View from below of the castle in Kumamoto, Japan
Kumamoto Castle is a stunning samurai fortress with spectacular rooms of tatami, wood and painted panels beneath its somber, soot-black exterior. Originally built in the 17th century, it's at its prettiest in spring, when hundreds of cherry trees around the moat are in bloom. It's under reconstruction after the 2016 earthquakes, but you can still view parts of the fortifications from around Ninomaru Square and Kato Shrine.
Haiden of Inari Shrine at Suizenji Jojoen Garden in Kumamoto
Dating back to 1632, Suizenji Garden is like a picture come to life. You'll find beautiful cherry trees, pines and elegant arched bridges over a central pond at this traditional Japanese garden. The grounds have been landscaped into small "hills." You'll also find a Shinto shrine and a mini Mt. Fuji to evoke the ancient Tokaido road that linked Kyoto with Edo (present-day Tokyo).
Explore the tatami-mat rooms and gardens the former homes of two prominent writers who lived in Kumamoto. The residence of Natsume Soseki celebrates the author of "I Am a Cat," who lived here around 1900 while teaching at Kumamoto University. The Lafcadio Hearn residence is dedicated to the Greek-Irish author of "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan" who lived here in the 1890s.
Kumamoto's culinary claim to fame is Kumamoto ramen — the local take on the pan-Japanese soup features a mild pork broth, medium-sized noodles and smoky fried garlic chips. Cruise to Kumamoto to try Red Wagyu donburi, with rare-seared strips of lean Wagyu beef served over rice with an oozy egg. Snack of karashi renkon (fried lotus root dipped in mustard), and sample some shochu, the Kyushu's region's nutty-tasting liqueur.
The Kumamoto Prefectural Traditional Crafts Center is a museum and shop offering a wide range of local handicrafts. There are some 80 craft types on display here, including Yamaga lanterns, Higo gold inlay metal craft and ceramics. For more modern souvenirs — including items imprinted with Kumamon, the cute bear that serves as Kumamoto's mascot — try the Kumamoto Prefectural Products Center.
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