Have you explored Tokyo, trekked through Kyoto, skied in Hokkaido, and feel like you’ve ‘seen Japan’? Well, you haven’t – not until you’ve road-tripped through Kyushu, the nation’s rugged south.

Quick Overview

This five-day Kyushu road trip will take you to the bottom of Japan’s ‘hells’ – the many pockets of steaming hot springs (for looking, not touching) around the country – along the pristine surfing coastlines, and up into a collection of active volcanoes.

About Kyushu

Situated southwest of Japan’s main island (known as Honshu), Kyushu is the country’s third-largest island. Kyushu is known locally as the land of volcanoes, stunning coastlines, friendly locals, and plenty of untouched natural beauty.

Kyushu’s largest city, Fukuoka, is culturally inspired, melding the best of all its influences into one lovely package.

Wider Kyushu is dotted with active volcanoes, like the steam-billowing giants Mt Aso (1,592m) and Sakurajima (1,117m), towering over the landscape. Meanwhile the coast of Miyazaki is home to some of the most pristine surfing coastlines in the country.

The best way to experience this region is on a road trip. The roads are well-marked, and you can witness the landscapes transform within mere kilometres. Learn how the local folks live in harmony with some of nature’s most ferocious geological features and experience a side of Japan that’ll change your perspective on the country forever.

How to Get to Kyushu

Assuming you’re already in Tokyo, the best way to reach Kyushu is by bullet train or plane. Save the road tripping for when you get there; there are a lot of road tolls on the 14-hour drive from Tokyo to the region.

By Bullet Train

Tokyo and Fukuoka (Hakata Station) are connected by the Tokaido-Sanyo shinkansen (bullet train). The journey takes about 5 hours and costs around 24,000 Japanese yen each way.


By Air

Flying may be a more financially reasonable option, with flights costing between 4,000 – 40,000 Japanese yen depending on season, airline, and popularity.

There are multiple daily flights between Tokyo and Fukuoka that take between 1.5-2 hours.

Fukuoka airport also services a range of flights across Asia, so if you’re backpacking or travelling from places like Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, or Singapore, heading there directly might be the best option!

Where to Stay in Kyushu

HalfH – a guesthouse (Japanese hostel) in Fukuoka City
Unzen Shinyu – a female-owned and run ryokan in Unzen Onsen
Glamping Village Leaf – a campground just outside Kumamoto City
Pumping Surf – a casual surf hotel on the coast of Miyazaki
Imi Ola House – a cosy B&B just outside of Yufuin

Best Things to Do in Kyushu

What It’s Like Road Tripping Kyushu

Day 1 – Route: Honshu to Fukuoka

Distance: 1,087km
Travel time: 4-5 hours by bullet train, two hours by plane

While there are options for you to access Kyushu from other corners of the globe, namely Asia, there’s a pretty good chance your starting point for Kyushu will be Tokyo. The nation’s capital is well worth a night or two stay because, well, it’s Tokyo, one of the world’s greatest cities.

From Tokyo, the quickest way to reach Fukuoka is by plane. However, the train is a wonderful way to take in the landscape of the region and avoid all the other heavy lifting that comes with air travel.

Spend the first night of your Kyushu road trip in Fukuoka, as the city isn’t short on fun things to do. Don’t worry about a car for the first night as you’ll be in the city and it’s just a 20-minute rail ride into Hakata, the city’s centre.

One of the icons of this city is its yatai, open-air food stands that run throughout the year.



These food stands have been operating in Japan since the Edo-Period (1603 – 1867), historically serving workers and travellers with Japanese staples like ramen, oden (hot pot), yakitori, gyoza, and of course, plenty of beer and sake. They’re the original food truck and maybe even some of the world’s first fast-food establishments.

Head to Nakasu, an island in the middle of the city, and you won’t miss them. Most yatai seat around five to ten people, and almost all the cooking operations happen right there on site, so pull up a chair at the counter and be prepared to get a little cosy.

Day 2 – Fukuoka to Arita to Nagasaki/ Unzen

Distance: 179km
Time driving: 3 hours

This morning, it’s time to pick up your new whip that’ll take you all over Kyushu. Chain rental outlets like Toyota Rent A Car, Times Car Rental, and Budget Car Rental are failsafe car rental options, as many of them have locations in other parts of the region. So if you want to switch up your transport methods or finish up somewhere else, you can leave the car at one of their other outlets.

From here, the first port of call is Arita, located in Saga Prefecture. It’s just an hour and a half drive from Fukuoka and a great place to stop for lunch. Arita is a small historical town known for being the birthplace of porcelain in Japan.

