Kumamoto Day Trip
Kumamoto sits at the crossroads of Kyushu island, making it an easy day trip between Fukuoka, Aso, and Kagoshima. The city makes it even easier by offering a day pass for unlimited rides on their streetcar and sightseeing loop bus as well as discounts on their most popular attractions.
We began our day with their famous Suizenji Garden. It’s a very small place, but easy to get to via streetcar, and wonderfully quiet in the morning. The garden is designed for strolls offering a circuit path around a central pond. Features in the garden were molded to recall landmarks on the road between Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s hard to miss the prominent green hill that mimics Mount Fuji.
After the garden, we stopped over at the city’s free contemporary arts museum. Having no expectations, we were delighted by some of the playful interactive works (try the ping pong table as well as the infinite bauble room). They also had a temporary exhibit reflecting on the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in this charming museum.
If you’re daytripping, it’s probably time for lunch, and you can pop over next door to the museum and meander through one of their several shopping arcades. After lunch, their famous castle is just a few blocks away across the big moat.
This is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Kumamoto for just cause. The intimidating main keep is a 1960 reconstruction of the 1607 original destroyed in 1877. Stairmastering to the top of the castle rewards you with great views across the city to the mountain backdrop.
Two other buildings on the castle grounds provide a great juxtaposition between old and new. One of the turret towers is an original from the 15th century and might have been the original castle before it was usurped by the larger keep. We loved walking inside the turret on the creaky, centuries-old wood floors.
The newest building is the Honmaru Goten Palace, finished in 2008. Here, workers painstakingly recreated the royal housing and reception hall using traditional techniques. If you visit, take a moment and watch the video; while it’s all in Japanese, the images are sufficient to reveal the care and detail taken in their reconstruction.
Details: The Kumamoto day pass is available at the tourist information desk inside the JR train station. Check their hours to make sure your train arrives when the desk is open. Don’t forget to show your day pass when you visit the sites; many offer good discounts to day pass holders.