So you’re stranded at Kumamoto Airport with hours to kill before your flight? No need to worry, just flag down a cab and head into the foothills of the Mt Aso region for a quick visit to the Shiraito Falls.
Just beyond the runways of Kumamoto Airport lies some of the prefecture’s most fertile farmland. Fields overflowing with vegetables soon give way to small villages and iridescent rice paddies. A short fifteen minute drive into the hills (it’s well-signed, though only in Japanese at the end) will lead you to a hidden hollow where the waters of Shiraito Falls spill over into a clear pool. There’s a small parking lot just before the glen where you can park or have your taxi wait; walk the few meters down the narrow lane and drop your entrance fee (¥100, on the honor system most days) into the can.
There’s a great photo spot just off the road but to really feel the spray, walk over the bridge and climb the slick stairs to the base of the waterfall. The falls are a constant, not dependent on precipitation levels to keep up the impressive scene. On summer days, the mist rising from the glen is wonderfully refreshing; in the winter months, this can feel several degrees colder than the rest of the area so dress appropriately.
If you have time to explore, a path across the street leads under a torii gate and along the banks of the rushing stream. There are pavilions and tables available for picnics, though you might have to fight for an actual seat on summer weekends. For a view from higher elevations, take the staircase just past the bridge. The well-maintained trail leads up to a covered viewing platform, though in my opinion, the falls are more impressive from below. But if you’re keen to stretch your legs, the path continues up and over the hill with scenic views of rural Kumamoto.
Most weekends, the shop near the bridge serves up tea and coffee and the occasional bowl of soba. In the summer, however, you can indulge in the fun dining experience of nagashi somen, the catching of thin wheat noodles as they shoot by you in a water-filled bamboo tube. It’s a good test of your chopstick skills - if you're not that dexterous, you’ll walk away hungry!
The next time you’re at Kumamoto Airport with some time to kill, don’t waste your minutes in mediocre shops or restaurants. Get out for an adventure to one of Kumamoto’s unsung scenic wonders.