Visit the Tonbai Wall Alleys, home to old merchant workshops. Along these rustic strips, you can practically read the town’s history in its charming stone walls. The region’s secretive potters also lived here and the walls they built were designed to be so high that competitors couldn’t steal their techniques.

Take a ten-minute walk up the hill to glimpse Tozan Shrine, which has an impressive porcelain torii gate that was built in dedication of one of the most influential Korean potters who introduced porcelain making to Arita.

Before hopping back in the car, swing by Fountain Mountain, a charming cafe located in an old shop front. They serve hearty, healthy meals like Japanese chicken curry and salad, as well as artfully brewed coffee.

The second stint of today’s journey is a 90-minute drive to Unzen Onsen in Nagasaki Prefecture. Nestled inside Unzen Amakusa National Park — one of Japan’s first national parks — Unzen Onsen is a hot spring (onsen) resort town flanked by mountains and powered by volcanic activity.

In Unzen, people live alongside volcanoes and the streets are blanketed in onsen steam. Head over to the town’s hot spring fields, also known as Jikoku (‘Hells’), to get a better look at what’s happening. Spend the rest of the day strolling through the township, and swing by Kojigoku (‘Little Hell’) Onsen (before 6pm), the town’s public onsen facility, for a soak in the mineral-rich hot spring water.



Get a good night’s rest because tomorrow, it’s hiking time. For more high-end accommodation options, I recommend Shinyu Hotel, a women-owned and run Japanese-Western hybrid hotel focusing on sustainability. If you’d like a more budget-friendly option, there are plenty of minshuku (guesthouses) in the town. You can also always camp at Shirakumo no Ike Campsite, where tent rental is available via the Natural Parks Foundation between mid-July and late October.

Day 3 – Nagasaki to Unzen to Kumamoto

Distance: 55.8km
Time driving: 2 hours (including ferry)

Start the day early because you’ll pack in another hike before heading to your next destination. Grab something to eat like onigiri rice balls from the local convenience store Daily Yamazaki (it opens at 8am) and head to Nita Pass to ride on the Unzen Ropeway.

To better understand the magnitude of this region’s volcanic power, you’ve got to visit the top of Mt Fugen (locally known as Fugen Dake), one of the tallest peaks in Mt Unzen’s mountain range.

The hiking trail to the top of Mt Fugen is an 8.4km loop trail with an elevation gain of 736m. Start from the Unzen Ropeway car park and follow the signs to Mt Myoken, then to Mt Kunimi, before looping around to Mt Fugen. The incline is quite easy for the first half, it’s forested, and the paths are clear but as you get closer to the peak, it becomes a little rockier, and there’s some light climbing involved.

From the top of Mt Fugen (1,359m) you can see the smouldering top of the newly minted Mt Heisei-Shinzan. There’s a little space at the top here to stop for lunch, but it can be windy.

If you leave at 8:30am you’ll be back in the car around lunchtime with plenty of time to get to Kumamoto by evening.

The journey to your next destination is under two hours and most of the transit is via ferry so there’s time to nap if need be! Head to Taira Port (30 minutes) to grab a ride; ships leave around hourly or twice an hour, depending on the time of day, so check the schedule for the best departure time.

Spend the night at Glamping Village Leaf, a campsite just outside Kumamoto City. In recent years the concept of ‘glamping’ has increased in popularity in Japan, and while it’s probably not the camping you’re used to, it’s a pretty novel way to experience the great outdoors in comfort.

Day 4 – Kumamoto to Mt Aso to Takachiho to Hyuga

Distance: 159 km
Time driving: 3.5 hours

Today you have a couple of stops, so it’s worth getting up early and beating some of the crowds from Kumamoto. Stop one, Mt Aso, is the largest active volcano in Japan, having most recently erupted in 2021 and 2016. With its near-constant plumes of steam and smoke, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. That said, there are plenty of safety precautions in place to ensure guests are aware of Mt Aso’s temperament. It’s about an hour’s drive east.



The caldera is a whopping 25km in diameter and 100km in circumference, and you can access the crater area by car and on foot. It’s sometimes wholly or partially closed off to visitors if the volcanic gases are too potent, there’s bad weather or the risk of volcanic activity. But it’s well worth visiting regardless, thanks to the stunning landscapes surrounding being lined with walking trails.

An hour and 15-minute drive south from Mt Aso will get you to Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture. The beautiful, albeit narrow, gorge is flanked by towering volcanic basalt columns and punctuated by the 17m high Manai Falls cascading down to the river. You can head down to the bottom of the gorge and grab a rental boat (human-powered only) to cruise through the gorge, weaving in and out of the waterfall curtains.



