We’ve been posting a lot about Kyushu on our blog lately, and as you might know, it’s because we recently took a short vacation there. But the purpose of our visit wasn’t just for a holiday or to cover the awesome car event at Autopolis we went to – it was so we could report back to you, our members, with some valuable information on how you can enjoy a similar experience in this ‘lesser travelled’ area of Japan.
Kyushu still has a massive tourism industry, but it’s nothing compared to areas like Kansai (with Osaka and Kyoto) and Kantō (with Tokyo), and it’s certainly not the first place in Japan that you’d think of going to if you’re interested in car culture. I’ll talk a bit more about this in just a moment, but the truth is that Kyushu has an amazing car scene; it just hasn’t really been documented or explored by foreign people as much as other places have been. If you’re willing to take a chance and go there though, you’ll be in for a completely unique experience – and we can help you with that!
After spending a little bit of time in Kyushu, we’ve put together this helpful guide containing everything we’ve learned. So if you decide you’d like to go there, here’s what you need to know:
General tips + observations.
- Kyushu is best explored by car, and you’d really need at least one week to enjoy it.
- It’s a lot quieter than other main parts of Japan, so if you hate crowds, you’ll love Kyushu!
- In general, it’s a bit more ‘traditional’. Especially when you get out of central Fukuoka, less people are likely to speak English, so knowing some basic Japanese including written Katakana will definitely help you here.
- If you don’t want to be too hot while you’re adventuring around the countryside, you might not want to travel there between July-September as summer is pretty brutal. We went in May, and the weather was perfect – blue skies every day and temperatures of 24-27°C (77-81°F). Keep in mind that it also snows in winter (Dec-Feb) in Kyushu – although more so in places that are at a slightly higher elevation.
- Kyushu may not be the best place for your first trip to Japan, especially if car culture is the main reason for your visit. It’s also not the place where you’ll have the most ‘Japan’ experience – if that makes sense. However, if you’ve already been to Japan and you’re ready to do something a bit ‘different’, if you love nature and the countryside, and if you’re ready to put your Japanese skills to the test AND you want to see some cool cars that not many other foreigners are getting to see, Kyushu is AMAZING and so worth visiting.
Where to go, exactly?
See that big island up there? Yep, that’s Kyushu! Kyushu is actually pretty large, but it’s still small enough that you can drive around a lot of it by car over a reasonably short period of time. It has seven areas or ‘Prefectures’ and they’re each well-known for different things. Here, we’ve listed them in the order of which we’d like to visit the most:
Fukuoka Prefecture – Fukuoka Prefecture is home to Kyushu’s biggest city (and one of the ten major cities in Japan), you guessed it – Fukuoka. When we flew into Fukuoka airport we were absolutely blown away by just how big Fukuoka city is – it’s massive! Here you’ll find all the usual comforts you’d find within a city, like great shopping, plenty of high quality dining experiences and some interesting history too. Because it’s so close to the Asian mainland (it’s actually closer to Seoul than it is to Tokyo), Fukuoka has been an important harbour city for many centuries. You should definitely spend at least a couple of days exploring Fukuoka!
Ōita Prefecture – Ōita was perhaps our personal favourite part of Kyushu that we visited, It’s ridiculously beautiful, and as you drive through the countryside you’ll be totally mesmerised by its charm. Ōita is also home to Kyushu’s biggest motorsport racing facility, Autopolis. Autopolis has an international standard race track plus a smaller course – perfect for drifting – and a lot of Kyushu’s car events are held here (it’s actually very close to the Kumamoto Prefecture border). Ōita is also famous for its hot springs, so if you’re really into Japan’s ‘onsen culture’ this area is a must-visit.
Miyazaki Prefecture – Miyazaki is quite a big, long skinny area on the southeast side of Kyushu. It’s really famous for its beautiful nature and even beaches too. It has some stunning national parks and shrines, plus its well known for its delicious beef! The Takachiho Gorge is a main attraction (pictured in the header image of this guide) plus the areas of Kirishima and Aya are meant to be super nice too.
