There’s no denying the views from the top of Kumamoto Castle are stellar. But if you want to combine a striking panorama with the chance to get out and stretch your legs a little, head to the trails of Mt Kimbo, just outside the city limits.
Mt Kimbo is a bit of a challenge to reach without your own set of wheels, though a local bus can drop you off at the very base of the mountain. It’s a straightforward but time-consuming hike up the road to the start of the main trail; if you’re short on time or energy, a taxi from downtown straight to the trailhead is the way to go.
The main trail up the mountain begins at a cement torii gate and climbs through a forest of pine and cedar. The path itself is a well-maintained series of switchbacks, steadily climbing up the side of the mountain. There are a good number of roots and rocky sections, however, so flip flops or sandals are best left at home. For those who crave a bit more of a challenge, a nearly-vertical trail runs straight up the hill, occasionally crisscrossing the main path. There are few wayfaring marks for either trail but you won’t need them – it’s practically impossible to detour off the route.
A long staircase near the crest of the hill – the last tough stretch on tired legs – leads to an observation deck and a small shrine. On the peak’s eastern side, sweeping views of Kumamoto city are possible. Off to the west, a clear sky should give you a glimpse of the Amakusa islands, which lay just offshore and are still part of Kumamoto prefecture. Further on, if the clouds cooperate, you might be able to spot the volcanic peaks of Unzen, looming large on the Shimabara Peninsula between Kumamoto and Nagasaki.
If you forgot refreshments or need to replenish, there is a small snack bar on top of the mountain that is open most days. The entire hike usually doesn’t take more than 1.5 or 2 hours roundtrip. Capable hikers will reach the summit in thirty to forty minutes.