The final destination for the day is Miyazaki’s charming surf community of Hyuga. Okuragahama Beach is the town’s premier surfing spot, hosting international surfing events. It’s a sand-bottom beach, but it breaks very consistently. There are surf rental shops like On The Beach and Dear Surf just a few minutes away, so if you don’t have time in the evening, pop by early the next morning to grab a board and get out there.

To fully immerse yourself in the surf culture, spend the night at Pumping Surf guest house and lodging, located just across the road from the beach.

Day 5 – Hyuga to Yufuin to Beppu

Distance: 174 km
Time driving: 2.5 hours

After a morning out on the water, wash off and hop back in the car as it’s time to explore Japan’s favourite rest and relaxation activity, the onsen. Drive a little over two hours up north to Oita Prefecture to hit Beppu, the home to all hot springs. This hot spring resort town is more than just a single resort; it’s eight hot springs (eight different water sources) in one.

To get a better perspective on the town, head to the top of Yukemuri Observatory. From here, you can get a sweeping panoramic view of the town and the countless clouds of onsen steam that permeate the streets.

Beppu is open to international travellers, and its general attitude to tattoos is a lot more liberal than other areas. So if you’re inked and want to take a soak without being self-conscious, check out this handy list of onsen facilities that allow tattoos.

As an added option, if you’re looking for a bit of adrenaline, you might want to consider visiting Forest Adventure BEPPU. The facility has a selection of tree-top high canopy and climbing courses where you can roam free, scaling the multiple obstacle courses and taking your skills to new heights.

Yufuin is your next destination on the hot spring hopping tour. This quaint town is just about 10km inland from Beppu and is a little more culture-focused. Here you’ll find local art museums – like the Kengo Kuma-designed Comico Art Museum – cafes, and boutiques clustered around the town’s centre. Park the car and take a stroll down the main street to explore in more depth.



Stay the night somewhere local, like Imi Ola House, a cosy bed and breakfast sitting just outside the heart of Yufuin. This cute homestay-type experience is an ideal way to connect with local folks and get an insider’s perspective and tips. The accommodation also offers yoga classes, has an on-site onsen bath and serves meals utilising fresh, locally sourced produce daily.

Bonus: Kagoshima (Sakurajima)

Got a few extra days up your sleeve and a hunger for adventure that hasn’t quite been quelled? Take a trip down south to Kagoshima Prefecture, home to Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most famous volcanoes.

From Yufuin/ Beppu it’s about 6.5 hours without tolls, or 4.5 hours with tolls, but around 4 hours without tolls and 2.5 hours with tolls from Kumamoto. Head to central Kagoshima City as the main launching point. From here, you can see Sakurajima in all its glory. Hop aboard the Sakurajima Ferry, where a gentle hike along the Yogan Nagisa Trail offers plenty of opportunities to take in the views.



From Kagoshima City, you can explore the region’s mysteriously beautiful southern islands, like the tropical islands of Yoron and Amami Oshima, or Yakushima, the inspiration behind Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.

Skill Level

Beginner – Intermediate

On the driving front, this road trip is suitable for all experience levels. The roads are all clear and well-marked and a GPS will get you where you need to go. Japan also drives on the left-hand side so there’s not too much culture shock there. A regular 2WD car will suffice.
In terms of hiking, there are a range of hiking routes to satisfy most levels of hiker, from beginner to moderate levels. 

Essential Gear

  • Hiking boots
  • International driver’s licence
  • Travel insurance
  • Car insurance (you can get at the rental site)
  • ETC card (you can get this at the rental site)
  • Weather appropriate hiking clothes
  • Hat
  • Sunnies
  • Plenty of water
  • Food and snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Swimmers and towel

Tips for Road Tripping Kyushu

  • ​​A lot of the roads have tolls, so ask the car rental store for an ETC card if they don’t offer it. This is a toll payment card allowing you to pay for the tolls retroactively. The Kyushu Expressway Pass also gives you discounted use of the local expressways for 2 (3,600 yen) to 10 days (17,000 yen)
  • There are plenty of roadside stops including Japan’s typical convenience stores (Lawson, 7 Eleven, and Family Mart). But for a more local experience and better food options, look out for ‘michi no eki’ (in English: road stations). These road stops offer local food, clean bathrooms, and an all-round better road trip experience
  • Many of the area’s volcanoes can be a little volatile, so access to the top might be restricted depending on the gas emissions
  • At most petrol stations in Japan, attendants will fill your car for you, so there’s no need to get out and pump your own petrol
  • Some popular tourist destinations like Takachiho Gorge get busy, so if you’re visiting on a weekend or a Japanese public holiday be prepared to go early or wait in line
  • Many onsen facilities still have rules around showing tattoos in public baths. If you have tattoos, look for tattoo-friendly onsen options, or consider booking a private bath



For more information on travel to Japan, please visit Japan Travel.