Although Kitakyushu made a name for itself as Japan’s industrial engine, it is also home to some unique and beautiful parks and landscapes. Head to Hiraodai to marvel at the strange and alluring limestone formations and caverns, or spend a day exploring the trails around the reservoir and meeting the friendly kangaroos at Green Park, which is also home to one of Japan’s largest rose gardens. Flower lovers will also not want to miss Shiranoe Botanical Garden and its “Sakura Relay”. At night, you will want to ride the cable car to the top of Mt. Sarakura to take in gorgeous panoramic views of the city. Across the straits, Hinoyama and Mimosusogawa Parks afford great views of the iconic Kanmon Bridge, and a short drive to the northern end of Shimonoseki provides access to relaxing hot springs and a pristine river where you can take a boat ride with the fireflies. You can also choose to time your visit to coincide with a variety of exciting local festivals.
Kimono Rental and Rickshaw Rides
If you would like to change into something retro before you hit the streets of Mojiko Retro, then stop by Retro Nadeshiko to rent a kimono. Need to give your feet a rest? Then head to Ebisuya for a rickshaw ride.
On a clear day, the top of Mt. Sarakura affords a breathtaking panoramic view of nearly the entire city of Kitakyushu and the Genkai Sea beyond, but the main draw is the night view, which has been called one of three “new major night views” in Japan. The quickest and most enjoyable way to the top of the mountain is the cable car-slope car combination. After transferring to the slope car at Sanjo Station, you can enjoy unobstructed views for the last 150 meters of the journey. The three-story observatory on the top of the mountain offers the best views as well as a café if you would like to relax a bit before your return trip. Just remember to check the time table: it differs on weekdays and weekends.
A popular spot for lovers
Long a popular date spot with locals, Mt. Sarakura has been designated as one of 140 Lovers’ Sanctuaries in Japan. For ¥1,000, couples who want to confess their undying love for each other can purchase a padlock that they can lock onto a heart-shaped monument on the mountaintop observation deck.
Several different seasonal events are held throughout the year. Notably, in July and August, Café Mountain, the restaurant inside the observatory, runs a beer garden. You can enjoy nighttime views from your table while sipping on cold beers and eating a delectable steak. Seats are limited, so call ahead to reserve. (Prices are subject to change every season. Please inquire when you call. If you cannot speak Japanese, please have a Japanese speaker call on your behalf.)
Address: 1481-1 Oaza Ogura, Yahatahigashi-ku, Kitakyushu
Open: Mon. ~ Fri.: 10:00~18:00 (last ascent: 17:20), Sat., Sun. and hol.: 10:00~22:00 (last ascent: 21:20) *year-round
Fee: Cable car (round-trip): adult ¥800, child ¥400, slope car (round-trip): adult ¥400, child ¥200
Getting there: 5 minutes by taxi from JR Yahata Station. A free shuttle bus is available on weekends and holidays.
From JR Kokura Station, take the “Itozu” Expressway Bus and get off at the “Kosoku Sarakurayama Cable” bus stop. The cable car station is 1 minute on foot.
The Hiraodai Limestone Plateau, part of the Kitakyushu Quasi-National Park, features an awe-inspiring field of monoliths, limestone caverns and several kilometers of trails for walking and trail-running. Spanning 6 km north to south and 2 km east to west, the park, which is also a Prefectural Natural Park, is home to many unusually shaped rocks, often named after what they look like (e.g. Kiss Rock or Lion Rock). In the fall, you can enjoy the unique landscapes surrounded by Japanese silver grass swaying in the wind. Together with Akiyoshidai in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Shikoku Karst on the border of Ehime and Kochi Prefectures, Hiraodai is one of Japan’s three biggest karst landscapes.
There are also three limestone caves inside the park: Senbutsu, Mejiro and Ojika. Senbutsu is 16 °C year-round, literally making it a cool place to visit in the summer. Lights are strung 900 m into the cave from the entrance. Mejiro offers an extensive network of caves that make it a good choice for both novice and advanced spelunkers. Meanwhile, Ojika is a pit cave, so you have to descend about 25 m to get to the cave floor.
Address: 3-2-1 Hiraodai, Kokuraminami-ku, Kitakyushu
Open: 9:00~17:00, Sat., Sun. & hol.: 9:00~18:00
*Only open until sunset in fall & winter
Admission: Adult ¥800, HS ¥600, JHS ¥500, ES ¥400
Hiraodai Countryside Park
Sandwiched between the Hiraodai natural park and a limestone quarry is the spacious Hiraodai Countryside Park. Here you can enjoy a panoramic vista of the Hiraodai landscape from the observation platform, or try your hand at soba noodle-making, ceramics, woodworking or flower art. The spacious park also features a concert space, restaurant, playground and access to hiking trails, making it an ideal day trip destination, especially for families or other groups. The busiest times of year are the Golden Week holiday in late April and early May and early fall.
