Kitakyushu lies in Japan's Fukuoka prefecture and has a population of roughly 1 million people. The prefecture itself has a rich history, and the conservation of the area's heritage makes it a wonderful place to visit, while experiencing some of the architectural marvels as well as the festivals is a must.
The Kitakyushu region is covered in a mountainous landscape and capped with a rich forest cover that leads up right up to the coast of the East China Sea. It serves as a gateway between the northern island of Honshu (Japan's largest) and Kyushu, where important trade goods arrive either by road, rail, or the port of Shin Moji.
With stunning shorelines and attractions to suit every taste, Kitakyushu weaves a magic all of its own on visitors.
There are two popular museums within Kitakyushu: TOTO Museum and the Kitakyushu Manga Museum. The TOTO museum is renowned for housing the first ceramic toilet in Japan, while the Manga museum focuses entirely on Japanese comics and games.
The landscape in Kitakyushu is breathtaking, making it ideal for memorable nature walks. From waterfalls on the plateaus to beautiful gardens, every sight is picture perfect.
There are famous ancient monuments that are synonymous with Kitakyushu, such as the Kokura Castle. The outskirts of the city are also filled with houses that incorporate traditional Japanese architectural styles and designs.
Kanmon Kaikyo (or Kanmon Straits) run between Honshu and Kitakyushu. You can stroll along the banks and take in city views or wind through one of four underwater tunnels. Each year on August 13, the Kanmon Kaikyo is the scene of a huge fireworks display, with some 15,000 fireworks lighting up the sky on either side of the water.
You can explore numerous limestone caves at Hirodai Countryside Park, where you'll amble through geological cavities surrounded by porous limestone. If you prefer to stay above ground, the park also offers good hiking opportunities.
In the summer, the coastline is filled with activity, as everyone, from the locals to tourists, makes their way here to bask in the sun for some much-needed warmth in this cool mountainous region.
Built in 1602, Kokura Castle was mainly the property of the Ogasawara clan, a samurai clan, and stood until 1866 when it was burnt down. Rebuilt and restored in the late 20th century, the castle now houses an interesting museum, and the grounds burst with cherry blossoms in late April.
The Kitakyushu area is always abuzz with maritime activity, and one of the core foodstuffs imported into Japan is bananas from Southeast Asia. It is no wonder that the predominant menu in this region features bananas as a complimentary ingredient. While you are here, you can sample Yaki Curry, which is a baked rice, bananas, and curry dish.
In the early 1900s, Japan did not have a sewerage system. This compelled the local inventors at the time to create the first ceramic flush-system toilet in 1914. At the TOTO museum, all the models from the TOTO company's formal inception in 1917 can be viewed (and some even tested) to give you a glimpse of how the porcelain throne has evolved through the years.
This is a beautiful seasonal garden adorned with flowers that blossom from April to mid-May (which is also maple leaf season). The small trees form long, flower-covered tunnels. In one section, there is a roof of flowers that covers a small section of the garden, which can be seen from a designated viewpoint above the area.
Kitakyushu is a year-round destination, although winters can get quite cold. Most of the attractions in this region such as museums operate all year round, however, the nature trails and the landscape in general change during winter. This is low season, and accommodation costs are usually more affordable compared to the summer peak. Cherry blossom season runs from March to April.
Kitakyushu Airport is located on an artificial island in the Seto Inland Sea, and it handles domestic flights as well as flights from Seoul and Busan in South Korea and Dalian in China. Five buslines connect the airport to the city and tickets cost between JPY410 and JPY800. The trip to the center is about 30 minutes. A taxi will cost around JPY8,000.
The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen high-speed rail line will get you from Tokyo to Kitakyushu in about five hours (tickets start at JPY21,500). You can also use local express trains to get around the prefecture; these arrive and depart from the Kokura Station with stopovers at the Fukuoka terminus.
Travelling by car can be hectic. It takes about 12 hours on the Tokyo Expressway from Tokyo International Airport.
Buses: WILLER offers a service between Kokura (in the center of Kitakyushu) and Osaka. Tickets start at JPY4,800, and the ride lasts about eight hours.
Ocean Tokyu Ferry operates daily ferry services connecting Tokyo and Kitakyushu. The trip lasts 10 hours, and ticket prices for a shared cabin start at JPY17,400.
Accommodation in Kitakyushu has fairly reasonable rates, with most hotels classified as 4-star hotels. They are hygienic, warm with a reliable air conditioning system, and have free WiFi. Most of the hotels, such as Arc Inn Kurosaki (comfortable rooms and excellent staff), Nishitetsu Inn (well-located spot), Hotel Harmony Cinq (featuring an on-site souvenir shop and terrace garden), and Hotel Port Moji (popular with locals) have a couple of levels, so when you book a room on one of the top floors, you can experience an aerial view of the region. Moji Ward and Kokura Ward (home to the castle) are well placed districts if you're looking for decent accommodation and good eating and shopping options. Tobata Ward is a bit more residential and is home to the Tobata Gion Yamagasa Festival, held every July.
There is an electric tram network that covers most of the city, as well as rail and bus options and even a monorail. A one-day bus ticket costs JPY7.
There are local taxi companies as well as options like Uber and Taxify in Kitakyushu. For a standard taxi, expect to pay JPY2400 for a three-mile trip, including a JPY730 flag drop.
Japan is a hub for car manufacturing, so it is only fair that there be numerous car hire companies! You can easily hire a car after filling out documentation using valid ID. The most common are the Nissan car hire solutions, Nissan Rent-a-car and Orix rent-a-car. Prices start at around JPY7,400.
If you are looking to shop the latest trends, then the Riverwalk mall is your best bet. Located near the Kokura Castle along the Murasaki river, it is the ideal place for affordable clothing and accessories. Uomachi Gintengai Shopping Street is a good option for local wares and souvenirs.
The Tanga Market offers a mouthwatering selection of all kinds of fresh produce and local delicacies. There is also a Costco in town and another decent supermarket within the Kokura Station building. As a guide, a loaf of bread is around JPY185.
There is a myriad of restaurants in Kitakyushu that offer different food varieties alongside the portable kiosks that serve noodles and ramen. Teru Sushi's delicious sushi menu makes it popular with tourists. Other good eateries include Inakaan, which is renowned for its eel dishes, and Kollagen Sohonten, serving delicious hotpots and miso soup. Expect to pay between JPY3,000 and JPY8,000 for a meal.