Kumamoto City is the capital of Kumamoto Prefecture and lies smack-dab in the middle of Kyushu. It is easily accessible by shinkansen and plane, and makes a great base for traveling around Kyushu. Check out our map of downtown Kumamoto to get a quick idea of what to do in your area.
Kumamoto’s population is around 740,000, making it the third-largest city on Kyushu and 17th-largest in Japan. Much of this population is the result of merging with neighboring towns, which has resulted in a city that is geographically very large but has a well-defined downtown area.
Here, we’ll showcase the top 10 spots to visit in Kumamoto City. Kumamoto City has plenty for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re a first-timer to Japan, or a seasoned traveller looking to avoid the touristy spots and head deeper into the country.
10. Sakura Machi
Sakura Machi is a new multi-purpose facility built just south of Kumamoto Castle that features a bus terminal, hotel, exhibition hall, shopping area, movie theater, and rooftop terrace. On the basement floor, you’ll find a supermarket, food court, and a bunch of food stalls selling bento and deli items, making it a great place to pick up lunch before heading to Kumamoto Castle.
An enormous Kumamon greets visitors on the rooftop terrace, which is where you’ll also find a small cafe and seating to relax and enjoy the views. The bus terminal offers access to both local and long-distances buses and is a great way to visit the more off-the-beaten-path locations around Kyushu and Kumamoto that aren’t serviced by trains.
Sakura Machi Kumamoto
9. Kumamoto City Tram
The Kumamoto City Tram has two lines (one from Kumamoto Station and one from Kami-Kumamoto Station) that converge downtown and head out east to the Kengun area. Riders are charged a flat rate, no matter how many stops you stay on, making it a convenient and cheap way to get from Kumamoto Station to downtown Kumamoto or Suizenji Jojuen Garden.
Instead of a single tram model, the Kumamoto City Tram system actually runs a number of different trams, including trams dating back to the 1960s with wooden floors and cast iron fixtures, to sleek, modern, two-car trams. Keep an eye out for the Cocoro tram designed by Eiji Mitooka, the famed designer behind many of the D&S trains and shinkansen on Kyushu.
Kyomachi is a small neighborhood between downtown Kumamoto and Kumamoto Station. The area is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Kumamoto, and the locals have done a great job preserving some of the historical buildings in the area.
- Tudzura, a chic new place to stay built in a historic renovated building
- Coffee Gallery, a specialty coffee shop with great drinks
- Hayakawa Soko, an old warehouse and event space that holds markets on occasion
- Purely, an organic restaurant that uses local ingredients and offers vegetarian options
- Toranosuke, a high-end confectionery offering eminently Instagrammable Japanese sweets
- Genzone, a great izakaya frequented by a colorful collection of locals. Japanese skills are a must, but you’re sure to make friends here.
7. One Piece Statues
Following the Kumamoto Earthquakes of 2016, Eiichiro Oda, a Kumamoto-native and creator the world-famous One Piece manga and anime, decided to collaborate with Kumamoto Prefecture on a project to help Kumamoto get back on its feet. The result was the construction of 10 bronze statues throughout the prefecture with the goal of inspiring the locals and driving tourism to some of the more far-flung areas of the prefecture. Two of these statues are located in Kumamoto City.
The first statue to be unveiled was that of Luffy D. Monkey, the main character in One Piece lore. Luffy stands in front of the Kumamoto Prefectural Offices and is the easiest statue to visit when staying in Kumamoto City.
The second statue is Chopper, and is located in front of the Kumamoto City Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
6. Kumamoto Station
Kumamoto Station underwent a massive reconstruction in the late 2010s and now features a number of great places to eat and go shopping. The station building proper is where you’ll find Higo Yokamon Ichiba, a dining and shopping plaza filled with local restaurants, Kumamoto ramen shops, and food-based souvenir shops.
Just outside the station building is the new Amu Plaza, a multi-story shopping mall with big-name shops like Uniqlo, Snow Peak, and Beams. The 7th floor is the dining floor, where I recommend Seafood Beer Station, a restaurant run by local brewery Diamond Brewing that offers local seafood dishes and local brews.
5. Kaminoura Street
Kaminoura is a narrow street that runs parallel to the Kamitori Arcade. What was once a quiet residential street has in recent years transformed into a laid-back, charming street full of small boutiques, great food, and local charm.
