As a land where the giants of motorcycle manufacturing—Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki—reign, Japan’s rich motorcycling heritage is no secret. Yet, in the world of motorcycle tourism, a burgeoning global phenomenon, Japan harbors an untapped paradise. This hidden treasure? Kyushu Island.
Kyushu emerges as the quintessential motorcycle touring haven in Japan. It offers a year-long rider-friendly climate, roads that promise exhilaration at every turn, and a landscape that shifts from sprawling open roads to serpentine mountain passes and breathtaking coastal views. With attractions like the Honda Motorcycle factory in Kumamoto, elite race tracks, and private museums dedicated to the two-wheeled marvels, Kyushu is not just a journey; it’s a rider’s dream come to life.
But there’s more to it than just the thrill of the ride. Motorcycle tourism stands as a gateway to deeper, more intimate explorations of Kyushu’s countryside, potentially revving up the local inbound tourism sector. Our mission? To validate the hypothesis that investing in and promoting Kyushu’s motorcycle tourism is not just viable, but essential. Together, let’s throttle up and explore this less-followed path. Prefer to watch a video? – here’s our video report.
A Quick Introduction: I’m Nick Szasz, the CEO/Publisher of fukuoka-now.com. Joining me on this exploratory ride are my life and business partner, Emiko, and our close friend Asaf, a seasoned rider with decades of experience and thousands of kilometers in Kyushu under his belt.
Our Expedition: We embarked on a meticulously planned 2-night, 3-day motorcycle tour across the northern expanses of Kyushu. Setting out in early November, we found Kyushu draped in the crisp embrace of autumn, the prelude to a vibrant display of fall foliage. Scroll down to see our exact route.
Choosing the Steed: To fully immerse in the experience of an international rider, I parked my beloved Moto Guzzi V7 II at home and headed to Ricoland Fukuoka. More than Kyushu’s largest motorcycle gear hub, it’s a haven for motorcyclists. Here, international riders can seamlessly transition from their flight into Fukuoka to the freedom of the road, luggage and all. Fukuoka Airport is literally within sight, a manageable walk, and a cheap cab ride away.
If you complete all necessary rental processes beforehand, you qualify for perks like a complimentary airport shuttle and an ultra-convenient early morning self-checkout, starting as early as 5 am. Whether renting on the spot or reserving a bike online, the choice is vast: over 100 bikes ranging from nimble mopeds to large displacement models, both domestic and international.
For our test tour, we aimed for a mix of comfort and practicality, choosing the versatile Honda X-ADV750. To complement our journey, we kitted out with optional hard bags – side and top boxes, ensuring ample space for our gear. I’d never ridden such an automated bike before. It took some getting used to, but it was ideal for two-up touring. Emiko reports “comfy seating and good visibility,” so a win for sure!
We dropped by the day before, completed the necessary paperwork, got acquainted with our ride, and received a special QR code for an effortless departure the next morning. It was a relief to have everything squared away beforehand, setting the stage for an adventure where the only focus was the open road ahead.
Kickstarting Our Kyushu Odyssey at Ricoland
Our journey began at the well-positioned Ricoland Fukuoka Airport Store. Conveniently situated near Fukuoka’s Urban Expressway, it allowed us to quickly escape the dense urban concrete.
Taking advantage of Ricoland’s Early Morning Rental Service, we effortlessly self-checked out using a private QR code, even before the store’s doors officially opened. My bike, meticulously prepared, was ready and waiting for me. Ricoland, with its spacious and modern amenities, provided everything we needed for a smooth start to our trip. This included separate male and female changing rooms, lockers, and restrooms, as well as showers for a quick freshen-up. These thoughtful touches make a significant difference, especially for riders arriving from overseas.
With every detail taken care of, our engines humming in anticipation, the vast and inviting roads of Kyushu beckoned. It was time to rev up and immerse ourselves in the motorcycling nirvana that is Kyushu. Let the adventure begin!
Embarking on Kyushu’s Winding Roads
Our early start paid off big time, allowing us to dodge the traffic and hit the urban expressway toward Dazaifu. Before long, we were carving through lush mountain roads and farm fields en route to Akizuki.
The ride to Akizuki was an hour of pure joy, taking us through stunning country views. We cruised through a quaint old castle town, often referred to as ‘Little Kyoto’, before arriving at the historic Akizuki castle ruins. This place offers something different in every season – cherry blossoms in spring, lush greenery in summer, and a riot of autumn colors. Note to self: aim for the ‘sakura’ season next time!
Our next destination was Hikosan, a mountain both sacred and revered. En route, we discovered the Koishiwara Dam Freai Park, a new addition near Koishiwara Dam Lake that opened in April 2022. Located right off National Route 500, it features a well-designed riding skill course – perfect for practicing S-curves and cranks.
