Amagase Station → Take the Limited Express Yufu to Kurume Station (about 75 min) → Transfer to the Kyushu Shinkansen and take it to Kumamoto Station (about 20 min) → Take a taxi to Kumamoto Castle (about 10 min) for food and to stroll through the area → Take a taxi to Suizenji Garden (about 30 min) → Stay in Kumamoto.
6. Limited Express Yufu → Kyushu Shinkansen (Reservations Recommended)
Travel from Amagase Station via Limited Express Yufu, then change to the Kyushu Shinkansen at Kurume Station, from whence you'll travel to Kumamoto Station. Both trains have free seating available, so you can ride with your Kyushu Rail Pass without a reservation, but it might be best to reserve seats in advance for peace of mind.
7. Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto)
One of the Three Famous Castles of Japan, Kumamoto Castle should definitely be on anyone's visit list. It's said that it took Toyotomi Hideyoshi's vassal Kato Kiyomasa seven years to construct this castle when he became lord of Higo Province (the old name for Kumamoto Prefecture) at the beginning of the 16th century. The photos above show the castle as of August 2016.
Address: Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto City, Chuo-ku, Honmaru 1-1
8. Suizenji Garden
In 1636, Suizenji Garden was designed as a tea retreat for the Hosokawa lords of Higo Province. It's a grand and beautiful Japanese-style garden centered around a spring-fed pond, featuring grassy hills, pine trees and stones that appear to float in the water. You can enjoy Japanese tea and traditional sweets for a small fee at the Kokin Denju-no-Ma teahouse, moved from Kyoto in 1912.
Dining Recommendations (Kumamoto City)
Visitors to Kumamoto should keep an eye out for Kumamoto tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen. There are a number of variations on this signature dish, ranging from broth that's silky smooth to soup that's thick as mud. Experiment and find the kind you like best!
Kumamoto Station → Take the SL Hitoyoshi (about 2.5 hrs) or the Kagoshima Main Line and the Hisatsu Line (about 2 hrs) to Hitoyoshi Station → Tour the remains of Hitoyoshi Castle, samurai residences and historic warehouses → Walk about 10-15 min to an old-fashioned hot spring ryokan (traditional inn) for the night.
9. SL Hitoyoshi (Reservations Recommended)
Modern train lines form the backbone of transit in Japan, but people still have a lot of nostalgia for old-fashioned steam locomotives (so-called "SL" trains). Operational steam locomotives are now very rare, and train aficionados from all over the country flock to SL Hitoyoshi on weekends. The steam train only makes one round-trip daily, so a reservation is indispensable. It's a little easier to get tickets on weekdays.
10. Hitoyoshi Samurai Residences
Hitoyoshi City is located on the southern edge of Kumamoto Prefecture. The former seat of the Sagara Clan—descended from the Fujiwara—it boasts some 700 years of history as a castle town. The Kajiyacho area (literally, "Blacksmith Town") is full of historic structures, making it a delightful area for a stroll.
Address: Kumamoto Prefecture, Hitoyoshi City, Kajiyacho
11. Old-Fashioned Hot Spring Inns
A number of traditional, old-fashioned hot spring inns (ryokan) await travelers in Hitoyoshi. You can check availability at the links below (Yoshino is Japanese only).
Hitoyoshi Ryokan: http://www.hitoyoshiryokan.com/
Ryokan Yoshino: http://www.yosino.jp/
Dining Recommendations (Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto)
Unagi (Freshwater Eel)
Hitoyoshi is known for its highly valued unagi, or freshwater eels. Traditionally considered a high-class dish, the eels are coated in a thick, salty, soy-sauce-based sauce and cooked over a charcoal fire, then placed on a bed of white rice. Definitely worth a try!