Unknown Attractions! Great Tourist Spots and Festivals of Northern Kumamoto
Kumamoto Prefecture suffered from a series of large scale earthquakes in the Kumamoto Earthquakes in April 2016. It greatly affected the lives of people living in the area and destroyed Kumamoto Castle, Aso Ohashi Bridge and other tourist attractions, which will all take a considerable amount of time to be fully restored.
Many people not only from within but also outside Japan had to cancel their trips to the Kyushu area because of the earthquake. The actual level of damage varies by areas even within the same Kumamoto Prefecture. The northern part of Kumamoto, which is my home town, suffered relatively less from the earthquake and most of the tourist spots and stores in the area have been able to keep their business as usual.
Here I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to you the tourist attractions from northern Kumamoto, which is enjoyable as much as ever. Such famous tourist spots as the calderas of Mount Aso and Kumamoto Castle are not the only things to see in Kumamoto.
Fantastic Festival in Yamaga City
Yamaga City, located about 30 minutes drive away from Aso Kumamoto Airport, is a hot spring town which once prospered as a post station for feudal lords and their vassals who were obliged to travel to Edo (old capital of Japan) every other year. The area still today retains the good old atmosphere from back in those days.
Photo by flickr
Yamaga City hosts the “Yamaga Lantern Festival” in August every year, where 1,000 women wearing gold lanterns on their heads show a graceful dance performance. The gold lanterns are the specialty traditional craft from Yamaga City, which is made only with Japanese washi paper and a small amount of glue. They are the products of elaborate work but do not feel heavy at all when placed on the head as they are made of paper.
If you visit Yamaga in the winter, another lantern festival called “Yamaga Toro Roman / Hyakka Hyakusai” held in February is a must-see. Yamaga City was once widely known as a producing area of Japanese umbrellas. The festival was first self-produced by the local residents who wished to recreate the scenery from the old days of Yamaga. You can enjoy the fantastic atmosphere created by colorful umbrellas and other decorations lit up beautifully in the darkness of night.
Yamaga Onsen Yamaga New Grand Hotel, Photo by flickr
Yamaga is also one of the major hot spring towns in Kumamoto. The spring water quality here is smooth and slightly viscous. The city is scattered with many hotels and inns as well as facilities accepting drop-in guests for hot spring.
Tamana City: Mysterious Spot Where Many Monks Trained
Shin-Tamana Station, Photo by flickr
Tamana City is located west to Yamaga City. It is serviced by the Kyushu shinkansen bullet trains and easily accessible in 10 minutes by bullet train from Kumamoto Station and 42 minutes from Hakata Station.
At Shin-Tamana Station, you can enjoy delicious Tamana Ramen, the specialty food from the area, which features a fabulous combination of ramen noodles and pork bone broth tonkotsu soup.
Rengein Tanjoji Okunoin Temple, Photo by flickr
If you drive for about 10 minutes from Shin-Tamana Station, you will get to Rengein Tanjoji Okunoin Temple, which is a prestigious temple of Shingon Risshu Buddhism and boasts a vast area of about 0.6 square kilometers. It was established as a place for trainee monks to have religious trainings. Especially notable here is a large temple bell called “Hiryu No Kane” and the statue of Nio guardian, which is the tallest among the ones of its kind in Kyushu.
Rengein Tanjoji Okunoin Temple, Photo by flickr
The five-storied tower at this temple also boasts Japan’s largest in size and ranks the third for its height. You can go inside the tower and get to see the actual training rooms on each floor. The top floor of the tower commands a panoramic view of Mount Aso and Ariake Sea. As natural as it may seem for a place where many monks have had religious training, the temple is also popular as a spot where you can feel some mysterious energy in the calm atmosphere. Information: Map
Northern Kumamoto is Filled with a Lot of Attractions
Mascot Character of Kumamoto: Kumamon, Photo by flickr
Kumamoto Castle and Mount Aso usually gain attention as the major tourist spots of Kumamoto, but the prefecture also has many other attractive places that are less well known. While some areas in Kumamoto may still need some time before they are fully recovered, the northern part of Kumamoto is already perfectly safe to visit and will surely allow you to enjoy the trip. While spending some relaxing time in a hot spring and exploring relatively unknown spots of interest in the area, we bet you will discover something new here and your journey will be a very special and valuable experience.