Although only a slender, kilometre-wide channel separates Kyushu from Honshu, the island is considered by most Japanese as a backwater. Yet its shores are where Buddhism and Christianity first entered the archipelago, along with knowledge of gunpowder and writing from China. This cultural cross-pollination also left in its wake a wealth of historic monuments, from samurai castles to ancient rock-cut shrines, set against a backdrop of lush, sub-tropical vegetation and volcanic peaks spewing ash and steam.
The intensely geothermal interior of Kyushu encompasses landscapes of almost surreal beauty. Bounded by wide horizons of snow-capped volcanoes, a vast, rolling grassland is broken by thickets of bamboo, flower-filled pastures and pretty farming villages. At its heart rises Mt Aso, one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, with a caldera measuring 80 miles (150km) in circumference.
Clouds of sulphurous steam belch from the blue-green lake hidden inside the summit cauldron of this smoking giant, whose rim you may be able to scale on foot, by car or via a ropeway to experience one of the country’s most dramatic panoramas.