We set aside 7 days for Kyushu at a relaxed pace.
Our initial plan was to start with Kagoshima in the south, travel upwards to Kumamoto, the spa-onsen town of Takachiho and Kurokawa and returning home via Fukuoka city.
A week prior, we revised our plan. Leave Kagoshima in the South and UNESCO site of Yakushima for next trip.
I was excited to stay an extra first night in Fukuoka after all the great things I heard, then Nagasaki and continue with the rest.
Upon arrival at Fukuoka, we activated the 3 day Kyushu pass and booked train tickets at Hakata station for Nagasaki. (You buy the JR voucher in your home country and activate it in Hakata station for Kyushu. Highly subsidised. Cheaper than driving and the trains are regular. You can check schedule on Google map.) Our hotel upon arrival was Forza at Hakata station. We could have used the JR pass to visit Arita, the porcelain town, 2hrs away from Hakata station. The JR Kyushu pass is very useful and offers discount on the JR Hotels. Train fans should note that Kumamoto has beautifully upholstered trains such as Aso boy from Kumamoto to Kagoshima. http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/train/sl.jsp
The next day, we took the 9.30am JR train for a very comfortable 2hr journey to Nagasaki. Pack your coffee and bento. You can eat in the train although i didnt see any pushcarts. The JR pass is very convenient. Keep them close to you as you’ve to show them when you exit the station.
Why visit Nagasaki?
Before Nagasaki was bombed during WWII, it was historically the only harbor open to the world.
Here you see Chinese, Dutch and Spanish influence. The Chinatown is largest in Japan.
Our hotel Dormy Inn is just across from Chinatown. But there are several hotels such as JAL around the area too. We took a taxi to the Dormy Inn hotel (about 960¥) which had an in house onsen, laundry and dryer. Nagasaki has a tram system which passes all tourist stops. To get to the tram stop at the JR train station, however you have to climb long flights of steps to the overhead bridge and down again. There’s no lift and no escalator.
Rooms at Dormy Inn are reasonably priced with breakfast but I’m not a fan although I know some are. The rooms look quite cheap to me. But they’re roomy, clean and look new with no cigarette smell. Counter staff speak English and are helpful and very effecient. It’s right across the entrance of Chinatown and walking distance from the shopping street and tram station. The in-house onsen is safe and clean. For ladies, there’s a password protect. You can do your laundry in the washing machine inside the area while you dip (free). Dryer is 100¥ per spin.
Dormy Inn is reasonably priced and I can see why some people are fans. But I wrote in TripAdvisor that I would prefer staying at Forza which is slightly more expensive. Forza has no onsen and no free laundry and no free noodles after 10pm. (Although I didn’t try the noodles for supper at Dormy.) Let me correct this observation by saying that I’m glad I stayed at Dormy Inn for the experience. I think I paid 14000¥ for a twin size with breakfast. There’s bread and sausages and quite a good spread.
Streamers outside the Nagasaki peace museum, made of little paper cranes.
We didn’t enjoy Nagasaki perhaps because it was raining when we arrived. We didn’t have a good experience at the restaurant opposite the hotel (recommended by the hotel). Seafood bowl of 1990¥ per bowl had uni that tasted off although we didn’t have food poisoning.
It’s not necessary to get the 1-day tram pass if you’re staying near Chinatown.
Otherwise travel light if you’re visiting Nagazaki and moving around by tram. The Nagazaki atomic bomb museum is nearer to the JR train station. So we took a 100¥ tram ride to Nagasaki Peace Park.
Because it was wet and our not very pleasant experience in the restaurant, we didn’t visit the famous Megane bridge area. It turned dark at around 4pm and we couldn’t make out much but it seemed that Nagasaki was quite a international town with Dutch and Chinese influence.
Nagasaki is famous for Castella cake and Chinese style pork belly bun. You can buy the Castella cake everywhere including Tokyo Narita airport. Or at the JR train station.
Try the Nagasaki ramen which has lots of Chinese cabbage piled on top.
(On hindsight I would have skipped Nagasaki and either taken a side trip to Daizaifu or stayed an extra day at Mt Aso. I think Hiroshima would have made a better choice. Compared to other Japanese cities such as Sapporo, Osaka and Kumamoto, Nagasaki seemed like an aging town. Both taxi drivers who took us to and back from the train station were around 80 years old.)
At level 2 of the Daiso 100¥ store in Nagasaki, we saw a long queue waiting for the umbrella repair man. An about to be discontinued craft? So environmentally friendly. His customers are all in the same age group.
If you’ve time to kill or your own transport, a fun way of getting from Nagasaki to Kumamoto is via the sea cutting east across. With car on the boat, the sea view is breath taking accompanied by seagulls along the way. As we didnt have our car, the thought of 4hrs including waiting time for bus and boat, we took the Shinkansen, an efficient 2hrs.
Next to Kumamoto.