Kyushu's landscape couldn't be more varied, with active yet accessible volcanoes, numerous thermal spas, endless fields of rice and famous potatoes, forested mountains capped by winter snows, busy harbors along lively seacoasts, and pleasant seaside retreats.
Kyushu has been inhabited and favored for human settlement for more than 10,000 years, and ruins and artifacts thousands of years old suggest that the region was the most important gateway for human contact between Japan and the rest of Asia. The most rapid anthropological changes occurred from about 300 BC to AD 300, when rice became widely cultivated and complex pottery and tools began to appear, thus conveniently framing the Yayoi period. Continuous trade with China brought prosperity and culture, and advanced ceramics were introduced—and then produced—by Korean masters who were employed and enslaved by the local fiefdoms of the 16th and 17th centuries.
It was also through Kyushu that Western knowledge, weapons, religion, and cooking methods first made their way into Japan. In the mid-1500s Nagasaki saw the arrival of fleets of enterprising and courageous European merchants and missionaries, and the resulting frenzy of trade in ideas and goods continued unabated until the Tokugawa Shogunate slammed the door shut on the whole show in the early 1600s. What brought things to a halt was a plague of panic induced by an alarming new phenomenon: Christianity.
The Portuguese and other Catholics not afraid to preach to the natives were expelled and permanently barred. The Dutch, however, were considered more money-minded, and therefore less threatening, and were permitted to stay—under scrutiny and isolation. They were housed within the enclave of Dejima, a man-made island in Nagasaki Harbor, where they were encouraged to keep bringing in coveted goods but were constantly guarded and watched. For the next 200 years, this profitable little arrangement would be the only form of contact the West would have with Japan until the arrival of Perry's forceful "Black Ship."
Today Kyushu is a fascinating mix of old and new, nature and culture. Much of the remote and rugged interior—such as that surrounding Mt. Aso's fuming cone—is still an isolated wilderness, yet the amenities of modern life are well supplied in cities and coastal resorts.