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  • Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan's four main islands and, in addition to being known

  • for its vibrant cities brimming with interesting history and culture, it is also celebrated

  • as among the best regions in the country to take in breathtaking volcanic landscapes and

  • experience atmospheric hot spring towns.

  • One of the ultimate ways to enjoy what this rugged land has to offer is to travel the

  • breadth of the island between two of its most visited cities

  • in part along the iconic Yamanami Highway.

  • Passing three of Japan's top hot spring towns, each of which retain their own unique

  • charm, this route also treats travelers to a variety of the island's hallmark culture,

  • history and food.

  • Add to these attractions an almost uninterrupted series of awe-inspiring volcanic landscapes

  • as the route winds through Kyushu's mountainous interior, and you have one of the most epic

  • road trips in all of Japan.

  • With so much to do and see along this route, this was a road trip I was extremely eager

  • to experience for myself.

  • I'm Sam Evans for japan-guide.com, and for the next three days I'll be making the trip

  • across Kyushu.

  • Here's the plan: After flying from Tokyo to Oita, we'll start

  • our journey by visiting the coastal hot spring mecca of Beppu and then drive along the Yamanami

  • Highway to reach the quaint hot spring town of Yufuin

  • where we'll bed down for the night.

  • On day two, we'll continue along the Yamanami Highway taking in the incredible landscape

  • and making a couple of fun-filled stops along the way before reaching Kurokawa Onsen, a

  • rustic hot spring town tucked away in a lush valley.

  • On our third and final day it's up early as we continue on to majestic Mount Aso before

  • finishing our road trip with a cultural tour of Kumamoto City.

  • So follow along as we travel across Kyushu on a three day road trip.

  • DAY 1

  • Upon arrival in Kyushu, we'll pick up a

  • rental car and begin our exciting three-day tour, first stopping in Beppu, and then moving

  • on to Yufuin Onsen, where we'll be spending our first night.

  • When most people think about travel in Japan they think about trains, but when going a

  • long distance like we are today then the best option can sometimes be the plane.

  • So that's why this morning we're travelling early out of the airport down to begin our

  • Kyushu exploration, and it's exciting, I've had a good sleep so let's get on with this.

  • All ready for takeoff, now to sit back for the one and a half hour flight, and take in

  • some impressive bird's eye views along the way.

  • After arriving at Oita Airport in Sunny Oita, which is my first time to this prefecture

  • and a great one to get off the list, we're on our way to Beppu where we're going to

  • check out the hells.

  • There are seven hells in Beppu, and first up today we are going to visit the Umi jigoku

  • which literally meanssea hellin Japanese.

  • So here we are in Beppu, now this town is special for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly this town outputs more hot spring water than any other hot spring town in the

  • entire country.

  • Secondly, this town isn't just about bathing.

  • Apart from the baths there are various areas around town, such as this one behind me, which

  • are called 'hells' where you can go and view the hot water.

  • And third, when it does come to bathing well, Beppu's got you covered because here there

  • are a multitude of different bathing options, not just limited to water but also steam,

  • mud and sand.

  • And speaking of sand baths, we're going to try one a little later on.

  • After Umi Jigoku, we'll now check out the Kamado Jigoku, or cooking pot hell, where

  • we'll walk around a bit and then fill our stomachs with a lunch of onsen-steamed food.

  • So at this hell you can drink this 80 degree water.

  • So I'm going to give it a try.

  • It's like British tea, only not at all.

  • So we've got the food and we're about to eat.

  • There is so much thermal heat, that is it is used to cook in Beppu.

  • So I'm about to enjoy some steam-cooked corn, steam-cookied pork bun, steamed eggs, and

  • some steamed pudding.

  • Let's dig in.

  • Itadakimasu.

  • That's great.

  • Really good.

  • So this is ramune.

  • It's basically a nostalgic flavored fizzy drink.

  • And it's sold here in Beppu.

  • Now to open it, you interestingly have to kind of smash this top

  • and make a marble fall through.

  • So I'm going to give it a whirl now and hopefully I don't break the table while I'm doing it.

  • Delicious!

  • That's really good.

  • Following the fun at the hells, it's only a few minutes' drive over to the beach where

  • I am about to indulge in a sand bath experience.

  • With less than a handful of places in the country where one can enjoy this special kind

  • of bath, I feel fortunate that this will mark my second sand bath experience.

  • From what I remember of my last experience having a sand bath, it's incredibly pleasant,

  • super warm, comfy and relaxing, and I'll be surprised if I don't nod off.

