The one thing I remember most about Kagoshima is probably Sakurajima. We approached the city from the coast, and the imposing outline of the stratovolcano in the middle of the Kagoshima Bay accompanied us all the way there. Active, massive, striking and absolutely beautiful — it truly gives the city of Kagoshima just across the bay, the most gorgeous view.
Kagoshima and the Sakurajima Volcano
We visited many cities and prefectures that I have never heard of before on our tour around Kyushu. Japan’s most southernmost island (and third biggest out of its main four) is probably the least known. And out of these places that we visited, we probably spent the most time in the Kagoshima Prefecture. The capital city, Kagoshima City, is the southernmost major city of the island; and is known for its sunny weather, and the occasional ash-rain from the recurrent eruptions of the most active volcano in Japan, Sakurajima.
The symbol of the city, Sakurajima, smokes constantly and erupts multiple times a day. Standing at an elevation of 1117m, it goes round for a circumference of almost 50km. It has three main peaks; Kita-dake is the highest one, Naka-dake at 1060m, and the 1040m Minami-dake is currently the most active. Because of its regular eruptions, entry is prohibited within 2km around the volcano’s craters; but there are several observation points around Sakurajima for visitors. We didn’t make a visit to the volcano island, but I was pretty happy with my overall view from across the bay.
Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours (Pt.3)
I was traveling on a 6-day media familiarization tour around the Japanese island of Kyushu with Parlo Tours. Kagoshima was our third stop after the previous stop in Aso (Pt.2), and we spent two days exploring the city and more interesting sites around the prefecture. The other cities and towns we visited on our grand tour were Beppu, Hitoyoshi and Fukuoka. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but I’ll just write down the prices to some of the local attractions anyway. To find out more about this Malaysian travel company and the other different tours they offer, click here.
How to Get to and Around Kagoshima
The journey to Kagoshima was pretty convenient as we were traveling around Kyushu by bus (we left from Aso, and it took about 3 hours altogether); so we could make several stops along the way. For those wanting to get to Kagoshima from Fukuoka, there is a direct Shinkansen bullet train from the Hakata Station all the way to the Kagoshima-Chuo Station. The journey takes about 2 hours. The train also connects Kagoshima City to many other cities around the prefecture — we took the train from Sendai to Izumi. The nearest airport, Kagoshima Airport, is about an hour away from the city center.
Getting around Kagoshima City is pretty hassle free. Even though we had a tour bus to ferry us around, we also had the chance to ride the city tram that runs through it’s downtown area (for JP¥170 ~ US$1.5 per ride). However, I think the best way to go around the city is by bus. The bus network is pretty extensive, and goes to most of the attractions (outside the tram lines) that I visited. You can use either the City View or the Machimeguri loop buses — they both run almost similar routes and cost about JP¥500-600 (US$4-5) for a day pass.
We had spent the previous night at the Aso Farm Land, an onsen resort with pod-like houses near the majestic Mount Aso — and we began our journey the next morning right after breakfast. After a stop on the way through the Kagoshima prefecture; we arrived in Kagoshima City in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the first day exploring the city.
Barrel Valley Praha and Gen
Our stop on the way to Kagoshima City was about a 2 and a half hour-drive into the journey — Barrel Valley Praha and Gen. The local shochu and beer factory cum mini-Prague park is located in the city of Kirishima, near the Kagoshima Airport. Upon arrival, we were ushered straight to the Little Praha Restaurant, where we were served a pretty delicious set lunch of tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) dipped in Japanese broth. At first, I was a little confused as to why the restaurant and park was Prague-themed — but that was later cleared when I found out that the Kirishima Kogen Beer Factory there was a Czech pilsner blend.
We didn’t visit the beer factory, but instead, made our way to the shochu plant. Shochu is a Japanese traditional distilled liquor made from sweet potato/rice, barley, buckwheat and sugarcane. Kagoshima (historically known as Satsuma) has a long traditional history in shochu-making; and the type of shochu made here is the Satsuma Shochu. To be recognised and certified as such, the shochu has to be processed, distilled and bottled in Kagoshima using single distillation; and the water, as well as sweet potato or rice must be produced in Kagoshima. We got to walk through a history exhibit of the shochu plant and see the shochu-making factory through a window; and then had a shochu tasting at the shop.
