usually put one of the kids headcount in another room.
Our next stop after Yufuin was a rest stop for lunch at Bebenko. The beef here was excellent and there are a few animals that you can feed for 100¥. There was a horse, alpaca, donkey, and goats.
We then drove along to 原尻の滝 Harajiri Falls. It was ok. Nothing terribly exciting for the kids.
Driving along we headed to the Totoro bus stop, next to Ryuo restaurant. Although it was day, it is in a very quiet area and we didn’t see anyone. Which was a little creepy.
This bus stop is just down the road from our final destination, the Ume camp site. I’m not sure how my husband found this camp site but it is very very local. By which I mean it’s not catered to tourists when we were there.
We stayed in cabins which were clean but kinda old so there wasn’t much to do. We couldn’t quite figure out why the activities were not available but I guess it’s not the right season. I wouldn’t even let the kids play at the playground. As it wasn’t their summer holidays yet, it was quite empty and a little creepy too. The camp site is located next to a rest stop, so there is also 2 shops, an ice cream kiosk, and a restaurant which serves local wild boar meat.
On one occasion we took a short walk up to a view point, and upon coming down there was some drama because a few leeches were trying to get on some of our shoes. One of the leeches even followed my FIL all the way home (to the cabin). I’m sure that would certainly be memorable for the kids, but so ugh for me. Kinda reminds me of the movie Stand By Me (1986). I also got stung by a bee which stuck or caught on to my daughter’s sweater when I touched her. So overall the kids quite enjoyed the stay here but it was not so for me thank you very much. My husband said he wouldn’t mind staying here again but he would be doing that without me if that does happen.
However, the area is pretty gorgeous with a drone. I guess that comes from being so ULU (in the middle of nowhere).
It was also very rainy when we were here so there wasn’t much to do. Thank goodness for Google, I found a quaint little family run bakery cafe (which I’m sure is their home) down the road from the camp site. However no thanks to Google the short road it asked us to drive on was actually closed because of landslides and we barely made it through the short road in one piece.
I highly recommend this bakery if you are in the area, but I wouldn’t recommend coming to this area specifically.
After leaving the boring camp site (thank God) , we were headed to Kirishima via Miyazaki. I planned for us to stop by Umegase. We decided to give the Easter Island replicas amiss because they were quite far away. Umegase was a nice stop and a good walk for us. It was quite beautiful although the volcanic rock formations are not as spectacular as some of those elsewhere like in Jeju.
At Kirishima we stayed in Seiryuso, which was quite a nice onsen ryokan. It had a really quaint outdoor onsen. There are several things you can do in this area and Kirishima is well known for hiking, so I would have liked to spend more nights here instead of the campsite! It also rained on the days we got into and left Kirishima so we were not able to do anything here at all.
We did manage a visit to Takachiho farm, which has a range of cows on display, and a nice shop with ice cream, bread, and a restaurant.
After an ice cream stop at Takachiho we had planned to stop by a black vinegar factory for lunch and then drive to Mt Sakurajima, taking a ferry across to Kagoshima. But since it was raining heavily we decided to head directly to Kagoshima instead and spend the afternoon at the Kagoshima City Aquarium.
The aquarium is rather dated, but we were all psyched up to see the whale shark here! The exhibits were interesting for the kids but nothing particularly impressive as it’s a little dated. And after walking through the entire aquarium, wondering where they could possibly house a whale shark, I realized that the whale shark was released in August 2017! Argh!!!!!!! What an anticlimax because I was hoping that the kids would get to see their first whale shark ever! So it seems they only house juvenile sharks who are released back into the wild once they grow to a certain size. If I’m not wrong from August 2018 they had another juvenile whale shark in the enclosure.
At the end of the visit we were just in time for their seal feeding session (all of 1 seal) and the dolphin show which was better than any other dolphin show I’ve seen because it allows you to see the dolphins up so so close. I mean, have you been to Ocean Park? It is always so packed you have to sit like 1km away from the dolphins?! The show is in Japanese but easy to follow and very educational. We also visited the dolphin observatory in the basement after the show which was also very interesting.
Kagoshima is a large city with plenty to eat, and we chose to stay along the edge of the city at Marine Palace Kagoshima, so that we would have a full view of Sakurajima. We got a mixed Japanese and Western style room that was large and comfortable for the 5 of us. There is also a coin laundry room in this hotel.
The view of Sakurajima was amazing. We didn’t expect to se it erupting several times a day. It was quite priceless for us to see such volcanic activity! You can also visit the foot of the volcano, but with intermittent drizzling, the kids coughing and the volcano erupting so often (several times a day, sometimes several times an hour), we figured getting so up close to the ash might not have been a good idea so we just admired her from afar. I wonder if people living in such conditions have a higher incidence of asthma and respiratory related conditions?
