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Surrounded by the mountains of southern Kyushu, the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area in Kumamoto Prefecture is blessed with a stunning landscape, a centuries-old history, and a local community welcoming guests with their warm hospitality. Located in the Hitoyoshi basin of the Kyushu mountains, the area was not only recognized as “Japan’s Richest Hidden Village” in 2015, but it can also look back on about 700 years of the Sagara Dynasty history, which makes it possible for visitors to discover national heritages that remain here until today. Steeped in Feng Shui and prayer traditions, this area is known for its purification practices.

Furthermore, the local chefs and community of the area have made it their mission to offer vegan-friendly cuisine. Therefore, visitors with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians and vegans, can enjoy the local cuisine with seasonal ingredients of the Hitoyoshi Kuma area and participate in local cooking classes.

The best way to explore this area is by bicycle. Find out more about the possible bicycle tours of the Hitoyoshi Kuma area, and join us on a tour through the local community. Let’s visit historical places, try out local food, and get in touch with locals!

Hitoyoshi Kuma Area: From A Once-In-A-Century Event to a Welcoming Spot For Tourists, Vegetarians, and Vegans

Famous for hot springs and river adventures, the area of Hitoyoshi Kuma was hit by an unprecedented torrential rainstorm in July 2020. It is believed that this kind of natural disaster occurs only once a century. As a result of the rainstorm, the Kuma River, a popular tourist spot and one of Japan’s three greatest rapids, overflowed and caused extensive damage to the area, affecting the lives of many residents.

But with the unbreakable spirit of the local communities, the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area could overcome this disaster and is nowadays welcoming tourists from all over the world. As of March 2022, the central part of the area has been reconstructed, and visitors can enjoy the beautiful river scenery again.

Person riding bicycle in the Hitoyoshi Kuma area.

The Hitoyoshi Kuma area aims to improve food diversity as part of efforts to improve the reception of travelers, making this area, with its local cuisine, suitable for vegetarians and vegans, who can enjoy a variety of dishes.

Aoi Aso Shrine: A Historical Tour Through the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area

The Aoi Aso Shrine (青井阿蘇神社, Aoi Aso Jinja), believed to have been built in 806 and regarded as the land’s protector by the people of the Kuma district, was designated a National Treasure in 2008. It is the first Important Cultural Property in Kumamoto Prefecture that received the status of a National Treasure. Furthermore, the Aoi Aso Shrine serves as a representative example of approximately 90% of the national and prefectural buildings designated as shrines and temples in the Kuma region.

Aoi Aso Shrine in Hitoyoshi Kuma area in Kumamoto, Japan.
The Aoi Aso Shrine, a National Treasure.

During the tour, visitors will get the opportunity to hear more about the history of the shrine from a priest and listen to a priest’s prayers. Also, you can take a close-up look at the magnificent kayabuki thatched-roofed building. The structure boasts a unique design inherited from the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area, such as the technique of using red lacquer on the braid and surfaces of the members.

Priest with visitors at Aoi Aso Shrine in Kumamoto.
Get the chance to listen to the prayers of a priest at Aoi Aso Shrine.
Address:118 Kamiaoimachi, Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto 868-0005
Opening Hours:8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Optional: A sacred sake set of Kuma Shochu and Umeshu (plum wine) for 1,000 yen
Official Website:Aoi Aso Shrine

Takatera-in Temple: The Oldest Temple in the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area

Let’s move on to the next remarkable destination of the area. The Takatera-in Temple is said to be the oldest temple in the Hitoyoshi Kuma region, with a history of more than 800 years. Three hundred seventy-five stone steps lead to the inner sanctuary at the top of Takatera-in and offer a breathtaking view. At the entrance to the inner sanctuary, visitors can find the Bishamondo Hall, which houses five standing statues of Bishamonten, one of the four fierce protectors of Buddha. Two of them, with a height of 1.7 meters, have been designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

Takatera-in temple in Kumamoto, Japan.
The Takatera-in temple is the oldest temple in the Hitoyoshi Kuma area.

Listen to the explanations of a priest and discover the basic idea of Feng Shui, rooted in Takatera-in Temple.

We recommend cycling along the river from Aoi Aso Shrine to Kojiin Temple for those who want to explore the beautiful countryside. You will feel the gentle breeze and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area along the way.

Address:1640 Yamada Kou, Yamae-mura, Kuma-gun, Kumamoto 868-0092
Opening Hours:8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Official Website:Takatera-in Temple

Maruoka Park: Spectacular Views All Year Around

After exploring the historical sides of the Hitoyoshi Kuma area, let’s head to the stunning landscape, which witnessed the wreckful rainstorm in 2020. The Maruoka Park in Yamae Village offers a spectacular view of the Hitoyoshi Kuma Basin. During spring, visitors can enjoy the view of a white and pink ocean of 300 cherry trees and 5,000 colorful azaleas. On the 3rd Sunday in April, the annual Azalea Festival welcomes interested visitors and enthralls everyone with its beauty.

While enjoying the festival’s lively atmosphere and the observatory’s stunning view, make sure to try local chestnut snacks—a specialty of Yamae Village.

The Maruoka Park features a rural plaza with a grassy field and an encampment where local producers can sell their agricultural products. The tour leads you to the top and offers a sense of accomplishment and openness. Use this rare experience of riding a bicycle down the mountains and feeling the wind on your face while taking in the stunning view.