Sitting about 1,200 meters high, Hikosan straddles the Oita and Fukuoka Prefectures. The roads in and around are mostly tight twisties – quite a workout indeed. You can take a cable car up to Hikosan Shrine from the parking lot for even grander views.
Then, it was off to Yabakei in Oita, another top-notch touring destination. Riding through small canyons with steep cliffs was nothing short of epic. We were so immersed in the experience, we regret not taking photos. Whoops!
Even in the heart of these scenic mountains, there are fine places to eat. It’s tempting to ride non-stop, but trust me, stopping at spots like these for a bite is an adventure and discovery in itself. Who would have thought you could find such a high-quality meal in the deep countryside?”
Riding through Kyushu’s twisty roads was more than just clocking miles; it was a full-on journey into the heart of Japan, where every corner revealed something new. And this was only the first day!
After a relaxed lunch, we were back on the road, this time touring the Kunisaki Peninsula and heading towards our overnight stay. The area, dotted with mountain temples and trails, is an ideal spot for both motorcycle and bicycle touring. Don’t miss the local produce stands along the way. We picked up some Ajimu wine at a farmer’s market in Ajimu, perfect for unwinding at dinner.
Our accommodation for the night was unique—a private house run by an organic farmer who had relocated from Kanto. Interestingly, the father used to work in the motorcycle industry, making for some great bike-related conversations. Plus, having a mechanic nearby was reassuring. Then there’s Fusako-san, an English-speaker with experience working for a major brand in Germany. After a tour of their fields, we were treated to a fantastic dinner and breakfast, all made with organic veggies grown on-site.
DAY 2: A Ride from Kunisaki to Aso
The next day began with a refreshing morning walk in Kitsuki, a charming former castle town. Following Akizuki the previous day, Kitsuki was our second castle town experience. Here, a full-size replica of the original castle stands, offering stunning views of the sea and coastline.
Our journey then took us towards Beppu, renowned for its abundant hot springs. We visited Myoban Onsen, one of Beppu’s eight major onsen areas, famous for its traditional ‘yunohana’ hot spring minerals and delicious hot spring steamed puddings. It’s a popular spot, so arriving early is advisable.
Our next stop was the eagerly anticipated ‘Iwashita Collection,’ a veritable treasure trove featuring an extensive array of prized motorcycles, classic cars from around the world, and Showa-era retro gems. They boast over 600 motorcycles from every corner of the globe, with about 200 on display. Mr. Iwashita, the curator, plans to add around 100 more bikes to complete his collection.
A highlight is the unique Ducati Apollo L-type 4 cylinder (1260cc) – the only one in the world, valued at a staggering ¥200 million. The collection also includes a range of historic Honda models, some of which are among Soichiro Honda’s first commercial models. Allow for at least an hour to scratch the surface.
After immersing ourselves in the rich motor history of the region, our appetites were whetted for a hearty meal. The Aso area, known for its cattle grazing, is synonymous with ‘Akaushi’ beef.
We stopped at a family-owned ranch restaurant renowned for its Akaushi steaks. To our delight, they even added some extra cuts of ‘yakiniku’ specially for us bikers. The meal was a hit, enhanced by appetizers made from local vegetables and the restaurant’s warm hospitality.
With full stomachs, we then headed towards our next highlight – the crater of Mt. Nakadake in Aso.
A quick tip: Always check the official site in advance to confirm access to the crater, as it sometimes closes due to excessive gas emissions. Standing at the edge of an active volcano crater offers an exhilarating experience, a true connection to the planet’s raw energy.
Waking up inside a caldera is an extraordinary experience, one that defies capture by any camera.
The best part of rising early? The luxury of traversing empty roads and soaking in unbeatable views. We savored every moment.
We had already journeyed along some of Kyushu’s most iconic routes – the Yamanami Highway and Milk Road, and now we were gliding along the celebrated Green Road.
Part of this road is named in honor of the legendary 500cc motorcycle racer, Kenny Roberts. Along this route, there’s a rest stop with a covered shelter offering breathtaking views of the caldera. The sweeping roads, the wide-open vistas, and the feeling of riding in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts – it was pure awesomeness all around!
Our journey then led us through Kumamoto City and onto the Shimabara Peninsula in Nagasaki. This scenic route, with Mt. Unzen, an active volcano, as its centerpiece, offered a visual feast, especially when viewed from the ferry – a 60-minute ride, or just 30 minutes on the high-speed boat.
In the heart of the peninsula lies Unzen Onsen, a historic retreat for Europeans during the late Edo period and Japan’s first national park. The roads from Shimabara Port to Unzen are a biker’s dream, curving and dipping through breathtaking scenery.
