Your first day begins as you board your international flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport. We will be able to help you arrange the flight that best suits your needs. Meals will be served during the flight.
If you prefer to see more of Japan, we can arrange a prior or post extension to this trip, giving you the best sites in popular cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, which is just 45 minutes by Bullet Train from Kyushu. Please ask us for details.
After an in-flight breakfast, you will arrive at Haneda Airport, where you’ll catch a quick domestic flight bound for Kitakyushu Airport. There you will be met by your English-speaking guide, who will help you board a bus for the nearby Kokura Station and escort you to your hotel.
Kitakyushu is the closest city to Honshu, making it the historic gateway to western Japan. It’s packed with wonderful sightseeing opportunities, and was recently designated as one of Japan’s ultra-green sustainable “future cities”. After arriving at your hotel, you’ll have the rest of your day to unwind or even explore. You’ll be staying at the four-star Rihga Royal Hotel Kokura, which offers spacious rooms, a bar and an indoor pool. Lunch and dinner aren’t included today, but there are dining options at your hotel and in the town around you.
After a hotel breakfast, you will link back up with your guide at your hotel, ready for a jam-packed day of sightseeing. Your first stop is the nearby monorail station, and your destination the TOTO toilet museum! This quirky museum tells the comprehensive history of the humble commode, and it’s an intriguing way to start your trip. You’ll then return via monorail to Tanga Market, which, with around 120 food stalls packed into a small market block, has earned its reputation as “the Kitchen of Kitakyushu”.
We’re making for a unique restaurant called Daigakudo, the brainchild of local university students. You’re handed a rice bowl and sent into the market – accompanied by your guide – to pick up tasty-looking foods and toppings. Then return to the restaurant and tuck in! After lunch, it’s another short walk, this time to Kokura Castle and its beautiful gardens. Once home to the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, it’s now a sedate museum in a classically gorgeous setting.
Next we’ll head to the historically important port town of Mojiko by train. As Japan’s westernmost port, Mojiko became a major base for international trade after the borders were reopened to the world during the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912). It was once considered one of the nation’s three major ports, alongside Yokohama and Kobe, and handsome brick buildings remain from that period as a popular tourist destination. Your guide will take you on a short walking tour of the Mojiko’s old town, showing off the eye-catching neorenaissance style station, and the former Moji Mitsui Club, which charmed Albert Einstein on his visit to Japan in 1922.
You’ll then board a historic diesel locomotive and its two trolley cars, riding the scenic coastal route along an old, out-of-use harbour line. Once reserved for freight trains carrying limestone, cement and other building materials, this track connects Mojiko old town to Setonaikai National Park, where the picturesque Mekari Shrine is just a short walk away. Upon arrival at Mekari Station, we’ll visit the observation deck in Mekari Park for its stunning views of the swirling Kanmon Straits and the bridge between Kyushu and nearby Honshu. Then it’s back the way we came, returning to Kokura Station where you’ll head back to the hotel. After freshening up, dinner will be fresh, locally sourced tempura served at the hotel’s own restaurant.
After breakfast in the hotel, your guide will meet you once again and escort you to Hakata Station by Bullet Train, arriving in Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu. Fukuoka is a big place, but it’s compact and very easy to navigate on foot. We’ve not arranged a car for this leg of the journey because it’s so much nicer (and more sustainable!) to stroll the city’s precincts at your own pace.
Fukuoka is famed for many things, but over the years it’s turned street food into an artform, and its many food stands (“yatai”) are worth the trip alone. Leaving your cases in a safe and secure locker at the station, you’ll visit the Kushida Shrine. This is one of the oldest Shinto sites in the city, and it’s popular with the locals for many reasons – not least because it has a fountain that’s said to grant longevity and youth to those who drink from it.
You’ll then hit Fukuoka’s hippest mall, Canal City Hakata. Home to 250 shops, cafes and restaurants, it’s a brilliant place to buy clothes, electronics, souvenirs – you name it.
It’s the famous Hakata-style ramen for lunch: rich, creamy pork-bone broth that’s famous all over the world for very good reasons. It’s good anywhere you have it, but it’s at its very best in the place where it was first invented – and people often travel all the way to Fukuoka just to sample it in its home city.
After lunch, there’s a hotel shuttle bus to the four-star Luigans Spa and Resort, where you’ll check in and deposit your bags before heading out once more. We’ve arranged a trip to the gorgeous Uminonakamichi Seaside Park.