  • So for this experience I was given a yukata which is typical, got changed in the changing

  • room, and proceeded to lie down here and got buried as you've just seen.

  • So it's surprisingly it's a really nice temperature.

  • It's not too hot, but it does feel really nice and cozy.

  • It feels great.

  • So relaxing.

  • You can hear the waves in the distance from the beach.

  • And it's honestly like you're being given a big warm hug.

  • After this I'm to proceed to rise out of the ground and then I'm going to have to get clean.

  • So before getting changed I'll go and take a bath in the bathhouse back there.

  • But what an incredible experience this is.

  • I recommend it.

  • Reinvigorated after the sand bath, it's time to make the 30 minute drive on to the

  • quaint hot spring town of Yufuin.

  • Along the way we'll take in the unique scenery surrounding Mount Yufudake, the twin-peaked

  • volcano that overlooks Yufuin, before descending into the town.

  • After checking into our beautiful ryokan and dropping my bags, I'll make the short walk

  • out to explore this scenic town.

  • Next it's back to the ryokan to indulge in a traditional course dinner

  • and a pre-bedtime bath.

  • When staying in a ryokan your traditional Japanese robe, or Yukata, will usually be

  • found in a closet kind of like this one.

  • Now, while you're at the ryokan your yukata can be worn for pretty much anything.

  • You can eat in it, walk around in it, you can even sleep in it.

  • So with that being said I'm gonna put mine on right now.

  • Now I'm ready for dinner.

  • So it's finally dinner time and I've sat down to a kaiseki course meal.

  • It looks absolutely delicious, so itadakimasu and kampai!

  • I do love a bit of sashimi, especially maguro.

  • Incredible.

  • So this is local high grade local beef.

  • We're gonna have shabu shabu style.

  • Which means that you pick it up and give it a gentle dip in this broth.

  • And then eat it.

  • Amazing.

  • A kaiseki course meal always ends with rice, miso soup, and pickles.

  • What a lovely meal.

  • Before bed it's definitely time for a bath.

  • Now it's not uncommon for ryokan to have bathing facilities.

  • So let me tell you how it's done.

  • First of all, before getting in the bath you've got to give your body a good rinse and then

  • get in and enjoy the soak but try and remember not to let your body towel touch the water.

  • DAY 2

  • Today after leaving Yufuin Onsen, we really

  • switch gears into road-trip mode as we drive along a large stretch of the Yamanami Highway.

  • Along the way, we'll trade tarmac for trekking around some scenic marshlands and then explore

  • a unique hillside flower park, before arriving in Kurokawa Onsen, the destination for our

  • second night's stay.

  • To get the day started we'll enjoy a pleasant early-morning stroll around Lake Kinrinko,

  • just a stone's throw from our ryokan.

  • It's a shrine.

  • Now one of the ways you can tell it's a shinto shrine as opposed to a buddhist temple

  • is the shimenawa, that straw rope that hangs in an arch there.

  • I'm not the earliest of risers usually, but getting up early and seeing something

  • like this makes me think I should get up early more often.

  • This is amazingly beautiful.

  • So this is onsen tamago.

  • It's an egg that's been boiled you could say in 80 degree water.

  • So, it's not fully boiled.

  • It's got a unique taste and it's great breakfast food.

  • And with that it's time to leave Yufuin Onsen and get back on the road for an enjoyable

  • day of driving and adventure.

  • So this morning we're back driving along the Yamanami Highway, that stretches from

  • Beppu to Aso.

  • So we're going to be driving along this highway a lot during this trip.

  • Now what's special about this highway, apart from it passing a bunch of natural wonders

  • like hot springs and hot spring towns and even volcanoes.

  • It's absolutely beautiful, the scenery that you pass is just phenomenal, which makes driving

  • along it kinda one of the attractions all on its own.

  • We've made a quick stop at one of the natural points of interest along the highway, these

  • wetlands at the base of Mount Kuju, which is the tallest mountain on all of Kyushu.

  • From the wetlands we drive further into the Kuju Mountains, stopping briefly at the Makinoto

  • Pass, the highest point along the Yamanami Highway, to enjoy the breathtaking vista.

  • Following this, we visit the Kuju Flower Park, a hillside park that boasts thousands upon

  • thousands of vividly colored flowers around its well manicured grounds.

  • With rugged Mount Kuju acting as a photogenic backdrop to the floral displays, this park

  • truly is a feast for the eyes.

