Kyūshū is Japan's third largest island, after Honshū and Hokkaidō, and is home to approximately 13.5 million people - 10.5% of Japan's population. It is just a bit smaller and less populous than the Netherlands, the Western country with the strongest historical ties with Kyūshū.
The island is divided in 7 prefectures : Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Ōita, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. The largest city is the twin town of Fukuoka-Hakata.
Kyūshū's proximity to Korea and China conferred it an important role in Japanese history. Based on archaeological evidence it is believed that around 500 to 200 BCE a large number settlers from eastern China and/or Korea invaded Kyūshū, importing with them rice paddy cultivation, bronze tools and weapons, and large domestic animals (cattle, horses). They progressively spread eastwards on most of Honshū and Shikoku, supplanting the original Jōmon people (=> The Origins of the Japanese people).
Things to see
Visitors to Kyūshū coming from Honshū by train will most likely arrive at Hakata/Fukuoka, the island's main hub.
The island's most famous city for foreign visitors is probably Nagasaki, due to the dropping of the second atomic bomb in human history on 9 August 1945. There is much more to it than that, though. Nagasaki was the only city allowed to trade with Europeans (specifically, the Dutch) during Japan's 220 years of self-imposed isolation. When Japan was forced to open some of its ports to Western powers, Nagasaki became of the the treaty ports and its Western settlement up in the hills has was too far to suffer nuclear devastation.
Christianity came to Japan via Kyūshū with the arrival of Portuguese missionaries and St. Francis Xavier in 1549. Catholic communities grew around Nagasaki and Kagoshima. But it is Shimabara that is remembered in history books for its Christian peasant rebellion of 1637-38, which ended with the beheading of 37,000 rebels and sympathizers.
History buffs will appreciate the ancient city of Dazaifu, the castle town of Kumamoto, as well as Kagoshima, home to many of the Satsuma samurai that brought the Tokugawa shōgunate to its demise.
Kyūshū has its lot of natural attractions. Mount Aso, at the core of the island, is the largest volcano in Japan, with a caldera of roughly 100 km in circumference. Kagoshima's Sakurajima is the country's most active volcano, which means a lot when one knows that there are 36 currently active volcanoes in Japan.
Kyūshū's most original destination might well be Beppu, an onsen resort town famous for its "Hells" (boiling hot springs with naturally colourful water due to its high mineral content) as much as for the thermal virtues of its waters.
Off-the-beaten-track, just south of Aso-san, Takachiho is one of Japan's most sacred place in Shintoist mythology. This is where the Japanese emperors received the Imperial Regalia, symbol of their power, from Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Apart from the shrines and the local matsuri, the superb Takachiho Gorge make the trip worthwhile even to people with little interest in mythology.