- Yokobachi, a restaurant popular with the locals built in an old residence and offering all kinds of local Kumamoto specialities. Outdoor seating available.
- Ruri-an, an upscale restaurant with a strong focus on locally sourced ingredients and a great wine and sake list
- And Coffee Roasters, one of Kumamoto’s first and finest specialty coffee shops
- Cafe Lafcadio, a great little wine bar with friendly staff and customers
- Terrace, a churrasco-style restaurant situated in a cozy old manor
- NiNi, a quiet, hidden bar & restaurant with great atmosphere and extremely rare drinks
- Yakoboku, a hidden bar under Ruri-an featuring great craft cocktails
4. Kamitori/Shimotori Arcades
The Kamitori and Shimotori Arcades are covered shopping streets that run roughly north to south between Kumamoto Castle and the Shirakawa River. Together, the arcades are the longest in western Japan.
Kamitori is the northern section of the arcade and is more laid back, with smaller boutiques and local eateries. Past the covered section to the north is Namikizaka Street, a quaint shopping street with old book stores, fashion shops, and good places to eat.
Shimotori is larger than Kamitori and is where Kumamoto’s nightlife is centered. You’ll find big box karaoke places, the Cocosa shopping mall, countless izakaya, and plenty of places to get a drink on one of Shimotori’s many side streets.
3. Josaien & Kumamoto Castle Museum
Sakuranobaba Josaien is a collection of local restaurants and souvenir shops in a reconstruction of an old castle town neighborhood. Situated at the foot of Kumamoto Castle, it is a great place to stop by before or after your visit to the castle.
During the summer months, many of the shops offer all kinds of different soft-serve ice cream, including matcha and coffee ice cream, with tons of interesting toppings, like honeycomb, gold leaf, and even spicy cod roe!
The Kumamoto Castle Museum, also called Wakuwakuza, is a small but informative museum museum with hands-on exhibits showing how the castle was constructed, what life was like in the castle, and how the castle was affected by the Kumamoto Earthquakes. I highly recommend stopping here first before visiting Kumamoto Castle.
2. Suizenji Jojuen Garden
Suizenji is a traditional Japanese garden located just outside the city center along the tram line. Inside, you’ll find a quaint cottage called Kokindenju-no-ma where you can enjoy real matcha and a traditional Japanese sweet. Just past Kokindenju-no-ma is a large, carp-filled pond surrounded by well-manicured footpaths and manmade hills.
Suizenji is also is the site of yabusame (horse archery) exhibitions normally scheduled twice a year. The archery course can get pretty packed with onlookers, so it is advised to get there early to get a good spot. The historical residence of L. L. Janes, an early educator from the US, has also recently been relocated just a short walk from Suizenji.
Suizenji Jojuen Garden
1. Kumamoto Castle
For most people in Japan, the first thing that springs to mind when they hear Kumamoto is Kumamoto Castle. The castle was built in the early 1400s by Lord Kato Kiyomasa and is considered one of the Three Great Castles of Japan. Most of the original wooden structures, including the castle keep, burned down in a fire in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion. The keep is a concrete reconstruction built in 1960.
The Kumamoto Earthquakes of 2016 caused extensive damage to the castle and its stone walls, with estimates that it will take 30 years to complete repairs. The first repairs focused on reopening the castle keep and making it accessible to the outside, resulting in a new elevated walkway that takes visitors over the damaged stone walls and up to the keep plaza.
The keep is the heart of the castle, and its interior has been completely renovated into a highly informative museum. The keep is divided into six floors, with each floor covering a different era of Kumamoto’s history. The top floor of the keep is a glass-walled observatory, offering great views of downtown Kumamoto and the mountains of Aso to the east and Mt. Kinbo to the west.
More to See in Kumamoto City
Kumamoto City is a big place and there’s much more to see and do than what is included in this article. For those interested in martial arts and samurai history, Reigando Cave and the Shimada Museum of Art are great places to venture to. Mt. Tatsuda and Taishoji Temple are quiet areas that are closely related to the Hosokawa family who ruled Kumamoto for centuries. The winding mountain roads of Kawachi take you through countless orange groves and offer great views of the Ariake Sea and Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture.
We hope this list has given you a couple ideas on what to do when you visit Kumamoto, and we hope you’ll take a look at our upcoming article on things to do throughout the prefecture!