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Island of surprises

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Jac Woo on 07 Jul 2015

The Straits Times

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From scenic outdoor baths to unusual ruins that inspired a Bond movie, Kyushu delights holidaymakers with treats for the senses

EVEN though I have visited Japan four times, I find that every region of the country always has something surprising or unique that I have not discovered before .
 

For example, I now know that Kyushu — the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan — is known as “Onsen Island” because of its high number of hot springs (onsen) as a result of its many volcanoes.
 

Dips and falls
 

Kurokawa Onsen in Kyushu’s Kumamoto Prefecture is one of Japan’s most attractive hot spring towns.
 

Unlike other glitzy resort towns, Kurokawa maintains a natural and rustic look with many wooden buildings, earthen walls and stone steps.
 

It is most famous for outdoor baths with scenic views, usually found in ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) by the river, in the woods or facing the mountains. Take your pick from cave baths, rocky pools, wooden tubs, historic baths and more.
 

For a refreshing and mythical experience, visit Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture, which is dotted with many sites with interesting legends about the birth of Japan.
 

On the spectacular steep cliffs of the gorge is the picturesque Manai Falls. You can stroll on a 600m-long walking trail adorned by colourful flowers of the season.

 

Bond and washboard
 

Fans of the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall will recall the villain’s lair — an eerie mass of uninhabited high-rise buildings floating in the sea.


In real life, there is actually an island like this.
 

Hashima Island — nicknamed Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) because it looks like a battleship from far — is about 30 minutes’ boat ride from Nagasaki Port in Kyushu’s Nagasaki Prefecture.
 

From the late 1800s to 1974, this tiny island (about 480m long and 160m wide) was a coal mine and housed over 5,000 residents at one time.
 

When the mine closed in 1974, everyone abandoned the island, leaving the buildings to deteriorate over the decades.
 

In 2009, the island was re-opened to the public, who can now visit it on tours operated by licensed tour companies. The tours are subject to weather conditions, and for safety reasons, tour guides will ensure visitors keep to the prescribed path and not get too close to the crumbling ruins.
 

Another fascinating small island in Kyushu is Miyazaki Prefecture’s Aoshima Island, which is surrounded by the “Devil’s Washboard” — rows of strange rock formations visible at low tide.
 

You can take a 1.5km walk round the whole island and visit the historic Aoshima Shrine, which is believed to bring good luck to married couples. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
 

Delicacies to feast on
 

When in Kumamoto Prefecture, tuck into the Kumamoto Ramen.
 

Its most distinctive feature is the dominance of garlic — either roasted as garlic chips and added as a topping, or fried to produce garlic oil, which is then blended with the soup. 
 

The aroma of burnt garlic gives this ramen its unique taste.
 

Shabu shabu lovers should try the famous Kurobuta Shabu Shabu from Kagoshima Prefecture.
 

The Kagoshima Kurobuta (black pig) pork comes from the Berkshire black pig breed, which is known for being juicier, more tender and tastier than other types of pork.
 

In Nagasaki Prefecture, don’t miss the special Omura Sushi, which is prepared in a wooden box and cut into small squares.
 

Its ingredients include rice seasoned with vinegar, finely chopped vegetables and brightly coloured hanpen (steamed fish paste), with strips of omelette as the topping.
 

This sushi was originally served to warriors returning from a victorious battle, and the cube shape was developed when the warriors cut the layered sushi with their swords.
 

Visit www.visitkyushu.org for tourism information on Kyushu.
 

Source: SG Travellers © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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