From Kagoshima we took a day to drive down to Makurazaki, where we found the fish market disappointing. My husband had seen it on Japan Hour and insisted we go there but of course reality vs TV is so SO different sometimes. We really should have just gone to the Kagoshima fish market instead. The highlight was stopping by a small ramen shop (it felt like it was in someone’s house really) 斜家 for lunch en route to the market, and the drive down was really beautiful. Apparently this was also in Japan Hour but it’s so off the beaten track.
From Makruazaki we stopped by several look out points to see Kaimondake volcano. But to be honest, the drive was rather long and no one except my husband was interested to see MORE volcanoes. I think that we were really far too ambitious with the driving, and to this day I am always reminding him that I don’t want to do a “Kagoshima drive” again – meaning a drive that is too long that everyone gets sian being cooped up in a car for so long and the destinations don’t really seem worth the effort. This was not the first time because it also happened in Germany!! (Yes, I am rolling my eyes right now)
Since no one was interested to bury themselves in the volcanic sand at Ibusuki, we stopped by Lake Ikeda which seems like a popular spot but really not the most picturesque. The only thing I liked about this lake is that it is a caldera, although I don’t know if the kids understood or remember what I was trying to tell them about it. There was a small and old playground here. Finally we returned to Kagoshima.
The next day after a leisurely lunch, we headed to Sangen-en UNESCO Park. It is a historic site with lovely gardens and can take about an hour or more to walk through, without even going into the Palace where one of the dignitaries used to live (he died in 1908). We figured the kids would not be so interested in the house so we only paid for the park entry. But you can actually view parts of the palace from the exterior. Which is enough for the kids really.
The best part about this garden is that they have an activity sheet which you can get at the entrance, collect stamps at various points of the garden, and then exchange the sheet for a token, which for us was a plastic A4 folder. I got the lady at the entrance to circle out the stamping locations on a map and we based our route on those stops. Anything to motivate the kids to walk around right? If not for this activity sheet, I would probably have died from the kids complaining of boredom.
Overall we really didn’t have much time to see any of Kagoshima city, especially since we were staying on the city outskirts, which was a pity. We probably could have explored more if we weren’t too busy driving around the entire Kagoshima peninsula just for the heck of it (cue eye rolling again).
We left Kagoshima in the morning morning to head to Fukuoka, stopping by the small town of Hitoyoshi in search of a unagi eel restaurant that has been in operation for 100 years. But it was CLOSED. So we had lunch at the neighbouring restaurant, which was pretty tasty too.
From there we headed on to Fukuoka city, and dropped by the Marinoa Factory Outlets on the way. I only found some good deals at Gap, and there USA Toysrus, otherwise I feel Marinoa wasn’t really worth the detour and that the Tosu Factory Outlet is more interesting. In fact the toys at Sylvanian Families “outlet” at Marinoa was more expensive than at Yodobashi Hakata. Go figure.
Since we stayed in Tenjin previously, we chose to stay in Hakata this time, at Hotel Forza Haktakeichimaeni (which literally means in front of Hakata station). We loved their modern rooms and had a room with 2 queen size beds together. We chose the hotel based on the rooms, price, and locality, including easy access to the car rental drop off. This hotel is also 10 meters away from a Sushi Zenmai. We spent the next day exploring Hakata, Daiso, toy shops etc, and of course ICHIRAN. Fukuoka is the birthplace of Ichiran and Ippudo.
On the last night husband my husband and I also managed to slip away to have dinner at La Maison de la Nature Goh, which has been on the list of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants. After being a tour guide for the entire trip, I think I deserved a good dinner!! We would highly recommend this to anyone, and if you have well behaved kids who like to eat and are not fussy with their food, they would be fine here.
Note this is not the kind of place you would go to and request burgers and fries for the kids. Or yourself. I loved the casual vibe and the food was really so reasonably priced for the quality you get and the whole experience. I also liked that the food was very approachable and looked like real food, and also not too overwhelming in terms of quantity since some degustation menus can leave you feeling way too full, or the food too abstract.
From the open kitchen you can see the staff working and the chef (the actual chef) cooking. We had a counter seat so we could see them even more up close. I would definitely go back again, and it was a nice way to end the trip!
We had a good holiday but it was quite tiring for me being preggers and there was a bit too much driving. We love how Kyushu is so family friendly and less touristy than some other parts of Japan, and I’m sure we’ll be back again one day.