In Kumamoto, we were very pleased staying at the KKR Kumamoto, our room with a view of the castle. It was a 5 mins uphill walk from the tram station and the main shopping street. Quite a distance from the JR station -20 mins by public transport. Since I’d had my shopping fix in Tokyo and Fukuoka, the cultural experience was more important.
The hotel was less than 5 minutes walk to one of the entrances to the castle, the Prefecture Arts and the Traditional crafts museum. It’s a 9 min walk to Shimtori, the sheltered mall where you get lots of eating places including yakitori at cross sections of the street malls.
Why visit Kumamoto
Having visited the Osaka and Nagoya castles, I would still recommend visiting this castle built in 16th century and recently renovated. Most of the sights close at 6pm and stop admission at 5pm. Castle deserves a good 2hrs.
My favourite is the room with painting of the Chinese princess Wang Zhaojun. A volunteer guide told us that the Chinese name for Zhaojun sounds like Shogun. Behind the screen sat many warriors who would spring out to defend their master.
Who is Wang Zhaojun
She’s one of the 4 beauties in ancient China who played major political roles. Wang voluntarily married Chanyu, the chieftain of the Hun in an era of political alliance through marriage. She is revered in history for her bravery, loyalty to Chinese emperor and a symbol of cohesion. The artwork is reminiscent of a time when Japanese culture was heavily influenced by China.
Cons of the hotel
It’s 9 mins walk from the nearest tram station. So it’s better to get a taxi from the train station.
Within Kumamoto, tram is fast and cheap especially if you get a day pass. Includes 100¥ off castle entrance fees.
From Kumamoto as a base in middle of Kyushu , our plan was to drive to Takachiho gorge. (Public bus available by SunQ).
Our initial preference was to book through Toyota but as we cant read Japanese, our only option was to make a IDD phone reservation or do so when we arrive in Kyushu. I didn’t want to wait for the possibility of no available cars so we booked in Singapore and a few companies had English websites such as Nippon rent a car. In Furano Hokkaido, the Toyota car rental had many cars available on site just beside the JR train station. Not so in Kumamoto and Fukuoka. You have to pre-book and reserve.
Eventually we went through Nippon Rent a Car via the tocoo website as they allowed English online booking and pick up from Kumamoto and drop off at Hakata JR station for a fee. (Another reason to stay near the JR station.) They have drop off points opposite the JR stations. Very convenient.
Driving is expensive with extras thrown in like snow tire, insurance coverage and English translation services – just in case you get into trouble. But you never know. But as the weather was turning cold, I am grateful not to have to wait for the public bus in the cold.
When we booked online for a 1.5 litre prius, we were told it was available. Closer the date only a 1.8 or 1.3 litres was available. Although we were glad we got a 1.8 litres because of the hilly terrain through Mt Aso. The Toyota Prius went through beautifully. Not sure why the car rental said we had to get snow tires even as it was not snowing. Destinations are programmed through phone numbers. So it’s important to take down the phone of the hotel and any destinations.
The Y5 buddy was silent for 3 days from Kumamoto through the mountains and Kurokawa onsen. We depended on the Ryokan’s WiFi network so the English GPS was indispensable. Never get a WiFi router for the mountains and Australia. No coverage. For 2 persons travelling, I’ll buy a SIM card in future. Although the disadvantage is that for hot spot it drains the battery.
This is a good website comparing pros and cons of WIFI vs SIM card. I couldn’t get access to my WIFI in the mountains or Ryokan. Could be my particular provider Y5 buddy.
If you’re fascinated by trains, there’s a variety of speciality trains to take. But check out their schedule as they don’t run everyday. The SL Hitoyoshi and Aso Boy have their fans so reserve seats early to avoid disappointment.
Highly recommend the Taiwanese travelogue 九州大人理想的休日 by Milly.
Try BBQ horse meat. Good quality ones can be flavourful, sweet and tender almost.
Bottom picture: delicious Japanese breakfast spread at KKR Kumamoto. Quality of the dishes not expressed through the photos. There’s fresh blueberry and raspberry jam. Try the Aso milk and yogurt and the local mustard lotus root at bottom right. Legend has it that a monk cured one of the samurai by recommending this dish. (Chinese believe that stewed lotus root removes toxin from the body.) The mustard is very spicy.