This National Park is perched on a narrow sandbank and surrounded by the crystal-blue waters of Hakata Bay. Constantly in bloom, there are beautiful seasonal flowers in a riot of colour throughout the year, and all sorts of family-friendly activities, including a gentle 7.5-mile cycle route with ocean views around the whole park. There is also a mega trampoline, a water park, and a much loved ‘animal forest’ where you can meet adorable local species of animals. The park is planning to launch a “glamping” experience during the upcoming spring season, allowing guests to enjoy the whole site from the comfort of a luxury spherical tent.
And if it’s raining there’s always the local aquarium, Marine World Uminonakamichi. It has a huge main tank, seven metres deep and bursting with marine life native to Kyushu’s ocean waters, including over 120 sharks of 20 different species! You can feed dolphins and sea lions at the outdoor tanks, and watch their performances.
After another full day of fun, you’ll stroll back to your hotel, which offers serene ocean views from all its rooms, as well as an outdoor pool open in the summer, relaxing spa treatments and various dining options. Dinner is included and will be served at the hotel.
After breakfast at the hotel, your guide will accompany you to Hakata Pier, where you’ll catch a ferry and spend the morning on a cruise around Hakata Bay, before arriving at Tenjin Station. You’ll catch the Rail Kitchen Chikugo, a famous specialty dining train. Lunch will be served with fine local produce as you take in the beautiful sights and scenery on the line between Fukuoka and Yanagawa.
Arriving at Nishitetsu-Yanagawa Station in Yanagawa, you’ll then be driven by private car to one of the city’s many historic waterways to enjoy an hour-long punting tour of Yanagawa’s historic canals, which flow into the old castle moat. It’s a splendidly serene way to see this picturesque town.
You’ll then drive a little way into the countryside, where you’ll check in at the 3.5- star Saga Furuyu Onsen ONCRI. This is a hot spring hotel built for relaxation in a mixture of traditional and modern architecture. It has a total of 15 indoor and outdoor “onsen” – hot spring baths, including a private one for families, and a special sand-steamed bath. The on-site restaurant serves Italian cuisine using locally-grown produce. And after dinner, if you still have energy, there’s karaoke available at the hotel, or a bar with gorgeous forest views.
After breakfast, you’ll meet your guide once more for a full day of sightseeing around Saga by private car. This rural prefecture is well known for its crafts – particularly porcelain made in Arita. But first, you’ll begin your day in the best possible way: with a meditation session at the nearby Koshoin Temple (only available on tours in April and July).
Our next stop is Nao Tesuki Washi, a traditional paper-making workshop in leafy Saga City. There you’ll observe master craftsmen making washi: fine, translucent paper used in many time-honoured Japanese arts and crafts, including lanterns, screens and origami. You’ll even learn how to make a Japanese paper fan to take home with you.
We’ll then stop in at the Yamada Sightseeing Farm where you can make soba noodles, another traditional Japanese meal. Made from buckwheat, soba is popular as a health food as it’s low in calories and very nutritious. You can eat what you make for lunch (with a little help from the experts!). You can also pick juicy grapes after lunch in August (not available in April or July).
After a homemade lunch, we’ll travel to Tara on the Ariake Coast and board an oyster fishing boat to watch the gorgeous, clear ocean waters. If the weather is bad, we’ll instead visit an authentic wasabi farm to sample some of the freshest Japanese horseradish you’ll ever try!
We then arrive at the Yutoku Inari Shrine, one of the three main shrines in Japan to the fox god Inari. Inari is a popular Shinto god, as he looks after rice, tea, sake, prosperity and plenty of other good things, and this shrine is famous for its vibrant red architecture built into the woods that roll up the hillside. You may even be able to catch a dance performed by the “miko” – the shrine maidens.
That evening, you’ll arrive in the small town of Ureshino, where you’ll check in at Warakuen, a traditional Japanese travellers’ inn. This inn (or “ryokan”) has its own hot spring bath to help melt away the day’s fatigue, as well as a sand bath as an optional extra.
Dinner will be kaiseki, a traditional Japanese multicourse meal. However if you prefer, we can arrange a visit to a teppanyaki restaurant serving the excellent Saga beef, local seafood and fresh vegetables, all prepared by the chef on an iron hotplate at your table. A vegan menu is available.
