By Plane -- JAL and ANA fly to Kumamoto Airport (KMJ; tel. 096/232-2810; www.kmj-ab.co.jp) from Tokyo in 1 hour and 40 minutes, with one-way fares ranging from ¥14,600 for a 28-day advance purchase on certain flights to ¥36,800 for a regular ticket. Local airline Skynet Asia Airways (tel. 0120/737-283 toll-free; www.skynetasia.co.jp) offers a regular one-way ticket for ¥28,600, but advance-purchase tickets can go as low a ¥11,600. Airport shuttle buses operate from the airport to Kumamoto Station and the Kumamoto Kotsu (bus) Center downtown, taking about 54 minutes and costing ¥670.
By Train -- It takes about 9 hours to reach Kumamoto from Tokyo, not including transfers, at a cost of ¥22,340 for an unreserved seat. From Fukuoka's Hakata Station (terminus of the bullet train from Tokyo), limited express trains depart three times an hour, reaching Kumamoto in about 1 1/2 hours and costing ¥3,740 for a reserved seat. (In 2011, a new bullet train will connect Kumamoto and Fukuoka in 35 min.) There are also four express trains daily from Beppu, reaching Kumamoto in 3 hours.
Bus & Ferry from Unzen Spa -- From Unzen Spa, the fastest way to reach Kumamoto is to take a bus (there are nine daily departures) 40 minutes to Shimabara Port (fare: ¥730), where you can then board a 1-hour ferry (fare: ¥680) or a 30-minute Ocean Arrow (fare: ¥800) to Kumamoto Port. Buses connect Kumamoto Port with Kumamoto Station in 25 minutes for ¥420.
The leaflet "Kumamoto and Mount Aso," distributed by the Tourist Information Centers in Tokyo and in Narita and Kansai international airports, contains information on how to get to Kumamoto and places of interest in the city (you can also download it from JNTO's website at www.jnto.go.jp by going to "Browse by Destinations"). In Kumamoto, here's a Kumamoto Tourist Office inside Kumamoto Station near the ticket gate (tel. 096/352-3743; daily 8:30am-7pm). It has an English-language map and brochure and is staffed by helpful English speakers who can make lodging reservations. In the city center, there's another Kumamoto Tourist Information kiosk at Ninomaru parking lot west of the Hohoate gate of Kumamoto Castle (tel. 096/322-5060; daily 9am-5:30pm, to 5pm Nov-Mar). If you're coming by plane, stop by the Kumamoto Airport Information Office (tel. 096/232-2810; daily 6:50am-9:30pm).
More information is available on the city's website at www.city.kumamoto.kumamoto.jp and Kumamoto Prefecture's website at www.visitkumamoto.com.
Internet Access -- The Kumamoto City International Center, 4-8 Hanabata-cho (tel. 096/359-2121; streetcar: Kumamotojo-mae), offers three computers with free Internet access on the second floor Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm and weekends 9am to 7pm (closed the second and fourth Mon of every month). Otherwise, Media Café Popeye, located on the Kamitori covered shopping street (tel. 096/326-6767; streetcar: Toricho-suji), is open 24 hours and charges ¥420 for an hour's use of its computers.
Mail & ATMs -- There's a convenient post office, with ATMs that accept international credit cards, at Kumamoto Station's north side; it's open Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm and weekends 9am to 7pm. Kumamoto's main post office, located in front of the Senba-bashi streetcar stop, has longer hours: Monday to Friday 7am to 11pm, Saturday 9am to 9pm, and Sunday and holidays 9am to 7pm.
Orientation & Getting Around
Kumamoto Station lies far south of the city's downtown area, but transportation between the two is easy via streetcar no. 2, which departs from in front of the station and reaches the downtown area in about 10 minutes. Downtown centers on three covered shopping streets called Shimotori, Kamitori, and Sunroad Shinshigai, with many department stores, shops, hotels, bars, pachinko parlors, and restaurants in the area. Here, too, is the city's bus station, the Kumamoto Kotsu Center, from which all buses in the city depart. Just north of downtown, within walking distance, rises Kumamoto Castle, which is surrounded by moats, turrets, and expansive greenery, on the edge of which are several museums and historic sites. Suizenji Garden lies far to the east.
Getting around Kumamoto via old-fashioned streetcar is easy because there are only two lines. Streetcar no. 2 is most convenient for tourists; the only one departing from Kumamoto Station, it passes through downtown and near Kumamoto Castle (stop: Kumamotojo-mae) before going onward to Suizenji Garden (stop: Suizenji-Koen-mae). Streetcar fare is a flat rate of ¥150; pay when you get off.
Because the grounds surrounding Kumamoto Castle encompass 97 hectares (242 acres), with a circumference of 9km (5 1/2 miles), many visitors opt to see sights via the Kumamoto Castle Loop Bus (Shiromegulin), which departs every 30 minutes from Kumamoto Station, operates daily from 8:30am to 5pm, and stops at Kumoto Castle, Hosokawa Mansion, and other places of interest. This bus costs ¥130 for a single journey or ¥300 for the entire day along with discounts to attractions on its route.
If you plan on taking public transportation at least four times in 1 day, you can save money by purchasing a 1-day pass, which allows unlimited travel on streetcars and all city buses (but irritatingly, not the Kumamoto Castle Loop Bus) for ¥500. It includes a 20% discount to six sights, including Kumamoto Castle.