Sunday, September 3, 2017

Japan Travel with Children - Kyushu - Kumamoto 熊本

You may have heard of this place called Kumamoto (熊本) when you read the news in April 2016. Located in central Kyushu, Kumamoto suffered from powerful earthquakes in 2016. A year later, when we planned our itinerary to Kyushu, initially I hesitated whether we should visit Kumamoto, since some of the iconic places of interest like Kumamoto Castle are still closed due to serious damage by the quakes. But after a while, I thought that we can play a part to support Kumamoto even though we are just tourists - to visit the place and support their economy (spend $$)!

It took only about 37 minutes from Hakata Station to Kumamoto Station via Shinkansen (bullet train). We have purchased Japan Rail Kyushu Rail Pass, which allows us to take a ride on Shinkansen without extra charge!

We were welcomed by Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto, at the exit of Kumamoto Station.

At Kumamoto, one of the main public transportation is city tram. The tram fare is fixed at 170 yen for adult and 90 yen for child per ride. Therefore, if you are going to take the tram 3 times and above within a day, it would be wise to purchase Kumamoto City Tram 1 Day Pass from Kumamoto Station, it is 500 yen for adult, and 250 yen for child.

Only a week before the trip then I decided to visit Suizenji Park (水前寺公園 すいぜんじこうえん), which is a traditional Japanese garden with shrine. It was for a very selfish reason - I wanted to experience wearing yukata (Japanese casual summer kimono)!

The yukata rental shop Wa-Collection located just outside Suizenji Park offers a full day rental at only 2160 yen, which is considered very cheap as compared to other places in Japan! In additional to the rental of yukata, the package includes a photograph taken in their studio, one admission ticket to Suizenji Park, and cute paper fan with Kumamon's face. Isn't it a steal? I was spoilt for choice with their collection of yukata. The staff helped me by asking what colour that I like, and shortlisted a few. The lady boss was very experienced, she helped me dress up within 10 minutes!

The rental shop has kimono for men and children too. What a pity that DaDi and the children were not keen to dress up with me.

Other than the yukata rental shop, there were a few shops along the short stretch of road leading to the entrance of Suzenji Park.

The ambiance at Suzenji Park was calm and peaceful. It was a big contrast with the background of urban buildings.

I thought I was mistaken as a mascot or cosplayer when other tourists pointed their cameras at me.

It is a nice place for the children to learn about Japanese culture.

We took a stroll for about an hour. To be honest, it was not easy to walk in geta (traditional Japanese footwear), and it was no joke to walk under 30+ degree Celsius hot sun in yutaka!

When you are walking in Japan, do look at the ground!

It was time for lunch, we took the city tram to Sakuranobaba Johsaien (城彩苑) which is next to Kumamoto Castle. We walked past Kumamoto Castle, and were shocked to see the damage caused by the earthquakes.

"Who is this?" the children asked when we saw this statue. This is the statue of Kato Kiyomasa, who was a well-respected Japanese lord.

A moral support to Kumamoto Castle and the residents in Kumamoto!

Sakuranobaba Johsaien consists of Wakuwaku-za (湧々座) which is a facility that displays Japanese history and culture, as well as Sakura-no-kouji (桜の小路) which has some eateries and souvenir shops.

We bought a horse meat croquette. Yes, horse meat! It may sound a bit horrible, but it tastes quite nice without gamey taste. I feel that it tastes similar to beef! The shop that sells horse meat croquette offers free flow of green tea, I thought we were quite thick-skinned to drink many cups of beverage when we bought only one croquette!

After that, we bought a sea urchin croquette. It was 390 yen, and was considered pricey for the small amount of sea urchin.

After walking two rounds, our children couldn't find anything they liked to eat. Initially I wanted to visit Wakuwaku-za, but had to give it a miss as the children were very hungry. We then took the city tram to Torichosuji (通町筋) Station, and settled the children's lunch at Shimotori (下通), which is a sheltered shopping street.

If you are a fan of Kumamon, then you can consider visiting Kumamon Square. Basically, this is a shop selling Kumamon merchandises with a small cafe, and Kumamon's "office" for photo taking. There is also stage performance by Kumamon on selected days. We visited on Wednesday afternoon, the performance was supposed to start at 3 p.m., but when we reached there at 2.30 p.m., a huge crowd was already queuing up!

To be honest, if you are not a big fan of Kumamon, please don't bother to visit this place. The queue system was a total disappointment - we were made to queue perpendicular to the stage, so even if you reach there early, you may end up watching the performance at the back and are blocked by others who come later than you! We heard from another tourist that there would be photography session with Kumamon, but it was another disappointment - while we were allowed to meet Kumamon face-to-face, the staff did not allow us to take photograph with Kumamon, and did not even allow us to take a photo of Kumamon!

Anyway, since we were there, we took some photos after the crowd had left.

I "swallowed" Kumamon to reduce my anger.

Useful Information

Kumamoto City Tram

Suizenji Park (水前寺公園)
How to get there: Take city tram line A and alight at Suizenji Park Station, walk a few minutes towards the park.
Admission fee: 400 yen for adult, 200 yen for child (6 - 15 years old)

Wa-collection (Yukata rental)

Sakuranobaba Johsaien (城彩苑)
How to get there: Take city tram line A or B and alight at Kumamoto Castle / City Hall Station

Kumamon Square
How to get there: Take city tram line A or B and alight at Suidocho Station

Our Japan (June 2017) Travelogue

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