Kumamoto Prefecture is located in the middle of Kyushu. The prefecture has an area of about 7,402 square kilometers, making it the 15th in size in Japan. The northern part of the prefecture is mainly mountainous and mountain ranges over 1,000 meters above sea level extend across the southern and eastern borders. The western part of the prefecture faces the Ariake and the Yatsushiro Seas.
There are two mountain parks and marine parks in the prefecture, Aso and Unzen-Amakusa, and two national parks, Yaba-Hita-Hikosan Quasi-National Park and Kyushu Chuo Sanchi Quasi-National Park. The area of natural parks accounts for about two-tenths of the entire area of the prefecture. Mount Aso, one of the world's largest active volcanoes, is located within the prefecture. There are many hot springs in Mount Aso, and the scenery is unique. In the Amakusa area, there are 120 islands of different sizes. The landscapes have their own characteristics, including the Amakusa Five Bridges, the historical sites associated with the Christians who came to Kyushu. The valleys, virgin forests, and mountains of the Central Mountain Region are especially loved by young people.
In addition, there are many places worth seeing in the prefecture such as the Kumamoto Castle, famous for its stone walls, the city of Kumamoto, which is built with the Suizenji Jojuen Park, and the hot spring village and Kikuchi, which flows into the Kikuchi River basin in Shimabara Bay. In the valley, there are a lot of historical sites dating back to the period from the 12th to the 14th century.
Aso National Park in Kumamoto boasts spectacular mountain scenery and hot springs. Aso, the Unzen Amakusa National Park, and Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture make up one of the most popular tourist routes in Japan.
The Otaue Festival at the Aso Shrine is the largest folk sacrificial activity in the Aso region. The large floats lead the way, followed by the Unari (a woman with offerings balanced on her head), and a long queue of children. When the floats pass, crowds of spectators throw seeds at the top of the floats to pray for a good harvest. People also sing songs and dance, creating a very lively atmosphere.
The Yamaga Lantern Festival in Kumamoto, the Gion Festival in Kyoto, and the Awa Dance in Tokushima are known as the three summer festivals in Japan. During the Yamaga Lantern Festival, thousands of women with shiny golden paper lanterns on top of their heads add luster to summer nights. They hold paper fans in their hands and dance with the music. This gold paper lanterns are made of paper and paste, and the legend began in the 15th century. In recent years, fewer and fewer people have been able to create the paper lanterns that make up such a large part of the festival. In order to prevent ensure this tradition continues to be passed on, the prefecture has set up a cultural center where experts can teach the craft to the new generation.