The perfect 4 days in Kyushu: a road trip during autumn in Japan
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Have you ever heard of Kyushu Island? It is Japan’s southernmost region, divided into eight prefectures that also include Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kumamoto.
This part of the country wasn’t on my itinerary when I spent 3 weeks in Japan in 2019 and explored the more well-known destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. However, it’s actually an amazing region that is very underrated and is well worth traveling to discover for yourself.
With many breathtaking landscapes, traditional Japanese villages, vibrant cities like Fukuoka and Nagasaki, and some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan it’s the perfect destination type of traveler.
As autumn in Japan is the perfect moment to discover this part of the country, my partner and I took off on a mini road trip in Kyushu and in this article, I will share some of the best places to visit, where to stay, and beautiful inspiring photos of our trip.
READ ALSO: The perfect itinerary for Japan in 3 weeks
Where is Kyushu Island?
Japan exists of four major islands, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu as its main island, where you will find the most well-known cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Kyushu Island is situated in the southern region of the country and is connected with Honshu Island by the Kanmon Bridge. Even though most tourists skip this part of the country, there are some amazing sights, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities such as Fukuoka and Nagasaki known for the atomic bomb attack during World War II.
Check the map of Kyushu and the actual itinerary of this mini road trip in Japan below.
How to get to Kyushu Island?
If you are coming from another country, the best and easiest way to get to there is to fly to either Fukuoka International Airport or Nagasaki International Airport.
However, there are frequently less expensive flights to Tokyo, where you can easily take a domestic flight or even a JR train to some of the major cities on Kyushu Island such as Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, or Miyazaki.
To give you an example, this is how much I paid for my flights. From Bali to Fukuoka with Airasia for € 240 per person, while the out bounding flight from Fukuoka to Amsterdam was € 600 for a one-way ticket with Singapore Airlines.
TIP: Did you know there is a Japan Rail Pass available only for the Kyushu region? It covers all the trains and it’s much cheaper than the JR pass that covers the whole country. You can buy the Kyushu Japan Rail Pass here.
How to get around Kyushu Island?
After you arrive, you will undoubtedly want to see as much of this region as possible. Although Japan has excellent public transportation, it is best to have your own car or rent one for this trip.
You can rent a car between €30-60 per day depending on the length and period, you want to rent a vehicle. Obviously, having your own car gives you much more freedom and makes it possible to drive either along the toll roads or through the rural villages.
If you are unable to rent a car, another option is to take the JR trains to some destinations, such as from Fukuoka to Kusu or Kumamoto, and then book a day trip or join a group tour from those cities.
A great local car rental company is Tocoo.
IMPORTANT TIP: Keep in mind that in almost all cases, if you rent a car in Japan, you will be required to present a translated Japanese version of your driver’s license.
The best time to visit Kyushu Island?
It is a year-round destination because the cherry blossoms that bloom somewhere around March give everything a pink appearance while autumn in Kyushu transforms the entire region into a colorful palette between October and December.
From December to March, when it’s winter in Japan, there might be snowfall in the mountainous regions, creating a winter wonderland. Incredibly lovely!
Perhaps the least favourite time is between June and September when the weather is hot and humid and there is a chance of typhoons.
I went on this road trip during the fall in Japan and it was breathtaking as the landscape had a moody vibe and beautiful autumn colors.
Where to stay?
Staying somewhere that is closer to the major sights of this trip, such as Yufuin, Beppu, Takachiho, and Kumamoto, is the best way to get the most out of this trip. Although, it’s also perfectly possible to stay in Fukuoka or Kumamoto and make several day trips.
We drove from Fukuoka to Kusu, where we stayed with Nao’s aunt in a traditional house and a wooden cabin near Takachiho. However, you will find below some alternative places to stay in Yufuin, Kumamoto, and Takachiho that are highly recommended.
READ ALSO: 21 Best hotels in Japan
Travel essentials for a road trip in Kyushu
After traveling throughout this fantastic country for a while, I’ve noticed that there are a few must-have items that can make your journey in Japan significantly more comfortable if you bring them with you or plan ahead.
One of the best things to do is to get a WiFi router on arrival at the airport if you want to explore Japan in 3 weeks for example or visit less popular destinations.
Another very handy tip is to get a WISE Card. I use my Wise Card every day to pay or withdraw money because it has the lowest international transaction costs and allows me to quickly and easily convert EUR or USD to JPY (and other currencies)
In addition to the above, here are some extra essentials I believe are very useful during your itinerary for Japan.
