Visit Aoishima shrine
The subtropical island of Aoshima, about 10 miles south of the city, is connected to a golden beach by a bridge straddling the ocean. The tiny island is surrounded by long furrows of black basalt – a geological phenomenon known locally as the “devil’s washboard”, created over millions of years of pounding waves. At the centre of the island is Aoshima shrine, a red Shinto shrine tucked into thick jungle and first established in 1501. It’s dedicated to the god of matrimony, making it popular with couples – a reputation that solidified during Miyazaki’s heyday in the 1970s, when about 35% of Japan’s newlyweds would honeymoon here for the sun, sea and sand. Sunset is the best time to visit – sit by the shore on the north side of the island and watch the sun sink into the mountains on the mainland.
Miyazaki has some of the best surf in Japan. The waves are long, even – and make you feel more talented than perhaps you are. The main action happens at sandy Kisakihama beach, a big, open break about eight miles south of the city centre, which will host surfing qualifiers for next year’s Tokyo Olympics from this weekend. Locals are always on the waves here, from sunrise to the last glimpse of light, but especially before 8am and after 6pm. In the evenings, a lot of surfers head to Aoshima Beach Park (dishes from ¥500, around £4), a 10-minute drive away, where a collection of beach shacks serve burgers, beer and “natural wine” tapped straight from the barrel.
Eat Miyazaki chicken
Many Japanese towns and cities claim a regional dish or speciality as their own: in Kyoto it’s tofu, Kobe takes beef and Miyazaki claims chicken. The prefecture’s free-range jitokko breed is popular nationwide, with many claiming it to be the tastiest chicken in the world. Try the chicken nanban: succulent deep-fried pieces coated in a kind of creamy tartare sauce. Tourists often visit Ogura Honten (3 Chome-4-24 Tachibanadorihigashi) to try it (the dish was said to have originated here in the 1960s), though I prefer Momotetsuen, an intimate restaurant-bar. Dishes here start from around £3 and there is an eight-dish menu from £27. I also recommend trying a dish called jidori no sumibiyaki (chicken grilled over charcoal, usually served with yuzu kosho, a spicy citrus seasoning). Many restaurants in Miyazaki serve chicken sashimi-style: raw. Maybe try it before you judge – it’s really good.
Pretty much every bar in Miyazaki serves shōchū, a liquor made from rice, sweet potato or barley. While the west normally equates sake with Japan, on the south-western island of Kyushu (where Miyazaki is) shōchū is king. It differs from sake in strength – usually 25%-30% compared with sake’s 15%-18% – and it is distilled not fermented, giving it a stronger flavour and smell. Drink it with ice, though locals often mix it with a little cold water in summer and hot water in winter. In Miyazaki prefecture, as well as in neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture, imojōchū (shōchū made from sweet potato) is popular, having originated in this region. A great place to try it is Bar Rai on the corner of the Wakaksa-dori, one of the city’s main bar areas. If straight shōchū isn’t your thing, the mixologists there will whisk up a chuhai, mixing shōchū with juice or flavoured soda.
Stroll around Heiwadai Park
Also known as Peace Park, Heiwadai lies on a hill above the city and is dominated by a “peace tower” built in 1940 to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the ascension of Japan’s first emperor. The tower was the starting point in the torch relay for Japan’s 1964 Olympics. However, it has long caused contention among locals: it was rededicated in 1965 as a symbol of peace, having previously sought to honour Japan’s imperialist legacy and ambition. Walk down to the park’s lake, where terrapin swim, then back round to the Haniwa Garden, where more than 400 haniwa (terracotta clay statues) stare back at you.
Support independent shops
Big-name chains have started arriving in Miyazaki but independent stores are still holding out. One of my favourites is The Rosa Coffee (coffee from £3.10), a cafe not far from Miyazaki station that handpicks coffee beans from farms across Japan and roasts them in-store. At the beach, check out Aoshima Hammock, a cafe and hammock shop with hand-dripped coffee and seasonal salads. Hammocks are hung between palm trees that can be rented by the hour (£3.90) or day (£11.75). There’s also a local brewery, Beer Market Base (BMB), with craft beer on tap.
Soak in an onsen overlooking the sea
Japan has thousands of naturally occurring hot springs, and Miyazaki has them bubbling up near its beach. These provide ocean views while soaking in the tub – rare in a country dominated by volcanoes and mountains. One of my favourite bathing spots is at Aoshima Cinq Male – a J-shaped hotel that juts out into the water. The online pictures don’t show it but there’s a small outdoor bath overlooking the ocean, tucked away on the side that visitors shouldn’t overlook (be warned: you do have to enter it naked). It’s not necessary to be a hotel guest to use it, though it’s better to book a trip in advance.
Explore the Wakaksa-dori at night
There are two major bar areas in Miyazaki, on either side of the Tachibana-dori, the city’s main throughfare: Ichibangai to the west and Wakakusa to the east. First-time visitors will probably find themselves around Ichibangai, lured by the neon lights, but drinking on your own here can be hard: many bars are several storeys up, so it’s not possible to see what they look like (or if they’re busy) before committing. So I’d suggest drinking around Wakakusa. At first glance, this area looks more intimidating, with dimly-lit alleys that splinter off in different directions, but you only have to walk for a few minutes before you spot where the action is happening. Different places are busy on different nights, so follow your nose and ears to find the busy bars and good-smelling food. I often end up in Pollo, a bar that serves ice-cold shōchū alongside deep-fried sticks of kushiyaki (vegetables, cheese, meat or fish that are coated in breadcrumbs and dipped in a sticky sauce).
Try zousui in the early hours
In most of Japan, the late-night equivalent of the kebab is ramen. In Miyazaki, it’s zousui (also zōsui), a light seaweed-based broth, packed with white rice and topped with anything from seaweed to raw egg. Zousui Seigo is a 20-seater shop just off Wakasa-dori that usually stays open until at least 5am. Food is normally accompanied by a lot of singing, guitar-playing and some rowdy bongo drums as merry locals make use of the owner’s instruments. It’s also open for lunch – a calmer experience – as dad runs the day shift before his son takes over at night.
Day trip down the coast
Pick up a car from Miyazaki station and head south on Highway 220. About 50 minutes (22 miles) along the coast is a park called Sun Messe Nichinan, home to the world’s only sanctioned replicas of the Moai statues on Easter Island. The statues are the main attraction but the park also has great ocean views and a museum that details Japan’s restoration efforts on Easter Island in the mid-to-late 20th century. Ten minutes further down the road is Udo-Jinja, a red-and-turquoise shrine in a cave at the edge of the ocean. It’s pretty any time of year but especially popular on 1 January, when people come to watch the first sunrise of the new year. Keep driving another hour south, to the point when the road goes no further, and arrive at Cape Toi – a rugged, wind-sculpted landscape overrun with rare wild horses and monkeys. It’s Miyazaki’s southernmost point and has a chalk-white lighthouse for ocean views.
Overlooking the beach at Aoshima, the Fisherman’s Hostel has private and shared rooms. It has ocean views, natural hot springs, fresh-caught seafood in the restaurant and a prime location for surf and sunset.
When to go
Miyazaki’s coastal location means the weather is milder than much of Japan. Winter rarely sees snow, while temperatures begin to warm up around mid-February. Spring brings cherry blossom, usually blooming around late March. Summer is hot, though great for beach visits and is usually when festivals are in full swing. Autumn is warm until around mid-November.