The beautiful off the beaten path Uki area near Kumamoto city in Kyushu is the true embodiment of the Japanese concept of ‘satoyama’ – nature at its most authentic and beautiful self. From stunning nature landscapes and phenomena, to rich history and culture, and even unique photo spots you can hardly believe are real – here are 10 best spots.
“Okoshiki-kaigan” beach is a superb view spot selected as Japan’s 100 best sunsets and 100 best beaches. The beach was named after a folk tale that Emperor Keikou stopped his “Okoshi”, a portable shrine, to see such a beautiful landscape of the seashore.
Ariake sea has the largest tidal difference in Japan. At a low tide, crescent-shaped patterns comes up on the surface, creating an almost unbelievable view.
Through daytime, evening, and at night, the sea is colored from orange to blue. Especially in the magic hour of the combination of low tide and sunset, the landscape will take your breath away. A lot of photographers come to see this superb view which can only be seen several times a year.
Here are the best dates for combination of low tide and sunset:
※Date (Sunset time)
Located on the Ariake Sea, the small Tawarejima Island was already known to Kyoto, the center of Japan at that time, even more than 1000 years ago. In famous Japanese classical literature like “The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon” and “Tales of Ise” Tawarejima is mentioned, confirming it was a known and important location even back then.
Sumiyoshi Nature Park is a great viewing spot for Tawarejima and a hot spot for photographers chasing sunsets. If you can go in June, the area is full of blossoming hydrangeas, but it is beautiful throughout the year.
The park also has a monument of Ms. Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker, a British phycologist, to praise her achievement as a mother of porphyra cultivation. Uto City is known for farming the porphyra seaweed. Every April, the park holds Drew Festival in Ms. Kathleen’s honour. The friendship between Japan and UK is going strong to this day. For instance, local people brought seaweed for the Wales national rugby team during the Rugby World Cup 2019.
Sumiyoshi Nature Park
Address: Sumiyoshi Machi, Uto City, Kumamoto
Access: 15 min by car from Sumiyoshi Station JR Misumi Line
Visible only at low tide, Nagabeta Undersea Road (Nagabetakaishoro) in Uto city is a truly mysterious road seemingly floating on the sea surface.
Here’s the secret: it is a logistic road for the fishermen who work at a seaweed farm and the shellfish gatherers, to carry them by truck at low tide. At high tide, the road disappears and what remains are only power poles lined up in the sea. At dusk, this scene will surely remind you of the world of the Ghibli animated movies like “Spirited Away”.
【Place】Nagabeta, Sumiyoshi Machi, Uto city, Kumamoto pref.
【Access】3 min by car or 22 min on foot (about 1,7km) from JR Misumi Line Sumiyoshi station
www.city.uto.kumamoto.jp/utomonogatari/q/aview/5/534.html (Japanese, with automated English translation button available)
When it comes to tunnels, the round ones come up to our mind. But here in Misatomachi, you will be able to find a mysterious octagonal tunnel called “Hachikaku Tunnel” (literally octagon tunnel)!
Let’s break the mystery right away. This tunnel is a remnant of the Yuen Railway abandoned in 1964, which was built to prevent landslides on both sides of the railroad.
With its unique construction and the particular atmosphere around the railroad, this curious tunnel has recently become a popular photo spot.
Trekking along the footpath (Futamata bridge course) is recommended so that you can walk along the stone bridges and the famous Hachikaku Tunnel, to eventually relax in a hot spring, at the end of your hike.
【Place】852 Komushiro, Misatomachi, Shimomashiki-gun, Kumamoto pref.
【Access】25 min by taxi from JR Matsubase station
Misatomachi has an unusual bridge called Futamata Bridge which can make a beautiful heart shape when the sunlight hits it right. The sunshine and the silhouette of this stone bridge make a beautiful heart shape on the surface of the river. This makes it a romantic photo-spot for couples, and it is regarded as “Mecca for Lovers” that has seen many marriage proposals.
