By: Rebecca Simpson
Japan is set to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup next year (20 September to 2 November). If you got lucky in the first round of ballot sales, it’s time to start planning! Game venues in southern Japan – like Kumamoto Stadium and Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium – are teeming with side trips. We’ve pulled together some of the region’s must-do sites for you.
Stunning Sengan-en Garden
If you’re flying into Kagoshima airport, your first stop has to be Sengan-en Gardens. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts an active volcano, Sakurajima, as its backdrop. It’s beyond beautiful. If you’re a Japanese film or TV buff, you’ll likely recognise it. The sprawling, manicured garden offers endless photo opps, plus a museum to teach you all about what makes this area of Japan so unique.
Kagoshima is famous for Chiran Green Tea so don’t pass up the chance to taste a some of the local delights on Sengan-en Garden’s tea-and-sweet matching menu. We recommend the hand-stirred matcha.
Breath-taking Takachiho Gorge
This one’s for the lovers. We instagrammed about this spot as a great place for the perfect proposal because it’s so romantic. If you’re planning on popping the question in between games, or know someone who needs some inspiration, this could be the perfect place.
Takachiho Gorge is nothing short of a picture-perfect experience. It’s the antithesis of a rugby match – take a gentle meander that ends with a lazy row to a waterfall in an old-style rowboat. The gentile, romantic experience is framed between Takachiho’s dramatic walls and an idyllic bridge.
Tasty Delights and Cellar Doors
Southern Japan is non-stop gourmet delights. If you’re on a driving holiday, this region offers a lot of ‘cellar door’-type gastronomic experiences. You can explore vinegar farms, wineries, shochu distilleries, and more.
Each one offers a tour of the facility so you can better understand the craftsmanship before dining with a menu inspired by the facility’s signature products. Two of our favourites were Kirishima Shochu distillery and the Kakuida Black vinegar village.
If you’re looking for something a little more varied, try Kagomma Furusato Yataimura. This windy alleyway in Kagoshima is full of small restaurants, each offering a different spin on regional ingredients. Stop and explore tasty bites at each new outlet, or take a seat and work your way through the menu while you make friends with the chef. This place is a food photographer’s heaven.
Southern Japan is an important place to visit shrines because the Kyushu area is the place where Shinto gods are said to have first descended to earth. In a case of great timing, one of the best times to visit shrines is around November 15 – perfect if you’re staying to explore after the Rugby World Cup finals. At this time of year, you’ll see many Japanese families in traditional dress with their young children. It’s a beautiful site and a real treat for those who are new to Japanese culture.
Different shrines have a different focus, but one must-visit shrine is the Udo Shine. Go in the morning to capture the sunlight streaming through the cave. At the Kirishina Shrine you’ll find an 800-year old tree still standing tall – a sight to behold. And Takachiho Shrine is also important, it’s well-positioned close to the Gorge.
Kumamoto Castle was badly affected by the 2016 earthquake in southern Japan, so the Castle itself isn’t open. However, the surrounding gardens, shrine, and markets are great to explore and provide some brilliant photo opps.
Want to channel your inner warrior or unleash that latent royal heritage? Kumamoto Castle museum has the funnest costume experience and a bunch of great interactive displays that are sure to bring a smile to your face.
There’s also a plethora of amazing food to explore with both restaurants and street food on offer. Make sure you check out Sakuramichi restaurant, note the striking painting in the foyer.
Take a break from the rugby to visit a drug store or a beauty retailer in Japan. You’ll find a treasure trove of beauty products you didn’t even know you needed. Racks and racks of face masks, and contraptions to help massage and reposition your face. It’s endless fun and you might just find something useful!
You’ll notice a lot of hyaluronic acid masks; these are helpful for skin that needs a hydration boost – perfect for travelling.
Dazzling Road Trips
Epic coastal drives; lush forrests to wind through; fabulous farmland, barren Mars-like volcanic panoramas – there’s a new landscape to drink in every single day in the south of Japan. Don’t be afraid to hire a car; road signs on main roads are also in English and tourist hot spots are well marked.
Hot tip: If you’re heading through Miziyaki to the Udo Shrine, make sure you look out for surfers along the drive.
Getting There and Tickets
Both Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express travel to Kagoshima from Hong Kong regularly. You can also reach the region via domestic flights or Japan’s impressive domestic rail network.
Learn more about the region here: welcomekyushu.com.
A new release of tickets will be available in January, but for all the Rugby World Cup details, check out the official site: rugbyworldcup.com
See more in our travel section