The Reborn Town of Hitoyoshi Kuma

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 28, 2023

The Reborn Town of Hitoyoshi Kuma

Since the 2020 Kyushu floods brought record-breaking heavy rains down on Kumamoto prefecture, the Council for Tourism Advancement in Hitoyoshi-Kuma has been working to bring tourism back to the area. One of these efforts has centered on Hitoyoshi Kuma. Dubbed a reborn town, it is returning from the disaster stronger than ever, with plenty to offer visitors.

1. Hot Springs

Hitoyoshi Kuma is most famous for its hot springs. There are around 50 facilities in the town, both within traditional inns and in public bathhouses. The water contains bicarbonate, which makes it alkaline — a quality that is said to beautify the skin. Historically, military commanders used these hot springs to soothe their injuries and recover from fatigue.

2. Cultural Exchange

The cultural exchange facility in the town is called Ryukinka no Sato. Its mission is to develop the town through local food culture, which it does by holding cooking demonstrations with irori: a traditional sunken hearth. Attendees enjoy meals made from ingredients produced in the region, such as sweet potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and soybeans. These events are suitable for people with a range of diets, including vegans — there is freshwater eel made from tofu and mozzarella cheese made from soy milk and kudzu starch.

3. Aoi Aso Shrine

There are many shrines in Hitoyoshi Kuma, but Aoi Aso is particularly important because five of its structures are National Treasures of Japan. Luckily, the floods only damaged parts of the shrine’s bridge, leaving the rest intact.

4. Kuma Shochu Distilleries

The high-quality water from the Kawabe River makes Hitoyoshi Kuma an ideal place for producing Kuma shochu. In fact, there are 28 distilleries around the town, many of which often offer tours and tastings to visitors.

5. Mount Ichifusa

You’ll find plenty of great spots for hiking in Hitoyoshi Kuma, but the top choice has to be Mount Ichifusa — the tallest mountain in the region. The trail passes through ancient woodlands where some cedar trees are over 1,000 years old. The largest cedar has a trunk with a circumference of 10 meters. Hikes throughout the mountain range here are also a popular way to practice forest therapy.

6. Kuma River

Another place to enjoy nature is the Kuma River — one of the fastest-flowing rivers in Japan. If you want to get out on the water, look into taking a rafting or white-water rafting tour.

7. Golden Oyster Mushroom Cultivation

A unique experience in Hitoyoshi Kuma is a visit to one of the facilities cultivating golden oyster mushrooms. In the past, these mushrooms were reserved for just the nobility. Today, they are considered a superfood — particularly because they can help combat stress. Visitors learn about the growing process and can have a go at harvesting the mushrooms before sampling them.

Although the damage caused by the floods three years ago was extensive, the reborn town of Hitoyoshi Kuma has done more than bounce back: it now offers more attractions than ever. It has become one of the top places to visit in Kumamoto.

Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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