Hiraodai Countryside Park
Address: 1-1-1 Hiraodai, Kokuraminami-ku, Kitakyushu
Open: 9:00~17:00 (Dec.~Feb.: 10:00~16:00)
Closed: Tue. (or Wed. if Tues. is a holiday)
Admission: Free (Parking: ¥300 for regular cars)
15 minutes by taxi from JR Ishiharamachi Station
20 minutes by car from the Kokura-minami IC on the Kyushu Expressway
In 1991, the City of Kitakyushu hosted an urban greenery expo called Green Renaissance to showcase its transition towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly model. A massive venue was built for this event next to the Tonda Reservoir, and this is what is now Green Park—by far the city’s largest park. Green Park offers a wide array of activities that are fun for the whole family. You can play in the large lawn, or hike along an extensive network of paths. There are also several paid services, like rental cycles and pedal boats, so you can easily spend a whole day exploring the park when the weather is nice. In the Tropical Ecology Garden (Adult: ¥300 / JHS & ES: ¥150), you can see many jungle plants and creatures, including around 500 butterflies that flit about freely within the dome. You can also call ahead to reserve a full-service BBQ, with everything provided as part of the fee, including food, canopies, and trash collection.
If you walk though the short tunnel just east of the main office building, you will find yourself at Hibiki Animal World (aka Kangaroo Square). For ¥300 (JHS & ES: ¥150), you can enter the enclosure and get up close and personal with nearly 300 kangaroos and wallabies. But don’t worry: they are tame! They have all been bred in captivity from an original batch of around 10 animals. In fact, Hibiki Animal World provides kangaroos to several other zoos and nature preserves throughout Japan.
With 320 species and 2,500 bushes, the Rose Garden at Green Park is one of the biggest in Japan. The sheer variety means roses are in bloom for several months out of the year. Rose Festivals are held in both the spring (May ~ Jun.) and the fall (Oct. ~ Nov.), but keep in mind that the park is at its busiest from Golden Week in May until early June. Admission to Green Park grants access to the Rose Garden at no extra charge.
Hibiki Animal World
Admission (in addition to Green Park admission): Adult ¥300, JHS & ES ¥150
Closed: Tue. (or following day if Tue. is a holiday)
Direct bus from Orio Station (2 round-trips on Sun. & hol. only)
20 minutes by car from either Kurosaki IC or Wakato-Ohashi IC on the Kitakyushu Urban Expressway
Call 093-701-5633 to reserve.
11:00~16:00 for 150 min. / Price: adult ¥2,300, child (up to 12 y.o.) ¥1,200
*Cancelled when rainy or windy
Shiranoe Botanical Garden
When you first enter the city-run Shiranoe Botanical Garden, you may be shocked to discover that it was once a privately-owned garden. Designed with the natural contours of the land in mind, no matter what time of year you come, there is always something in bloom in this modest-sized well-curated park. You can enjoy winter peonies, each huddled inside protective straw coverings, in the winter, cherry blossoms and azaleas in the spring, hydrangea and water lilies in the summer, and vibrant yellow, orange and red maple leaves—the color depends on the amount of shade—in the fall. All of the trees and flowers also attract many different varieties of birds, both resident and migratory.
Several footpaths crisscross the premises, and suggested walking courses range from 730 m (30 minutes) to 1,900 m (60 minutes). Located at an altitude of 111 m, the observatory affords a beautiful ocean vista, and on a clear day you can see the main island of Honshu to the north and the mountains and islands of Oita Prefecture to the southeast. The second floor of the park office has two large tatami mat rooms that you can use free of charge to take a rest or eat packed lunch. More recently, Shiranoe has become a big hit with cosplayers, who like to take photos with the many different natural backdrops that the park provides.
Shiranoe Botanical Garden
Address: 2 Shiranoe, Moji-ku, Kitakyushu
Closed: Tue. (or Wed. if Tue. is a holiday)
Admission: Adult ¥200, ES & JHS ¥100
Getting there: By bus: 20 minutes on the No. 41 bus bound for Shiranoe from Mojiko Station.
By car: Exit the Kyushu Expressway at Moji or the Kitakyushu Urban Expressway at the Kasuga Ramp. The park is about 2 km away on Prefectural Route 72.
Japan is well-known for its cherry blossoms, most of which bloom in the spring. If you visit a park or the grounds of a castle during peak season, you are sure to see large crowds of people picnicking under the trees. At Shiranoe, however, there are around 800 cherry trees spanning 60 different varieties, so you can see cherry blossoms seven months out of the year, from October until the following April. This is called the “Sakura Relay,” and it draws visitors throughout the year. Also, just after you enter the park on the right, you will see a magnificent sprawling cherry tree that is thought to be between 400 and 500 years old. It was found to be a unique subspecies of hill cherry and was designated a Natural Monument in 1963.
