The Treasures Of Kyushu

by : Wolfgang Jaegel

Kyushu offers something for everyone, from urban buzz to natural escapes, ranging from great shopping experiences at Fukuoka's Canal City Hakata to the indulgent hot springs baths at Beppu.

Japan's third-largest island, Kyushu is an early centre of Japanese civilisation and offers many historic treasures, modern cities and natural beauty. Tourists are drawn to Nagasaki because it was the city which suffered an atomic bomb attack during World War II on Aug 9, 1945. There is the Atomic Bomb Museum located in the Peace Garden, which is well worth a visit. The exhibition shows the damage caused by the blast, the ruins of Urakami Cathedral and the rescue and relief activities. A Statue of Peace stands in the middle of the garden to commemorate the atomic blast.

Another interesting place to visit is Huis Ten Bosch, which gives you a taste of Europe in Asia. One of the highlights of the Dutch theme park is the replica of Queen Beatrix of the Netherland's official residence. Located in the palace is an art museum which hosts exhibitions of works by Japanese and international artists.

There is a massive mural within the palace painted by renowned Dutch painter Rob Scholte, which took four years to complete. You might be tired after visiting the museum, so take a trip to Shimabara and check into an onsen hotel to enjoy a hot spring bath. There is so much natural spring water in Shimabara, both hot and cold, that it runs through the streets. One picturesque spot, the Carp Street, has colourful koi swimming in the canals.

You'll also want to visit one of the jewels of Kumamoto, the 300-year-old Suizenji Park. At the east of the park, there is Horaitsukiyama, which is made to look like Mt Fuji. Three islands float in the lake and beautifully trimmed pine trees enhance the exquisite scene.

After visiting the lake, tourists can head to one of the most famous castles in Japan, Kumamoto Castle. Most of the present castle buildings, including the large and small castle tower, are reconstructions dating from the 1960s. The interior of the castle is a modern museum. After visiting these historic sites, take a break to indulge your shopping fantasies by going to Kami Tori and Shimo Tori - the main shopping belt in downtown Kumamoto.

Another excellent place for shopping is Canal City Hakata in Fukuoka. Calling itself a "city within a city", attractions here include numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, a theatre, game centre, cinemas, two hotels and a canal, which runs through the complex. Hawks Town is also a good place to go on a shopping spree. It's a two-storey mall with a cinema, the giant game centre, Namco Wonderpark, Hard Rock Cafe and 28 shops including Gap Clothing and Nike.

Kyushu is also a popular tourist destination because of the Mount Aso National Park. The park boasts the world's largest volcanic crater. Close to Mount Aso is Beppu, which is famous for its hot springs. It has nine jigoku or "hells", which are nine spectacular hot springs for viewing, rather than bathing. Beppu's most famous site is the bright-red Boiling Blood Pond, Chi-no-ike Jigoku.

After enjoying these natural sites, you may want to visit Hello Kitty Land. Also known as Harmonyland, the place is an outdoor theme park nestled in the natural splendour of Oita prefecture. It offers attractions with state-of-the-art technology, a schedule of fun events, and a chance to meet the Sanrio characters. Harmonyland teaches visitors about Oita's natural environment and cultural heritage while celebrating the joy of friendship and caring.