Nagasaki Prefecture – Nagasaki, as you probably know, has some interesting and devastating history behind it. In the 16th-19th centuries it became a centre of both Portuguese and Dutch influence, and there are still some unique buildings and churches where this influence shows. As you’re very likely aware, during World War II an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, with horrific results. Nagasaki city is known for its sloping streets, pretty night views and a number of art museums. It also consists of – wait for it – 917 islands!!!
Kumamoto Prefecture – Kumamoto has always been famous for its beautiful historic castle, but unfortunately it was badly damaged in a series of big earthquakes that happened earlier last year. Sadly, there were also many fatalities and over 44,000 people were evacuated from their homes during this time. The castle is closed and still undergoing repairs until further notice. Outside of Kumamoto city the prefectural area is mostly rural – there are plenty of green, rolling hills and there’s even an active volcano called Mt. Aso. The part of Kumamoto on the coast has some nice scenic driving routes, including the bridged highways linking to the Amakusa islands.
Saga Prefecture – Saga features some pretty scenery (typical Kyushu!) and is also famous for its pottery, amazing seafood and its annual balloon festival which takes place around October-November each year.
Kagoshima Prefecture – At the very bottom of Kyushu you’ll find Kagoshima, which to be honest, we still don’t know a huge amount about! Apparently it has some beautiful driving roads though, and its also home to a massive and very active volcano called ‘Sakura-jima’.
Where to stay?
Generally, your options for accommodation in Kyushu are pretty much the same as they are anywhere else in Japan; you might just find a little less choice depending on what area you’re in. Fukuoka city is a major city, and there are tonnes of nice hotels, backpackers and Airbnbs there. Outside of Fukuoka and especially in more rural areas though, options are a tad more limited – but that kinda depends on how ‘adventurous’ you want to be…
Airbnb – There are hundreds if not thousands of different Airbnbs listed literally all over Kyushu. If you want to do something a bit alternative or if having a local host to guide you appeals to you, run a search for ‘Kyushu’ on Airbnb and spend some time going through some of the listings. There are modern apartments, private onsen villas, beach motels, tree houses; you can even stay in a 430 year-old Buddhist temple! Just keep in mind that some of the older, more rural villages and old houses can sometimes have a bit of a creepy vibe (if that sort of thing bothers you!) and some hosts may not speak any English.
Normal hotels – there are plenty of ‘normal’ hotels and motels around Kyushu, but keep in mind, the rooms are generally very small and some of them can seem overpriced. Many hotels are also ‘semi’ ryokan style and they’ll often have some tatami (woven mat) areas and futon beds where you sleep on the floor. Breakfast is generally still ‘Japanese style’.
Onsen Ryokan – Kyushu has many natural hot springs, so onsen ryokan are very popular. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with tatami and futons, and generally they have an amazing traditional breakfast and dinner service which you can select as part of your accommodation package. Many ryokan offer a more ‘luxury’ experience and can be expensive, so make sure to look around before you book. Private onsen are generally more expensive, but you could check out the Selected Ryokan website which has some good recommendations.
NOTE. I was expecting accommodation in Kyushu to be generally a bit cheaper but that was certainly not the case. If you’re going to have a rental car with you in Fukuoka, you might want to opt for an Airbnb or at least try and book your accommodation earlier as the cheaper options with parking book up really quickly. In smaller towns, most ryokans are all quite ’boutique style’ accommodation and they often aren’t very cheap. In the more quiet towns, accommodations generally always have parking which is a plus. Just make sure to really look around for the best deal possible before booking.
Car culture in Kyushu still seems kinda mysterious, especially compared to some of the well-documented car scenes in other areas of Japan. But this is what makes it so appealing – the allure of the unknown! The main areas of interest to do with car culture in Kyushu are race tracks, events and workshops or other car-related shops, and we’ve included literally everything we know about them below. As we find out more, we’ll also make sure to update this bonus guide!
Autopolis, Ōita – Autopolis is the biggest motorsport facility in Kyushu. It’s absolutely massive and is built to international racing standards, and as well as a super-fast 4.6 kilometre circuit, it also features a smaller track, known as the ‘Lakeside Course’. You can read more about it in our Awesome Guide #1: Japanese Race Tracks And Circuits, but for now, it might help for you to know that a lot of Kyushu’s big car events are held here. Due to its central position – almost smack-bang in the middle of Kyushu – it’s a popular spot for car meets too and it has a huge car park down by the Lakeside course which is ideal for this.