It’s another day seeing the sights of Saga by private car today, with a short stop after a hotel breakfast at the Romon Gate, a famed red-lacquer gate designed by the famous architect Kingo Tatsuno. Now for something very different: at Takeo, you’ll be introduced to the ancient martial art of Yabusame – horseback archery! You’ll dress in historically accurate clothes and learn the very basics of shooting arrows (while stationary!)
We’ll visit the little town of Ureshino for lunch, where you’ll eat hand-made tofu at Hirakawaya, which specialises in rich, slightly sweet dishes that just melt in the mouth. Before departing for Arita and its wonderful ceramics, we’ve got enough time for a footbath at Ureshino’s local onsen, which use a technique called ‘high-temperature nanomist’ to warm and relax your feet.
Arita was the first place that porcelain was fired in Japan, and its signature style dates back more than 400 years. The elegance of Arita’s porcelain made it extremely popular with overseas customers – even during the Edo Period when almost all of Japan was banned from trading with foreigners. This made it very rare and expensive – and therefore the preserve of European nobility, who knew it as ‘Imari ware’, because the trading ships that carried it to the West left from the port of Imari.
After a visit to the Kyushu Ceramic Museum, which has a magnificent collection of incredible porcelain, we’ll arrive at Koraku Kiln, a working kiln producing lovely pieces using traditional techniques. They have a ‘treasure hunt’ experience, where you’re given gloves and a basket – and 90 minutes to fill it with your favourite pieces from their huge warehouse. It’s a wonderful way to see all the different styles and come away with your favourites. If you prefer, you will instead be able to make some Arita pottery of your own – the kiln will provide a decorative transfer sheet, show you how to apply it to porcelain and then fire it afterwards. It should be ready to bring back with you within a couple of days.
This evening you’ll be staying at the three-star Karatsu Seaside Hotel on the northwest coast. It’s on the edge of Niji-no-Matsubara, a forest of black pine trees on a long, beautiful arc that joins a white-sand beach. This is a lovely place for guests to relax, and the hotel has a gym, a swimming pool, karaoke rooms, and many communal open-air baths with vistas of the green-blue ocean. There will be a buffet dinner at the hotel.
After breakfast, your guide will escort you by private car to the Kagamiyama Observation Deck, which has superb views of Niji-noMatsubara, which means “rainbow pine grove” and is considered one of the three finest pine forests in Japan.
We’ll then depart for Hirado in Nagasaki prefecture by private car. This is a castle town that became one of the first ever ports to trade with Europe before Japan closed its borders. We’ve arranged a horse-riding lesson, which will be suitable even for absolute beginners, before a horse-trek along the beach, which has yet more fabulous ocean views and a very welcome breeze during the hot summer months.
Lunch today is a wonderful treat: Hirado wagyu beef steak at Ebisutei, which serves an exquisitely tender cut of luxury Japanese beef from beautifully tended local herds. Then it’s time for the tea ceremony at the Matsuura Historical Museum: a formal Zen Buddhist tradition which celebrates the subtle flavours of green tea. Please don’t worry about the formal rules and techniques as you attend the ceremony; what’s most important is that guests enjoy their host’s hospitality in a peaceful atmosphere that’s cut off from the everyday world. Friendly staff will even show you how the sweet treats served with your tea are made – after all, Hirado has been the centre of Japan’s sugar trade for centuries, even while the borders were closed to almost every other foreign import.
After your refreshments, the museum will introduce another short cultural experience: Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, an art form which reached its peak in the 16th century under the influence of Buddhist tea masters. Each plant in Ikebana represents a different aspect of the human experience, properly balanced around Heaven and the Earth. We’ll also make sure you have plenty of time to explore the exhibits, which include a collection of personal artefacts from the Matsuura clan, the former feudal lords of Hirado.
Suitably enriched, we will then check in at the three-star Hirado Kaijo Hotel, which has indoor and open-air onsen and ocean-view rooms. Dinner will be served at the hotel.
As befits a region with such a proud seafaring history, today you’ll be seeing Nagasaki prefecture by boat. Your guide will meet you as usual after breakfast, and escort you to Sasebo, where you’ll board the Pearl Queen to see the Kujuku Islands, a cluster of 208 mostly uninhabited islands that was voted one of the most beautiful bays in the world in 2018.
