Think Japan is too expensive for you? The country does have that image of being one of the world’s most expensive destinations, and it can be. Not to say that you should bury your dreams on going to Japan forever, because there are ways to make Japan more affordable, but one sure way is to travel during low season.
The low seasons for Japan are the months of summer (June to September) as well as winter, namely December, January and February. But depending on where you are, summer and winter in Japan can be extreme. The trick is to find a destination with less extreme weather during these months.
Kyushu, the south-westernmost of Japan’s main islands, is one of such places. Thanks to its subtropical climate, the winters here are considered mild compared to more northerly Japanese regions. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing and you have to be lucky to see it snowing here. So if you’re looking for a Japanese destination that is hospitable in winter, look no further than Kyushu. Fukuoka, as the most populous city in Kyushu is known to be one of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world based on quality of life, and is a great jumping off point for your winter getaway around the island.
Here we’ve come up with the list of top 7 things to do if you’re visiting Kyushu in winter.
1. Eat Hearty Ramen and Free-Range Chicken Hot Pot
Why is the food so good in Kyushu? Well, its location near to mainland Asia means that it has always been the gateway via which Chinese and Korean influences entered Japan. Many of the Japanese dishes we know and love were developed in Kyushu before they became popular all throughout Japan.
Known as the home of ramen, Kyushu is famous for Hakata ramen. Chances are you also have one or two Hakata ramen outlets in your hometown! This ramen with pork bone broth and thin egg noodles is one of the most famous dishes to come out of the region. If you can’t get enough ramen, there’s even a Ramen Stadium!
Aside from ramen, there’s also a Hakata udon, Hakata being the old name for name of the central ward of Fukuoka. Thick and chewy wheat noodles are served Hakata-style with sweet broth and topped with crispy tempura-style burdock root.
Fewer things in this world can rival having hot pot in winter. A popular Fukuoka dish that is also popular across Japan is motsunabe, a hot pot of beef and/or pork giblets. People from the Western hemisphere might scrunch their noses collectively at this, but the rest of the world knows how to appreciate the bold flavours of organ meats.
Don’t worry, even if you insist on avoiding offal and all the good things in life, you can still enjoy hot pot in Kyushu. Instead of motsunabe, you can go for mizutaki, which is made with Kyushu’s native jidori free-range chicken. This smooth and silky concoction gets even better when you have it with citrusy ponzu sauce.
2. Soak Your Worries Away at the Hot Springs
For the Japanese, Kyushu is a popular onsen (hot springs in Japanese) destination, so dipping into the thermal waters here is a must for rejuvenating and beautifying your skin.
One of the most famous and also most accessible onsen hotspot from Fukuoka is Beppu, known to produce more hot spring water than any other resort towns in the country. More than just hot water baths, there are also mud baths, sand baths and steam baths. In addition, the town is famous for the Hells of Beppu, a collection of spectacular hot springs for viewing rather than bathing.
Yufuin might be less popular, but the small town is great if you want to have some sightseeing on the side. Aside from the hot springs, you can also enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
3. Keep Wayward Children Warm in Cold Winter Nights With All the Beer and Sake
What’s better than some alcoholic brew to chase the cold away? There are several ways to enjoy great local liquor in Kyushu.
For the young and the young-at-heart, Oyafukodori (Street of Wayward Children) in Fukuoka is a must visit. You can find bars and izakayas here, along with youth-centered establishments like karaoke parlours, restaurants, gaming arcades and coffee shops.
Sake-brewing is a prosperous business in Fukuoka, and some of them even have enough history to be recognised as tangible cultural assets. You can go sake-tasting all over Fukuoka city, which sometimes involves unique tipples like ume brandy made from sake or a sparkling strawberry liqueur.
If beer is your preferred poison, then beer tours in Fukuoka is something that you really need to check out. Participants can sample the freshly brewed beer at the end of the tour!
4. Spark the Light Inside of You with Winter Illuminations
Winter illuminations is another Fukuoka’s claim to fame, as local tourists flock to the city to witness the city lights up the dark winter nights.
Don’t miss the transformation of the iconic tower of Fukuoka Tower into a giant illuminating tree. The tower looks pretty when you view it from the outside, but go up to the top you’ll be rewarded with the beautiful night view of the city.
Modest in size, Kego Park might not look like a proper park, but its central location makes it a must visit. The park has different themes every year for its annual illuminations, so there’s no reason for you to miss it.
Another convenient place to catch the winter illumination is the Hakata Station. While you’re in the area, don’t forget to pop by the Christmas Market held right by the station.
The state-operated Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is where you can enjoy a unique combination of light ups on the ground and fireworks in the sky.
5. Visit the Island of Ogres or Island of Cats
If you have the time and energy you might want to consider visiting the islands nearby. While they are not really the type where you’d want to surf or work on your tan, they do offer a different kind of atmosphere.
The most popular one is Aoshima Island, connected to the mainland via a small bridge. The island is famous for being surrounded by unique rock formations called Ogre’s Washboard, but also for the Aoshima Shrine. If you’re visiting in January, you will see local Japanese visitors doing their Hatsumode (first visit to the shrine in the New Year). Even if you don’t really get the whole concept of Hatsumode, you can still have fun with omikuji (fortune telling).
We all know that Japan is the origin of cat cafes now found all over the world, and Fukuoka has its fair share of cat cafes as well. If you want to take it up a notch, head to the sleepy island of Ainoshima, made world famous for being a haven of stray cats.
6. Get Into the Action with Samurais and Ninjas
Whether you’re a history buff or just a Japanophile, the concept of samurai is such a fascinating facet of the Japanese culture. And nowhere else in Japan can you experience the samurai culture more than in Kumamoto. Go back in time and experience the samurai lifestyle by visiting the Kumamoto Castle (well-fortified to keep ninjas and rival samurais at bay), the beautiful Suizenji Garden, and the Former Hosokawa Residence, a restored high-class samurai mansion relocated inside the Kumamoto Castle Park.
7. And Do Some Winter Sports, If You’re Into That Sort of Things
With its milder winter, Kyushu is ideal for first-time winter enthusiasts.
Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, is located within Aso Kujū National Park. A great place to visit even if you’re not into winter sports, as it is also a good venue for hiking and skiing.
If you’re paranoid about your winter sports trip being ruined by a milder winter, head to Kujyu Forest Park Skiing Ground. This skiing ground park prepares man-made snow in order to keep the park open even when the snowfall is low.
Tenzan Snow Resort has slopes for both beginners and advanced skiers, so everyone no matter their skiing level can have an equally good time. What’s great about the area is that it also offers hot springs, so you can experience that extraordinary feeling when you’re dipping in the hot spring waters while enjoying the beautiful snowy landscape.
Kyushu For Everyone
Winter can be a daunting time, especially for people from tropical countries like us. But after reading this article, we hope it sheds light on how a winter break in Kyushu can be for everyone. Even if you’re not into winter sports, you can still enjoy Kyushu. Time to plan a winter getaway in Kyushu with your friends and family!
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