Festivals of Kitakyushu
The Japanese summer is a time when many festivals, traditional or otherwise, are held throughout the country, and Kitakyushu is no different. Some of its most exciting and unique celebrations happen in the months of July and August.
Tobata Gion Oyamagasa
Considered one of the top three summer festivals in Fukuoka Prefecture (along with the Hakata Gion Yamakasa in Fukuoka City and the Kokura Gion Taiko), the Tobata Gion Oyamagasa was designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016 together with 32 other similar float festivals throughout Japan that are typically held annually to pray for protection from natural disasters. What makes the Tobata festival unique are its floats: by day they fly long red and white banners, but at night they transform into dazzling 10 m tall lantern floats carrying 12 tiers of traditional paper lanterns and weighing 2.5 tons!
Dates: The three days centered on the 4th Saturday in July
Inquiries: Tobata Gion Oyamagasa Promotion Society (inside Tobata Ward Office)
Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival
Established in 1998, the Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival is a relatively young festival compared to its traditional counterparts in other parts of the city. The energy-filled festival features a wide range of events held throughout the city including a massive dance parade with around 10,000 participants, the Natsu Matsuri Daishugo shrine and float parade, food stalls and a fireworks grand finale.
Dates: First weekend of August
Inquiries: Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival Promotion Committee
Kanmon Straits Fireworks Festival
First held in 1988 as part of the Asian Port Festival Kanmon, the Kanmon Straits Fireworks Festival now attracts around 1.5 million visitors, making it the second largest fireworks festival in Japan in terms of crowd size. What makes the festival special are the 15,000 fireworks launched from both sides of the straits. Whether you are in Moji or Shimonoseki, you can enjoy this dazzling spectacle as it lights up the Kanmon Bridge. There is also live music and a plethora of food stalls. Shutterbugs will not want to miss the annual photo competition.
Date: Aug. 13
Inquiries: Kanmon Straits Fireworks Festival Executive Committee
One kilometer north of Karato Market is Mimosusogawa Park, located at the narrowest point on Kanmon Straits where the Kanmon Bridge connects Honshu and Kyushu. The park features good views of the Kanmon Bridge and Kitakyushu City across the water. It was the site of a naval battle between a samurai clan and western navies in 1864. Five cannons stand at the site commemorating the battle and you can “fire” them (generating smoke and sound effects) for ¥100.
An even more spectacular view of the straits and the city below can be found from the peak of Hinoyama. A 10-minute walk north from Mimosusogawa Park up a small hill leads to the ropeway station in Hinoyama Park, where you can ride a cable car to the 268 m peak. The peak is also accessible by the toll-free Hinoyama Parkway (a 10-minute drive) and a walking trail (60-minute walk). From the peak, you enjoy a panoramic vista of the coast of Honshu, Kanmon Straits, the Seto Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan. The nightscape is spectacular, too. The ropeway operates from spring to fall. The park is one of the city’s most well-known spots for viewing cherry blossoms, so you might want to visit in late March or early April to enjoy the flowers. April is also when the tulips are in bloom.
Open: Nov. ~ Feb.: 8:00~21:00, Mar. ~ Oct.: 8:00~22:00
Open: 10:00~17:00 (*late Mar. ~ late Nov.)
Closed: Tue. & Wed. (*open if holiday)
Round trip ticket: Adult ¥500, child ¥250
Toyota: Town of Fireflies and Hot Springs
The Firefly Museum of Toyota Town is located near the banks of the Koya River. The museum has extended hours in June, when fireflies are most visible, closing at 20:00. You can also take an evening boat tour on the river to see the fireflies up close.
If your preferred mode of relaxation is a dip in a hot spring, the waters of Hotaru no Yu at the Hotaru Kaido Nishinoichi Roadside Station will leave your skin feeling soft and supple. There is also an open-air bath if you would like to enjoy the hot water with the wind in your hair.
Firefly Museum of Toyota Town
Address: 50-3 Oaza Nakamura, Toyota-cho, Shimonoseki
Open: 9:00~17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed: Mon. (or the following day if Mon. is holiday), year-end/New Year holiday
Admission: Adult ¥200, college student ¥100, free for HS & under and 70 y.o. & up
Hotaru no Yu (Hotaru Kaido Nishinoichi Roadside Station)
Address: 876-4 Oaza Nakamura, Toyota-cho, Shimonoseki
Open: 10:00~21:00 (last entry 20:00)
Hot spring fee: Adult (JHS and up) ¥660, 6~12 y.o. ¥300, 3~5 y.o. ¥50
*Wheelchair accessible shower available
To learn more about Kitakyushu, Shimonoseki, and the Kanmon Straits, click on the following links
Originally written in Jun. 2018.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in Jun. 2018.