Remembering the rainstorm, a once-in-a-century event, take a deep breath and a moment while appreciating the spectacular scenery of Maruoka Park.

Address:675-4 Mane, Yamae-mura, Kuma-gun, Kumamoto 868-0091
Opening Hours:8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Official Website: Maruoka Park

Fukano Brewery: The Taste of the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area

Our next stop leads us to the Fukano Brewery in Hitoyoshi, where you can taste the unique taste of the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area.

Founded in 1823 by Fukano Tokiji, the brewery has adhered to the traditional method of making kame (turtle) pottery, which they have used for over 150 years since the end of the Edo period (1603–1867) to brew their Kuma shochu. Kuma shochu, a rice-based shochu, has a mellow taste and rich aroma. Above this, Kuma shochu is vegan-friendly and was rewarded with the world’s first vegan certification for shochu in June 2020.

Shochu tasting at the Fukano Brewery, Japan.

The brewery tour allows visitors to visit the shochu distillery and join a shochu tasting. Then, end the tour in the retail store to take the taste of this shochu home with you.

In addition to rice shochu, the Fukano Brewery also offers other popular products, such as vegetable shochu, made of 27 types of locally-grown vegetables and 5 types of grains. Another highlight is their coffee liqueur that perfectly blends Kuma shochu with organically grown coffee beans.

Address:333 Gonoharumachi, Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto 868-0026
Opening Hours:9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Closed from Dec 29th to Jan 4th
Entrance Fee: Free; Tour reservation in advance is required
Official Website:Fukano Brewery

Himawari-tei: Exploring the Local Cuisine, Suitable For Vegetarians and Vegans

It’s time to grab some food! The local direct vegetables market offers a variety of delicious fresh vegetables and fruits that have grown lush in the climate of the Hitoyoshi Basin with its fluctuating temperatures and the water from the tributaries that lead to the Kuma River. You can find organic cabbage, eggplants, tomatoes, seasonal vegetables, and more.

If you prefer to get some inspiration for what to cook with the vegetables from the direct market, visit Himawari-tei. This farm-to-table restaurant is housed in a 120-year-old restored traditional Japanese house. Himawari-tei focuses on local vegan cuisine and offers vegan cooking classes that use local ingredients.

The dishes of Himawari-tei are made by local “oba-chan” (grandmothers), using fresh, safe, and reliable ingredients sourced from the surrounding area of Hitoyoshi and Kuma. Dishes of Himawari-tei feature five key points:

  • 1. Locally-grown rice with reduced pesticides.
  • 2. No use of chemical seasonings.
  • 3. It avoids ingredients with a lot of additives.
  • 4. Locally-sourced, traceable, and identifiable wild vegetables.
  • 5. Menu focuses on vegetable-centered and well-balanced meals.

If you want to learn more about the concept of Himawari-tei, Setsu Honda, the facility director, will be happy to listen to your questions. Honda-san, a sustainability activist who revitalizes the “wisdom, experience, skill, and sensibility” of local grandmothers, considered community assets, is dedicated to contributing to the local community. Through food, education, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and encouraging green tourism, she overcame the natural disaster in 2020 and is making the Himawari-tei to a welcoming spot for tourists of the Hitoyoshi Kuma Area.

Address:1880-2 Yaguromachi, Hitoyoshi-shi, Kumamoto 868-0075
Opening Hours:Monday – Wednesday: 11:00 am – 2:30 pm
Fri/ Sat: 11:00 am – 2:30 pm
Closed on Thursdays and Sundays
Closed from December 29th to January 3rd
Prices: Menu prices are between 1,080 yen and 2,160 yen. Children’s lunch set for 870 yen. Reservations for evening meals required
Official Website:Himawari-tei

How to Get There?

The easiest way to get to the area of Hitoyoshi Kuma is to take the Kyushu Shinkansen from Kumamoto Station to Shin-Yatsushiro Station. Then, transfer to the bus for the direction of Miyazaki Eki. Get off at Hitoyoshi InterChange. From there, it’s a 25-minute walk to, or a bus ride to Hitoyoshi station.

The Hitoyoshi Kuma Area has been the victim of a natural disaster that caused extensive damage to the area, affecting the lives of many residents. But with the non-stoppable spirit of the local community, they aim to revitalize the area and welcome visitors from all over the world.

Under the project “Food x Tourism,” various restaurants and accommodation facilities in Hitoyoshi Kuma have been working on local production for local consumption and vegan-friendly menus, making this place perfect for people with dietary restrictions. Furthermore, the area plans to become a pioneer in terms of food diversity, including halal food, to improve the reception of tourists.

Explore the area by bicycle, learn more about the ancient history of the shrines and temples, designated as national treasures, and try the local vegetarian and vegan cuisine, which offers a wide variety of dishes made by local “oba-chan.”

Article sponsored by Kyushu District Transport Bureau.
Photos provided by Kyushu Districts Transport Bureau.



I'm a German girl from Berlin, who found her second home in Japan. Since 2012, I travelled at least once a year to Japan, before I moved to Tokyo in 2017 as an exchange student. After just a few months back in Germany, I ended up in Tokyo again in 2019 - ready for telling you more about this amazing and traditional country! :)

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