Kumamoto is nearly midway along the curve of the west coast of Kyushu. From here you can go to Nagasaki to the west, Fukuoka to the north, Aso-san to the east, and Kagoshima to the south.
The town has many sights of its own, including the nationally famous Suizen-ji Garden, but the most renowned is Kumamoto Castle, a structure once deemed impregnable. Kiyomasa Kato ushered in the 17th century with the construction of a mighty fortress that was even bigger than the current replica, and he and his son held sway here until the 1630s. The Hosokawa clan then took over, and for the next few centuries Kumamoto was a center of the Tokugawa governmental authority.
In 1877, the real "Last Samurai," Saigo Takamori, brought his army of rebels here to battle untested Meiji government conscripts holed up inside. Things were looking grim. Then Takamori ordered his starving men to butcher their horses for raw and ready food. Strengthened, they did breach the castle 53 days into the siege, but reinforcements forced them to backpedal as much of the castle and compound were destroyed in a huge conflagration. It may have been the first time raw horseflesh (ba-sashi) was eaten in Japan, but locals continue to devour it to help their stamina.
A number of notable folks had homes that can still be seen in town, including the writers Lafcadio Hearn and Soseki Natsume, both of whom lived here for brief periods while teaching English.
In most Japanese cities the hive of activity is around the train station. However, very little of interest surrounds Kumamoto Station; the bulk of the town's attractions are to the northeast, squeezed in between the Tsuboi and Shira rivers. Most of what constitutes downtown huddles around the old castle up there.