10 Interesting Things to Do in Hitoyoshi City, Kyushu’s “Little Kyoto”

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  • “Castle town,” “onsen town,” and sometimes a “town of fog” – Hitoyoshi is known by many names, among which is “Little Kyoto.” Discover the charms of this hidden village in Kumamoto.

    Hitoyoshi is a city located in the southern part of Kumamoto Prefecture. As a tourist destination, it is popular for river rafting and its hot springs. Here are some of the things you can do in Hitoyoshi.

    1. Listen to the Train Clock Chime

    Right outside Hitoyoshi Station, people always stop by to marvel at the Automaton Clock. It plays a folk song from the Kuma region every hour and puppets also come out at certain times within the day. The clock’s design was inspired by Hitoyoshi Castle.

    Automaton Clock of Hitoyoshi Station Website
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    2. Travel to the past in this traditional street

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    Feel as if you are transported back in time to when the Sagara clan used to rule Hitoyoshi as you walk along the stone-paved street lined with old-style buildings in Kajiyamachi Avenue. See if you can find the surviving blacksmith shops along the street together with tea shops and even soy sauce makers!

    Kajiyamachi Avenue Website
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    3. Cross the bridges over Kuma River
    Hitoyoshibashi Bridge

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    Kuma River, one of the three fastest rivers in Japan, runs in the middle of Hitoyoshi. Hear the Kuma River flow as you cross the Hitoyoshibashi Bridge and Mizunotebashi Bridge.

    Hitoyoshibashi Bridge Access

    Mizunotebashi Bridge Access

    4. Explore the ruins of a castle

    Also known as Sengetsu Castle or Mikazuki Castle, Hitoyoshi Castle was the residence of the Sagara clan. The castle is also named as one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles. Two major fires destroyed the castle and what remains today are its stone walls.

    Hitoyoshi Castle Ruins Website
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    5. See the Ghost Temple

    Eikoku-ji Temple, founded in 1408, is part of the Soto sect of Buddhism. It came to be known as the “Ghost Temple” because of the hanging scroll of a ghost inside. The temple played a role during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 when it was used as a headquarters by the samurai, Takamori Saigo.

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    6. Visit a National Treasure

    Aoi Aso Shrine was designated as a National Treasure of Japan in 2008. The 1,200-year-old Shinto shrine hosts the annual Okunchi Festival.

    Aoi Aso Shrine Website
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    7. Soak and relax in the hot springs

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    Relax your weary body by soaking in one of the numerous hot springs found in Hitoyoshi! Whether you take a dip in an indoor or open-air onsen, you will surely feel rejuvenated. The Hitoyoshi Onsen is listed as one of the 41 Cultural Assets of Hitoyoshi Kuma.

    Hitoyoshi Onsen Website *Automatic translation available
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    8. Taste Kuma Shochu

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    Kuma Shochu is an internationally recognized brand by the World Trade Organization for shochu that is produced in the Kuma region. The main ingredients of Kuma Shochu are rice and groundwater of Kuma River which are both represented in the Kuma Shochu logo. There are currently 28 breweries that produce Kuma Shochu.

    Kuma Shochu Makers Association Website

    9. Play Unsun Karuta

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    Unsun Karuta is a card game of Portuguese origin that was popular during the Edo period. When it was banned as a form of gambling, the rules of the game were orally passed down. Today, the game is played only in Hitoyoshi Kuma and is also considered as one of the region’s 41 Cultural Assets. You can learn how to play Unsun Karuta at Tateyama Shoten.

    Unsun Karuta Website
    Tateyama Shoten Access

    10. Bring home some traditional crafts

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    The kijiuma (wheeled bird) and hanatebako (camellia-motif boxes) are colorful wood crafts mainly produced in Hitoyoshi. These toys were originally made by the Heike clan when they escaped to the Kuma region. At present, these crafts are used as decorations and make perfect souvenirs. A giant kijiuma can also be found at Hitoyoshi Station.

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    Hitoyoshi is home to a unique culture that cannot be found elsewhere in Japan. Whether you are a solo adventurer or traveling with a group of friends or even family, a journey to this hidden gem in the south will be worth it.

    Hitoyoshi City Website *Japanese only
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    Would you like to stay in Hitoyoshi? Check out all the hotels in the area here!