- Get a WIFI router on arrival at the airport
- Get a WISE Card
- Download these apps before you arrive
- Google translate (thank me later)
- Japan Travel App
- Purchase a Passmo or Suica card
- Buy a Japan Rail Pass
- Apply for a Japanese translation of your driving license
- A power bank and international adapter
- Reusable water bottle
4 days in Kyushu, Japan
Day 1: from Fukuoka to Kusu
Distance: 100km – 1h 40min (toll road) – 2h 30min (no toll)
We started our short road trip in Kyushu from Fukuoka and drove to the largest Gundam Statue in Japan, With a height of almost 25 meters, the Gundam statue is located right next to the Lalaport Fukuoka Shopping Center since April 2022. A must-visit place when you are in Fukuoka!
The small village of Ukiha is a one-hour drive from the Gundam Statue and while the village isn’t particularly remarkable on its own, it was worth a visit because you’ll find the Ukiha Inari Shrine here that looks like the smaller version of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
The Ukiha Inari Shrine is surrounded by many fruit orchards and has nearly 100 tori gates that you can walk through. Besides the spectacular tori gates, this place is located on a hilltop where you have breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The next place that we visited is the charming community of Mamedamachi, which can be found on the outskirts of Hita city. Walking through the narrow alleys and streets of this historic village feels like stepping back in time, because the authentic houses, souvenir shops, and traditional buildings still look the same as they did during the Edo period (1600-1800).
A truly beautiful place where you can still experience authentic Japanese culture.
However, since it was a Monday, which is a day when many businesses are closed, there wasn’t much going on, so we decided to take a stroll around the village and the river.
On the first day of this road trip in Kyushu, we stayed with Nao’s Aunty, who lives in a traditional Japanese house in the onsen village of Kusu. However, along the way to Kusu are two of the most spectacular waterfalls in Kyushu, the Sakura Falls, and Jionnotaki Falls that are definitely worth visiting.
Both waterfalls are very easy to reach as they are only a 10-minute walk from the main road and the moment we visited these places the autumn foliage made it even more beautiful.
READ ALSO: 18 x the best things to do in Kyoto
Day 2: Yufuin Floral Village and the best waterfalls in Kyushu
Distance: 120km – 2h 50min
One of the reasons to visit Kusu is that it’s an onsen town in Japan where you can bathe in an onsen with water from a natural spring known as the ‘magical hot springs,’ which are said to relieve muscle pain and neuralgia. Highly recommended after a day of exploring and walking, or simply to relax.
When you drive from this town a bro the north, you can make kind of a loop to Yufuin Onsen Village, which will take you to some of the most stunning waterfalls in Japan.
One of the first waterfalls along the way is the Nishi Shiiya Falls, which can be seen either from a viewing platform near the parking area or at the base. However, the trail was closed due to a landslide recently so we admired the beautiful landscapes and the moody vibes from the lookout. Definitely worth stopping here!
Unexpectedly, on the way to the next location, we came across an area that is known as Machu Picchu Usa. A lookout point over a mountain region that, from a distance, resembles Machu Picchu. Although, if you use a little of your imagination.
At the parking lot’s information board was another beautiful waterfall mentioned, the Yono Falls, which was just a short drive away, so we decided to visit it as well.
However, the trip to the Yono Falls was quite a journey as the road is very narrow and with some steep parts. From the small parking area, it’s a small walk uphill to the base of the impressive cascade waterfall that, despite the heavy downpour, was definitely worth seeing.
After the Yono Falls, we made our way to The Fukinono Falls, which are located about a half hour’s drive further on and it’s one of the highlights of this trip.
You can admire this waterfall from either the top or the base, however, it is a bit of an adventure to get to the base where you can admire the power of this stunning 65 meters high waterfall. The calming effect of the negative ions produced by this waterfall left us feeling in awe. What a wonderful feeling!
Another epic place that you definitely should add to your Kyushu itinerary and a place that we almost skipped because it was raining so hard is the Higashi Shiiya Falls. With 85 meters high it’s amongst the tallest and best waterfalls in Japan. So glad we didn’t skip this one!
To get there, you must walk along carved rock walls and climb a little over some steep rocks, but once you experience the waterfall’s powerful force, you’re completely forgotten about the walk.
At the end of the day, we visited Yufuin Onsen village where you can find the beautiful Lake Kinrin where you can admire the beautiful surroundings and mountain landscapes during a walk around the lake. Just stunning!
In this town, you will also find the Yufuin Floral Village, which was inspired by the Harry Potter film set location of Cotswold. It’s a lot of fun to walk around here and when you visit Japan in November, you can admire the beautiful colors of autumn while trying out some of the tasty food from the small food stalls.
It was a wonderful day and we stayed again in Kusu where a relaxing dip in the warm onsen was the perfect way to end this beautiful and rainy day. There are several onsens in Kusu but we chose this private one (野田温泉) and paid only 1300 JPY (€ 9) for 50 minutes.