You’ll visit Nagasaki proper for lunch at Shikairo, where you’ll eat “chanpon”, the local delicacy, at Shikairo: noodles in a rich pork or chicken-bone broth, with plenty of fried seafood, pork and vegetables piled on top.
After lunch you’ll head for Gunkanjima, a small but very recognisable island about 13 miles out to sea. This industrialised outcrop once served as a coal mine, and was home to more than 5,000 residents – despite being just 480m by 160m. Its name means “Battleship Island”, because every scrap of land was built on to accommodate such a large population. Half was given over to the mines, with the other half for everything else – including homes, schools, shops, restaurants, baths and even a hospital!
After a hearty hotel breakfast – and maybe a morning dip in the onsen – your guide will meet you for a cycle tour of Iojima. At just 7.5 miles in circumference, this leafy island is a cycling paradise, which doesn’t have a traffic signal in sight!
Your last full day of sightseeing in Nagasaki is by private car. First you’ll visit Shimabara Castle, which has a long history bound up with European trade. It is perhaps most notable for overcoming the Shimabara Rebellion in 1638, when the local population of Christian converts tried to fight back against persecution.
It holds many artefacts dating back to this time, and tells the history of these so-called “Hidden Christians”, with multi-language support available. The area around the castle is called Bukeyashiki – the Old Samurai Street. We recommend a visit to Shimeiso, the stunning spring water garden, which is planted with red pine and maple around crystal-clear ornamental pond full of colourful carp.
Lunch is yet another special local delicacy: guzoni at Himematsuya, a local favourite. This is a kind of hotpot featuring lots of veg, meat and rice cakes in a fish-stock broth, and said to have been invented by Shiro Amakusa, the leader of the Shimabara uprising, to feed his troops.
That afternoon, you’ll go dolphin watching! There are around 200 dolphins living around the Shimabara peninsula, and there’s a very good chance a few of them will stop by the boat to say hello.
You’ll then travel to Unzen, to see the socalled Unzen Hells, one of the highlights of the whole area. Don’t fear the name: it’s actually an area full of live geothermal activity that results in bubbling, steaming pools in almost unbelievable colours.
Your last night in Japan is at the four-star Unzen Kyushu Hotel, which offers a private hot spring bath with fantastic views of the Hells, and a delicious traditional Japanese evening meal served with heart-warming hospitality.
Breakfast will be at your hotel as usual, and afterwards you’ll be taken to Nagasaki Airport by a private car.
After arriving at Tokyo, take a flight back to the UK.
If you prefer to see more of Japan, we can arrange an extension, giving you the best sites in popular cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, which is just 45 minutes by Bullet Train from Kyushu. Please ask us for details.
3 to 4 star hotels as mentioned in the itinerary, subject to availability.
DURATION 11 days / 9 nights
ARRIVAL Fly into Tokyo Haneda
DEPARTURE Depart from Nagasaki Airport.
WHEN T O VISIT Spring and Summer.
SUSTAINABILITY AND ETHICAL TRAVEL
This tour has been built around sustainability and harmony with the natural world, which means less time in the big cities. You’ll be out cycling, riding canal boats and even watching dolphins, while we’ve also arranged a unique cruise in an oyster fishing boat and several horse-riding excursions.
SEE JAPAN AT A MORE GENTLE PACE
Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaksi are three neighbouring prefectures nestled on Kyushu, Japan’s westernmost main island. Forget the bustling metropolis of Tokyo – life is a little slower here, perfect for people who want to experience a slice of real Japanese life without the urban sprawl.
THE OLD WAYS
Japan has many historical arts and crafts, and this tour showcases a selection of Kyushu’s best. You’ll visit a kiln that creates the famous Imari porcelain – once so popular with European royalty – as well as a paper-making workshop, a lesson in Japanese confectionary and a flower-arranging class, while you’ll hand-make your own soba noodles and attend a traditional tea ceremony. You’ll even try your hand at Yabusame – the ancient art of horseback archery!
MOUTH - WATERING CUISINE
Every meal is included in the package, and we’ve worked hard to introduce you to as many of Kyushu’s delicious local speciality cuisines as possible. From the world-famous Fukuoka ramen and local cuts of sushi to various hyper-local styles of rice bowl, soba and chanpon noodles, plus a little Wagyu along on the way, there’s incredible new food for you to discover throughout!
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