Address: Japan, 〒877-0312 Ōita-ken, Hita-shi, Kamitsuemachi Kaminoda, １１１２−８ 株式会社オートポリス
Very rarely do we find out about events happening elsewhere in Kyushu, however, you might be surprised to learn that Kyushu has at least six race tracks that we know of and there may well be more! These smaller circuits often host go kart and motorcycle events but sometimes they host drifting and other track days for car enthusiasts as well. They are:
Speed Park Koinoura, Fukuoka
Address: Japan, 〒811-3307 福岡県福津市渡641
HSR Circuit, Kumamoto
Address: ＨＳＲ九州／交通教育センターレインボー熊本 〒869-1231 熊本県菊池郡大津町平川1500
Spa Naoiri, Ōita
Address: ＳＰＡ直入 〒８７８－０４０３ 大分県竹田市直入町大字上田北字浦原５１０－１５
Kunitomi Kartland, Miyazaki
Address: Japan, 〒880-1113 Miyazaki-ken, Higashimorokata-gun, Kunitomi-chō, Kiwaki, ２８８０−２ 国富カートランド
Tenzan Ski Resort, Saga
Address: Japan, 〒840-0503 Saga-ken, Saga-shi, Fujichō Ōaza Ichikawa, ２３３８−６ 天山スキー場
Note. Not a track, but it’s a similar set-up to Okuibuki, a ski resort where they use the parking lot in summer for drifting.
MSL Hobby, Kagoshima
Address: 〒899-6403 霧島市溝辺町三縄857-55
Photo from toyotagazooracing.com
EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE.
The best way to plan your Kyushu trip would be to do so around a bigger annual event, then try and find out about other smaller events taking place around that date (if you wanted). Generally, we don’t find about a lot of events in Kyushu, although now that we have been there and met a few people, we are starting to learn about new events and things taking place there, and we’ve started adding more things like casual drift events and track days into our Event Calendar. Here are some events that take place in Kyushu that we know about and some more information about them:
Fukuoka Custom Car Show [CAR SHOW] – A big annual car show generally held at the West Japan General Exhibition Center in Kitakyushu, which is a 43 minute trip on the Shinkansen from Fukuoka. This indoor event is kind of like Kyushu’s version of Tokyo Auto Salon – it showcases a huge variety of car cultures from Kyushu, some of it cool and some not-so-cool (think early Fast and the Furious style with big chrome wheels-type stuff). There’s usually still a lot of cool tuner cars on show, including street cars with more ‘modern’ styling and even kyusha and zokusha too. It would be very interesting to go and you’d certainly learn a lot about local car culture and tuners. Usually the show takes place each year around February-March.
Link to some event coverage from 2016
Kyushu Drift League [DRIFTING] – A drift competition ‘九州ドリフトリーグ’ in Kyushu. This year all the rounds look like they are being held at MSL Hobby Circuit in Kagoshima, although in the past it seems Autopolis has hosted some events too. This year (2017) has seen rounds being held in April, July and October. This Facebook page here posts information and dates, and also sometimes information about other drift events in Kyushu.
Super GT [ENDURANCE RACING] – A national grand touring car racing championship which traditionally hosts a round at Autopolis every year. This year (2017) it was held in mid-May. If you love motorsport and want to attend a live race, this would be great to go to! Tickets can be purchased at the gate or at Loppi machines at Seven Eleven (in Japanese only).
Super Taikyu [ENDURANCE RACING] – This is another national touring car endurance racing series for commercially available vehicles, this year (2017) the Autopolis round was held mid-July.
HYPER meeting [RACING + CAR SHOW] – This racing event started in 2002 at Tsukuba but in more recent times has evolved into a bigger festival-like car show and track day with events happening at different locations in Japan throughout the year. It’s very performance focused, so you can expect to see plenty of popular tuner cars like Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru Imprezas, Toyota 86s and Nissan GT-Rs, and as well as track sessions there are exhibitor booths and a static display of cars too. Generally these events are covered by big magazines like OPTION, Drift Tengoku and G-Works, and there may be drifting this year too. This year it will be taking place on the 24th September at Autopolis.
