The location, geography, nature and climate of Kumamoto Prefecture

Location

Japan_Kyushu_MapKumamoto Prefecture is located in the center of Kyushu. Though Fukuoka, in the north, is the modern capital, Kumamoto is the historical and geographical heartland of Kyushu. The Hosokawa Lords of Kumamoto dominated the whole of Kyushu for centuries thanks to the impenetrable fortress of Kumamoto Castle, which is still celebrated as one of the top 3 castles in all Japan.

 

Kumamoto mapKumamoto City is situated in the west of Kumamoto prefecture on the banks of the Shirakawa River. It is the prefectural capital with a population of around 700,000 people. The entire prefecture has a population of 1.8 million people. To the north you will find the smaller cities of Kikuchi and Yamaga, to the south Yatsushiro, Minamata and Hitoyoshi. To the east Oguni and Aso and to the west Amakusa. The geographical location of the prefecture makes it an ideal place to base yourself for travel around Kyushu; only 35 minutes by train from Fukuoka, 45 minutes from Kagoshima and just over an hour to the hot spring heaven of Oita on the east coast.

Nature

kikuchi valley

Known as the land of forests, over 20% of the nature in Kumamoto prefecture is protected: the Aso Kuju and Unzen Amakusa areas are National Parks; Kyushu Chuo Sanchi and Yaba-Hita-Hikosan  are Quasi-National Parks and Ashikita Kaigan, Itsuki Gokanosho, Kinpozan, Misumi-Oyano Umibe, Okukuma, Shotaisan, and Yabe Shuhen are Prefectural Natural Parks.

In 2014 the Aso region was designated as an international Geopark by UNESCO. The reason for such bountiful nature is due to Kumamoto’s dynamic and diverse situation; to the west, Amakusa, a chain of lush sub-tropical islands reaching out into the Japan sea, to the east, the mountains of Aso; the largest inhabited volcanic caldera in the world, in the center and to the north and south dense forests on the high lands and vast agricutural plains on the low.

World Heritage

In July 2015 two sites in the prefecture recieved world heritage status under the title of ‘Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution’. Misumi West Port designed by a Dutchman over 115 years ago at the entrance to the Amakusa island chain and the Manda Coal Pit in Arao to the north of the city.

Hot Spring Heaven

夢想園_002[1]The volcanic nature of central Kyushu means you are never far from an onsen, a natural hot spring bath. The well known onsen resorts of Yufuin and Beppu, just over the border in Oita are easily accessed from Kumamoto, though the prefecture has a wonderful assortment of its own hot spring centers in Kikuchi, Yamaga, Hitoyoshi and is particularly famed for the hidden gem of Kurokawa, an idyllic, traditional onsen village to the north of Aso.

 

The Land of Fire

Takachiho GorgeAs home to the most active volcano in Japan, Kumamoto’s alternative title of  火の国 Hi no Kuni – The Land Of Fire, is hardly surprising. The volcanic mountains of Aso and Kuju in central Kyushu are some of the highest in Kyushu. This ancient and stunning landscape has been celebrated since the earliest times. The history of Kumamoto and central Kyushu stretches far, far back to the times of Japan’s creation myths, here in the mountainous and mysterious central region the gods are said to have first descended to Earth. The legendary cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu hid, depriving the world of light until she was tricked to come out by her fellow Kami can be found in Takachiho just over the border of Kumamoto in Miyazaki Prefecture.

The lineage of the Aso Lords and Aso Shrine can be traced back to Emperor Jinmu the very first Emperor of Japan who lived around 660 BC and was a direct descendant of the Goddess Amaterasu.

 

Another connection with fire are the 3 great fire festivals that take place in the prefecture. The Aso Fire Festival;  the country’s largest grassland region, for thousands of years the grasslands have been preserved by controlled burning in dramatic fire festivals which take place in mid March. The Yamaga Lantern Festival – where hundreds of women dance through the night wearing lanterns on their heads and the huge Hinokuni Land of Fire Festival and fireworks in August in Kumamoto City.aso fire festival

Climate

The climate of Kumamoto varies considerably across the prefecture. The coastal areas of Amakusa have a sub tropical climate with balmy temperatures and mild winters with the temperature only very rarely falling below zero in the winters. The plains of Kumamoto and Yatsushiro have an average temperature of 15 – 16 C, being surrounded by mountains there are extreme temperature differences, in the summer Kumamoto is the third hottest city in Japan with an average high of 32.6C.  June and July are the months with the highest rainfall. The mountainous regions of Aso are always several degrees cooler than on the plains and in the city: refreshing in the summer and freezing in the winter,  the average winter temperature is below 5 C and there can be heavy snowfalls.

The rainfall in the Aso region is the highest in the prefecture. Fog and low cloud can fill the caldera, creating dramatic views from the caldera ridge of the ‘floating’ central mountains. January is the coldest month and August the hottest, June and July the wettest. From March through to June the temperature is usually over 20 C with many fine and clear days. In June and July the rainy season hits southern Japan with days of heavy rain and cloudy conditions. The summer is hot, the sizzling summer days occasionally punctuated by bad weather brought by the typhoons that can affect Japan between July and September. Autumn is stunning with clear, blue skies, vibrant autumn foliage and warm days with cooler nights. By mid December, day time temperatures fall below 15 C. Winters are cold but often dry and bright.

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