  • We're now closing in on Kurokawa Onsen, but before arriving and checking in to our

  • ryokan, we have enough time to make a quick stop at a hot spring bath on the outskirts

  • of town to enjoy a heavenly soak in pristine nature.

  • After having a pleasant bath, we're heading to our ryokan on the other side of Kurokawa

  • Onsen to check in.

  • Before dinner there's just enough time to walk around and explore this hot spring town on foot.

  • Kurokawa Onsen is one of Japan's most attractive hot spring towns, notable for its wooden buildings

  • and earthen walls contributing to a quaint aesthetic that has been consciously preserved here.

  • The compact town center is comprised of narrow lanes punctuated by traditional inns and shops,

  • with a river flowing through to make for an intensely pleasant atmosphere.

  • Having worked up an appetite from strolling around the town

  • now let's get back to the ryokan for dinner.

  • This is another first for me, staying overnight in Kumamoto Prefecture, and we're about

  • to enjoy another delicious looking traditional meal at a ryokan.

  • This includes some Kumamoto delicacies including horse meat.

  • I'm starving after all that travelling so let's dig in.

  • Itadakimasu.

  • Tastes ever so slightly gamey.

  • It's chewy.

  • It's got a great texture.

  • A little bit smokey because it's been seared.

  • And it's just incredible.

  • DAY 3

  • On this third and final day of our incredible

  • cross-Kyushu trip, we're first headed to see the area's most famous volcano before

  • taking to the road one last time and driving to Kumamoto City.

  • Before breakfast we'll take advantage of our ryokan's private baths for a pre-breakfast soak.

  • Private baths, or kashikiriburo, are not uncommon in ryokan and are typically reservable or

  • first come first served.

  • These types of baths are perfect for couples or young families who want to bathe together

  • or for those who just aren't quite comfortable bathing in public.

  • But either way they make for a great experience.

  • So, this morning we're being treated to another traditional breakfast.

  • And today some of the specialities include locally-sourced milk, this locally-made konnyaku

  • and it looks delicious and I can't wait to dig in.

  • So just finished breakfast and what can I say about Kurokawa onsen?

  • It's been an amazing place to stay, such a pretty little town, and I love this time

  • of year, late spring early summer when it's beginning to get really really green.

  • After this we're gona hop back in the car and move on.

  • Our first stop is at Mount Aso and then after that we're gona come to an end in Kumamoto.

  • Before arriving at Mount Aso, I couldn't resist stopping at another observation area

  • called the Daikanbo Lookout, to take in more breathtaking views of the surroundings.

  • So we've arrived and over here you can see majestic Mount Aso.

  • Now, when it's deemed safe

  • it's possible to go right up to the rim and look down into the crater.

  • But there was a minor eruption a few weeks ago, so now it's only possible to get within

  • a kilometer of the crater, but I mean look at it that's still a fantastic view.

  • So we've just come from being close to the crater of Mount Aso.

  • I mean that was quite an awesome experience to say the least.

  • The scale of the landscape around these parts is just incredible.

  • It's huge.

  • And now we are back in the car obviously and are en route to Kumamoto.

  • So we are just about coming into Kumamoto and in a way I'm kinda sad because that

  • means that the driving part of this trip is very nearly over.

  • But having said that I'm looking forward to getting into the city and exploring the

  • famous Kumamoto Castle and then also eating some Kumamoto ramen which I haven't tried

  • yet but I've heard is absolutely delicious.

  • Upon arriving in central Kumamoto our first stop is at Suizenji Garden.

  • This spacious Japanese garden was built in the 17th century for the enjoyment of the

  • local feudal lords, and contains various picturesque features such as its own much smaller version

  • of Mount Fuji.

  • Today the garden is open to the public, so anyone can enter and meander along the paths

  • while soaking up the garden's tranquility.

  • After wandering around Suizenji Garden it's time to drive across town and grab a bowl

  • of Kumamoto ramen before getting up close to Kumamoto Castle, the last spot on our itinerary.

  • Kumamoto is famous for its ramen.

  • Two typical ingredients are the pork bone broth and the garlic chips.

  • This one that I've got in front of me looks absolutely delicious so I'm gona dig in.

  • Salty, a little bit sweet and so rich, oh my.

  • So in Japan, it's totally normal to slurp your noodles, so I'm gonna slurp away.

  • So we're here at Kumamoto Castle.

  • Now this castle stands as one of the largest and most impressive castles in all of Japan.

  • Now