The city of Oita is also a fantastic place to stay because it’s close to Beppu, one of the most famous Onsen towns in Japan.
Day 3: Epic views and the Takachiho Gorge
Distance: 135km – 3h
Before we make our way to the Takachiho Gorge, which is one of the most beautiful places in Japan, we stopped at the Kokonoe Yume Otsuribashi, the highest pedestrian bridge in Japan located 175 meters above the ground.
This is possibly one of the most spectacular bridges you will cross as you have stunning views of the valley on one side, and on the other side, you can admire two beautiful waterfalls flowing into the valley.
Allow at least an hour for this visit because the Kokonoe Yume Otsuribashi bridge is nearly 400 meters long and you will most likely take pictures or simply enjoy the scenic views.
From Kusu it’s another 2-hour drive to the Takachiho Gorge and since we had reserved a timeslot for the iconic rowing boats at 15h, it was best to continue the trip. Along the way are a few great lookouts with stunning views of the surrounding area and several places where you can have lunch.
When you plan your visit to this awesome place, make sure you reserve tickets for the rowing boats in advance because the booking office was already closed when we arrived and it was sold out for the next few days.
If you have some time either before or after your rowing adventure, visit also the Amanoiwato Shrine, which is one of the most important temples in Japan, dedicated to Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess.
Another fantastic day with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has been on my bucket list for years!
Day 4: More stunning waterfalls and Mount Aso
Distance: 84km – 1h 50min + 2h 30min (toll road) to Fukuoka
Although we spent the night in a mountain cabin on the border between the Miyazaki prefecture and the Kumamoto Prefecture, the majority of tourists stay in Kumamoto city because there are much more options to stay.
One of the reasons we stayed here was the breathtaking view from the wooden chalet and the stunning Unoko Falls that was located in the valley across the road. The perfect location for outdoor lovers!
Before we visited another stunning waterfall during this mini Kyushu road trip, we passed the Tsujun Bridge or 通潤橋, the largest stone aqueduct in Japan. It doesn’t look like much at first, but at certain times of the day, water is released from both ends of the bridge, creating a powerful waterfall.
Very impressive to see, and there is no charge for parking, so it is absolutely worth a visit.
A bit further down the road, you will come to the parking lot of the Goroga Waterfall, which is without a doubt one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan and at the right time of day, you will be able to see a rainbow reflected in the water of the waterfall. Just incredible how beautiful nature can be!
The best views are definitely from a suspension bridge, which can be reached after a short walk from the parking area. Although, it’s also stunning down at the base of the waterfall, where you feel the full force of the waterfall, the path leading down there was damaged in a recent storm and closed for safety reasons.
The next stop and the last waterfall we visited on this amazing trip during autumn in Japan is the Shiraitono Falls. This waterfall is one of my favorites, and it is located in a peaceful setting among the hills near Mount Aso.
After photographing the Shiraitono Falls, we continued to Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan and obviously one of the highlights of this trip. The drive is pretty challenging with many sharp turns and uphill but once you reach one of the viewpoints, you will be in awe of the magnificent landscape that seems to be from another planet.
As the sun began to set, we decided to enjoy the sunset here before returning to Fukuoka at dusk. Although staying in Kumamoto may be more convenient.
This road trip in Japan will take you through one of the most beautiful regions in the country, which is full of beautiful and scenic spots to stop and explore, Especially during the autumn season.
Although it’s recommended to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka when it’s your first time in Japan, Kyushu Island is an excellent addition to your itinerary if you have more time or when you visit Japan again.
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Plan your road trip in Kyushu, Japan with my favorite travel apps
To plan my adventures, I use these FREE websites and apps as they provide the best information, the best deals, and they are user-friendly.
- Trip – Flight deals
- Booking.com – Hotels and accommodation
- TourRadar – Group trips
- TripAdvisor – Reviews and activities
- HostelWorld – Hostels
- GetYourGuide – Activities and excursions
- RentalCars – Car rental
- Omio – Transport
- iVisa – Travel documents
- Wise – Money transfer
- InsuredNomads – Travel Insurance
PICTURES AND EDITING
All the pictures on this page are made and owned by me. If you are interested in some pictures to use for your magazine, website, blog, or any other purpose, just send me an email and we’ll figure it out.
Do you like the edits? My Presets will be online soon so you can edit your pictures in just one click!
The camera gear I used for this trip
I never go out without my camera and many people ask me which gear I use. So to make it quite easy, I listed all the gear I used for this trip below.
Most of the time, I travel with the Sony A7III and the Sony 24-105mm/f4 as my primary lens but depending on the location, I change to another setup. However, I love the Tamron 17-28 to shoot in the big cities.