A must-do is walking through the steaming, sulfur-scented ‘Unzen Hells’ – an otherworldly experience.
From Unzen, we crossed Isahaya Bay and followed Nagasaki Prefectural Road 207 along the Ariake Sea.
Our route then took us along the picturesque Tara-dake Orange Seaside Road, winding through mountains towards the Yutoku Inari Shrine, which draws millions of visitors each year.
Our final objective? To catch the sunset in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, before returning my bike to Ricoland in Fukuoka City. We adhered to our plan, resisting tempting detours, and arrived at the Itoshima Peninsula.
The view at Futamigaura, with its iconic Meoto Iwa (husband and wife rocks) and the pristine torii gate of Sakurai Shrine, was a fitting culmination of our journey – the sunset there was nothing short of magical.
From Itoshima, it was a 45-minute ride back to Fukuoka City, cruising along the urban expressway towards the Fukuoka Airport International Line’s nearest interchange, ‘Enokida’. The final stretch of our journey was a blend of satisfaction and anticipation – reminiscing about the roads traveled, yet eager to conclude our adventure.
As we pulled into Ricoland to return my motorcycle, a sense of accomplishment enveloped us. With tanks full and engines cooled, we had completed our 690 km, 2-night, 3-day expedition. It was a journey that showcased a slice of northern Kyushu, from the serene beauty of calderas and rustic countryside roads to the thrilling heights of active volcanoes and the mystical allure of ancient shrines.
Kyushu, with its stunning landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, had proven itself not just a destination, but a biker’s haven, offering experiences as diverse as the roads that wind through it. As we handed back our keys at Ricoland, we were already planning our next adventure, knowing that the roads of Kyushu would always call us back for more.
Itinerary (as of Nov. 2023)
From Fukuoka to Kunisaki in Oita Prefecture
07:30 Gathering: Ricoland Fukuoka Airport Store
08:00 Departure: 35km
09:00 Akizuki Castle Ruins
09:30 Departure: 40km
11:00 Mt. Hiko
11:45 Departure (Via: Yabakei)
12:45 Lunch (Yabakei) Restaurant Sardinas
13:45 Touring Kunisaki Peninsula
17:00 Check-in: Farm Stay “Organic Farm Stay”
From Kunisaki in Oita Prefecture to Aso
08:30 Check-out & Departure
09:00 Kitsuki Castle
09:30 Departure: 26km
10:15 Myoban Onsen
10:45 Departure: 26km
11:45 Iwashita Collection
13:00 Lunch (Ubuyama Village) Farmer’s Restaurant Yama no Sato
15:30 Mt. Aso Nakadake Crater Area (Motorcycle Entry ¥200)
17:15 Check-in (Aso Area)
From Aso to Unzen and Itoshima
07:30 Check-out & Departure (Via: Kenny Road)
09:00 Kumamoto Port (Complete boarding procedures 20 minutes before departure)
09:25 Kumamoto Ferry (Motorcycle over 750cc + Driver ¥3,850, Adult ¥1,500) About 30 minutes
Or 9:55 Kyusho Ferry (Motorcycle over 750cc + Driver ¥2,340, Adult ¥890) About 60 minutes
10:55 Shimabara Port
11:00 Departure (to Unzen): 19km, 30 minutes
11:35 Lunch (Green Terrace Unzen)
12:15 Departure (to Yutoku Inari): 1 hour 40 minutes + Break 20 minutes
14:15 Yutoku Inari Shrine
14:45 Departure: 2 hours 15 minutes + Break 30 minutes
18:00 Departure: 45 minutes + Gas Refill 15 minutes
19:00 Ricoland Airport Store – rental bike return
Ricoland Fukuoka Airport Store
– Operating Hours: Weekdays 11:00-20:00, Weekends and Holidays 10:00-20:00
– Contact: Tel. 092-412-5819
– Address: 2-14-24 Hanmichibashi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
* Rental Service: Rental 819
* Additional Information: Support in English and Korean, duty-free shopping, and free parking for bikes and cars during the rental period. *Open in Mar. 2023
Rental Bike – Costing
The rental bike, a black X-ADV750 with full pannier options, was perfect for our needs. The costs broke down as follows:
– Basic Fee: ¥21,120 (24 hours) + ¥14,080 for 2 additional days
– Vehicle Insurance: ¥3,520 (24 hours) + ¥1,870 for 2 additional days
– Accessories (Top Case and Pannier Case): ¥1,650 (24 hours) + ¥330 for 2 additional days, each
– ETC Card: ¥220 x 3 days (for auto-payment on highway tolls)
– Total: ¥61,820 (including 10% consumption tax)