Its eight prefectures – which includes Okinawa – still boast external influences throughout. Here are nine reasons to get you started on your exploration.
1. Totoro land
Fans of the popular 1988 fantasy anime film My Neighbor Totoro – produced by Studio Ghibli, with auteur Hayao Miyazaki – will love traditional onsen town Yufuin. The tiny local train station, the misty Lake Kinrinko in the mornings, the twin-peaked Mount Yufu in the backdrop – it’s like walking onto the film set. If in doubt, drop into Donguri no Mori (below), a Studio Ghibli shop, to get Totoro souvenirs.
2. Sightseeing trains
One of the best ways to take in Kyushu’s scenic sights is on board one, or all, of its sightseeing trains – and collecting their commemorative tickets along the way. SL Hitoyoshi (below), a century-old steam locomotive with classy observation lounges and a mini museum, chugs past the Kuma River on a round trip from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi, while luxury sleeper train Seven Stars takes you around the island in two or four days. Miyazaki’s coast and mountains are best enjoyed aboard the resort-like Umisachi-Yamasachi, whose interior and exterior feature local obisugi wood.
3. Unique dishes
Each prefecture in Kyushu boasts a unique signature dish, as the climate and soil are different in every one. Kagoshima, for instance, is known for its black pork, while Fukuoka – where tonkotsu ramen originated – is famous for Hakata ramen (below): thin, straight noodles in creamy pork-bone broth. Over in Kumamoto, try local speciality ikinari dango, a mochi-like steamed bun stuffed with thick slices of sweet potato slathered with red bean paste.
4. Secrets to longevity
Okinawa’s rural north is brought to life by Ogimi village (below), which is famous for its residents, most of whom are centennials who are eager to share their dietary tips and secrets to living a long life. Instead of stopping by for just a tour or a chat over a traditional lunch, opt for a homestay to get the full experience.
Often featuring large floats, energetic dances and a sea of participants, most festivals are organised by local shrines, either to commemorate religious events or to give thanks after a good harvest. One of the most interesting is Hakata Gion Yamakasa (July 1 to 15; above), held in the Hakata district of Fukuoka, where participants race 5m-tall Kakiyama floats along a 5km course in the early hours.