This is a Japanese tour off the beaten track and ideal for adventurers on a return visit to Japan or first-time visitors who, like our ancestors, want to approach Japan through its historical gateway.
Smoking volcanoes, sulphurous vents, bubbling hot springs, wild mountains, dramatic shorelines — no this isn’t a description of Mordor, it’s Kyushu, the western-most of Japan’s mainland islands. Rugged as it is, it is far from inhospitable.
Due to its western location, Kyushu was for centuries the first point of contact for foreign explorers and adventurers, a history that earned the region the sobriquet Gateway to Japan. It was here that Japan had its first contact with Korea and China, and the influences of both those cultures are still strong. The first Europeans landed here, and when Japan closed itself to outside contact, foreigners were quarantined to the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki bay.
Not all outside contact was benign, and when the Mongols decided to add Japan to their empire, they tried their luck at Fukuoka. Beaten back in two invasion attempts, the wild men of the Asian continent thereafter kept a respectful distance.
While being the gateway to the world, Kyushu is one of the centres of Japan’s own culture. Archaeology has revealed Kyushu hosts some of the oldest settlements in the country. Rich in resources, and precocious in development, the region probably lost out as a national hub due to its relative remoteness in comparison to Kyoto and Tokyo. Nevertheless, traditions run strong in this area and it was from here that the Saga and Satsuma rebellions attempted to halt Japan’s modernisation after the raising of the Chrysanthemum Curtain in the late 19th century.
Naturally, a place with such a deep and distinctive identity has its own rich heritage of food and drink. Each city has its own signature dishes, recipes honed over the ages on the appetites of Kyushu’s tough and industrious folk. Most notable is shochu, the local firewater, distilled from sweet potatoes and local grains.
The Kyushu Gateway tour kicks off in the modern, buzzing, western hub of Osaka, famed for its nightlife and love of self-indulgence. From there you travel to ‘Hell,’ the steaming springs of Beppu. From there you visit Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano, experience the history of Kumamoto, the mountains in Kagoshima, and then to the poignantly historical city of Nagasaki.