Exciting Battle Kyushu [GRASSROOTS RACING] – These grassroots racing days, ‘エキサイティングバトル九州’ feature an amazing assortment of cars that race together in different classes, with everything from incredible classic Hakosukas and wide-bodied Fairlady Zs, to Civics, Silvias and AE86s – it honestly looks crazy! From what we can tell, around two events are held each year. This year (2017) ‘Round 10’ was held on the 30th of April and ‘Round 11′ looks to be scheduled for 22nd of October (although this date is not in Autopolis’ calendar yet). This would probably be our top recommended event to go to in Kyushu!
Link to video from the recent round.
Showa Car Meeting & Nonsuri [KYUSHA + DRIFTING] Japanese name: 昭和車ミーティング & ノンスリパーティ– This event has taken place in the last couple of years at Autopolis down by the lakeside course and we attended it this May. This year (2017) the meeting turned out to be quite big, with hundreds of old classic Japanese cars and even a drift class with some great track action, and there were some amazing cars. Unfortunately the Facebook page has since been removed, and we are unsure whether it will be taking place again next year. However, chances are that it may get ‘replaced’ with another similar event – we’ll have to wait until 2018 to hear more.
Link to our video from this year’s event.
Kumamoto ‘Obakatachino’ Custom Car Show [KYUSHA + ZOKUSHA] – Finally, we saw a couple of people attend this event earlier this year (2017) in mid-March. It looked crazy (to the point of perhaps not actually being all that ‘family-friendly’ – think blow up dolls and old men getting partially nude!) but if you’re super into kaido racers and yankee/guranchan style you might be interested. At this stage we’re unsure if it will be held again next year. This year it was held in a parking lot in Yamaga, Kumamoto.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/YotaroRengo
Link to event coverage on a Japanese blog.
NOTE: As we learn about more events held in Kyushu, we’ll add them to this post.
We’re still learning about what different tuner shops are based in Kyushu. The biggest one (and perhaps the only one you might know of) is URAS. Drift sensation Ken Nomura AKA. ‘Nomuken’ and his URAS brand are based out of Fukuoka. We’ve listed URAS along with a few other shops as follows:
Some other tuner shops are listed on this website here.
Image from yakusokuyama.blogspot.hk
Each region has its own things going on, but here’s a random collection of all the things we’ve experienced in Kyushu and would recommend plus all the things we’ve heard about being AMAZING!
Explore the area and shops around Fukuoka ‘Tenjin’ Station and ‘Daimyo’ district.
Link on Google Maps.
Walk around Ohori Park.
Link on Google Maps.
Eat dinner at Fukuoka’s famous pop-up ‘Yatai’ food stalls. These can be found popping up generally all over the city after 6pm, but Nakagawa Street in Nakasu near Seiryu Park has heaps of them. This is also right next to a seedy red light district which is quite amusing!
Link on Google Maps.
Link to further reading.
NOTE. We were really surprised at just how expensive the yatai were! The meal we had seemed very overpriced – not what you’d expect for casual street food.
Escape the city and head out to the tranquil Itoshima Peninsula in summer. A lot of shops and cafes out here are only open during peak season so we’d recommend heading out here (by car) from June-August.
Link to further reading with recommendations.
Some more recommendations here.
Visit Kumamoto City – although you can’t look around the famous Kumamoto castle (it’s still being repaired) you can visit Sakura-no-baba Josaien, an Edo-themed mini village just opposite, which has some tasty foods and small souvenirs. (Note. It’s very ‘touristy’.)
Link on Google Maps.
Link to more information.
Just down the road from Sekia Hotel is the famous Sekia Hills DEC Circuit. The circuit was abandoned and turned into a solar power farm many years ago, but you can still go in and check out what remains of it!
Link on Google Maps.
Attend the annual Saga Hot Air Balloon Festival! Would make for some magical photos. This year it runs from the 1st – 5th November.
Link to the website.
Photo from www.jnize.com
That’s it for our special bonus guide for planning your trip to Kyushu. We hope you’ve found all of this information useful!