You can only get a glimpse of this precious heart around noon on a sunny day from October to February. So be sure to plan your trip well!
Bridge built: 1829 to 1830
Address: Komushiro, Misatomachi, Shimomashiki-gun
Access: about 70 min by Kumamoto Bus
*from “SAKURA MACHI kumamoto bus terminal” to “Futamatabashi bridge bus stop”
（M4-2 bound for Tomochi or M4-3 Hamamachi）
* from “Futamatabashi bridge bus stop” to “SAKURA MACHI kumamoto bus terminal”
（M4-2/M4-3 bound for SAKURA MACHI kumamoto bus terminal）
Opened back in 1887, Misumi West Port is the first full-fledged harbor facility in Japan and registered as a World Cultural Heritage site. After 132 years, all the facilities such as the masonry pier, still remain intact as they were in the 19th century, making it an authentic historical site. Nearby the pier, the historic Former Maritime Warehouse (Kyu Misumi Kaiun Soko) is now revamped in a cafe where you can sip a coffee or get a delicious meal, the deep history of the place being an added bonus!
Read more about Misumi West Port
【Place】Misumiura Misumimachi, 869-3207
This fire festival (“Shiranui Uminohi Matsuri”) has it all!
The festival has deep traditional and religious roots, with iconic customs such as a torch-lit procession and shooting burning arrows into the sea, while accompanied by the sound of Taiko Japanese drums on the seashore.
It culminates in magnificent maritime fireworks over the Torii Gate that seemingly floats on water.
You will definitely feel the Japanese history, tradition and romance in this festival!
If you are going at different time of year, the torii gate on the water is beautiful to see, regardless of season.
【Date】August 29, 2019
【Place】Matsuai Shinkō (Matsuai New Port)
【Access】Shuttle bus from Shiranui roadside station
Uto City holds “Uto Jizo Festival” in August, dedicated to the guardian deity of children, worshiped since ancient times.
Apart from decorated Jizo statues, the locals create whimsical “tsukurimono” artistic objects made with household and daily objects. From animals to buildings, varieties of handmade objects will be displayed in a shopping arcade. At night, there will be music performances and fireworks. If travelling to this area, the “Uto Jizo Festival” is a great chance to interact with the locals!
【Dates】August 23 and 24, 2019
【Place】Uto city whole central area, Uto city, Kumamoto
【Access】Only a short walk from Uto Station, JR Kagoshima-honsen Main Line
Have you heard of “Shishimai”, also called lion dance? It is one of many traditional Japanese rituals, performed to ward off evil spirits and pray for a bountiful harvest. It is one of the most fascinating traditional festivals to watch!
Lions have been worshiped both as a sacred beast and a god for centuries. The Uto Lion Dance with about 270 years of history, is held annually on October 19th.
It is said that children will grow up wise and healthy if Shishimai bites them on the head, so a lot of families come to this festival with their children – despite many small children bursting out crying because of the Shishimai approaching them. It definitely is a colorful, lively and fun event!
【Place】Nishioka Jingu Shrine
【Address】：694, Shinmemachi, Uto city, Kumamoto pref.
Autumn festival (Shishimai Lion Dance dedication)：Saturday 19th October
To reach the 1200-year-old Daionkyo-ji Shakain Temple built on the hilltop you will need to climb 3333 stone steps, and that’s a record number of steps in Japan! And it’s totally worth it!
These stone steps were built with not only Japanese granite, but also materials that came from China, Korea, India, Russia, Brazil, North America and South-America – reflecting an international mindset.
Yes, it’s hard to climb all 3333 steps at once. Just go up at your own pace while looking at the great scenery along the way. In autumn, you’ll climb the steps surrounded with beautiful colored leaves, but it’s beautiful in all seasons.
We hope this inspires you to go visit the Uki area and have a one-of-a-kind experience!
Better go there now, before they become too popular!
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