From the shochu factory, we got on the bus again and headed straight for Kagoshima City. We arrived at Sengan-en Garden in less than an hour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the garden was constructed in 1658 by the Shimazu Clan who ruled Satsuma (now Kagoshima) for almost 700 years during the Japanese Edo Period (1603-1867). Sengan-en was built as a Japanese and Chinese-style garden using Sakurajima and the Kagoshima Bay as borrowed scenery. The 50,000 sq meters grounds also has ponds, streams, bridges, and plants such as bamboo, plum trees, and cherry blossoms. The Iso Residence, which was the main residence of the Shimazu family, is also found inside the garden.
It was just after Japan’s cherry blossom season during our visit, so we still got to admire what was left on the trees, and the beautiful green that surrounded the grounds. We made time to shop at the many small stores at the garden — Kagoshima is famous for sweet potatoes, and since they had all sorts of treats like cookies and chips, I got my souvenir shopping done! I even managed to get my hands on a delicious purple sweet potato soft-serve ice cream. Admission to Sengan-en Garden costs JP¥1000 (US$9). Entry to the garden museum is included, but some residence houses inside the garden requires an extra fee.
Kagoshima City Tram Ride and Station Tour
And then it was time to get to know Kagoshima City a little more. A short ride from the garden brought us to the Kagoshima-Ekimae Station where we got on the most adorable sheep/pig painted Kagoshima City Tram. The city tram is one of the few remaining streetcar lines in Japan, and we had the pleasure of having a private tour of the city on it. During the tour, we passed by some of the main streets of Kagoshima, and after a half hour ride, we arrived at the train terminal where they fix/repair/repaint the city trams.
I am not sure exactly where the terminal is located (couldn’t make out the signs in Japanese); but upon arrival, we were given an exclusive tour around the terminal. We made our way up to the second floor of the building, where we were allowed to walk along a platform above the train workshop area. After that, we were guided to another section of the terminal, where we visited a small tram museum that displayed old station signs and other station relics. I don’t think the station terminal is open to the public, so we were pretty lucky to have been given the chance to peek into a little history and insight of the Kagoshima City Trams.
Nabe Hot Pot Dinner at Nanshukan Hotel and Residences
It was late evening by the time we finished our tram tour, so we made our way straight to an early dinner. Dinner that night in Kagoshima City was at the Nanshukan Hotel and Residences, which I heard, is more famous for its restaurant than its hotel! The restaurant is famous for the Nabe Hot Pot, served with Kagoshima’s signature Kurobuta Black Pork. Now, if high-end beef is called Wagyu, high-end pork is called Kurobuta — and the most famous one comes from Kagoshima City. So when in Kagoshima, eat Kurobuta!
As we entered our private dining room (which is actually a converted hotel room), we were greeted by the biggest cast iron pot I have ever seen. The 70cm pot is placed in the middle of a table for 10 pax, and after some cold appetizers, we watched as the waiter filled the entire pot with a delicious broth. When it started to boil, he added in a whole bowl of organic vegetables; and then later turned over the lettuce to place tender and juicy slices of Kurabuto black pork on top of it (so it doesn’t overcook). Those pieces of pork were the most wonderful thing I tasted on my whole tour of Kyushu island — and I really wished the meal just went on and on and on! Once we cleared everything in the pot, ramen noodles were added into the broth to soak up all the flavors; and our meal ended with a red bean homemade ice cream. It was the most wonderful dinner.
Shopping in Tenmonkan
We decided to walk off that luxurious meal after dinner; and headed over to Tenmonkan, the main shopping district in Kagoshima City. At night, the area lights up with crowded bars and pubs — but I guess we were more interested in the shopping and ended up at one of the souvenir/grocery shops instead. We spent the next hour shopping for food, beauty products and souvenirs to bring home, and I think I used up most of my travel budget in this single shop in Tenmonkan!
Shiroyama Hotel Kagoshima
And then it was time to call it a night. We took the hotel shuttle from Tenmonkan Shopping Street to our hotel, the Shiroyama Hotel Kagoshima (they offer free bus service to Tenmonkan and Kagoshima-Chuo Station). The luxurious 5-star hotel sits on top of a hill and offers beautiful views of the entire city.
I really liked my room at the Shiroyama Hotel. It is slightly bigger than the typical Japanese hotel rooms, and gives a classic comfy vibe. The room provides all the facilities and amenities of a luxury hotel, and they even left a little brochure about Japanese bathing… because the hotel has an onsen too. I was told that the onsen’s outdoor pool has the most beautiful sunrise view (with Sakurajima as the backdrop), so I went to bed a little earlier to be up in time for that view.
And boy was that sunrise view to-die-for! It was pretty surreal watching the sun come up and light the skies from behind Sakurajima, while soaking naked in an outdoor onsen with a bunch of naked women. Of course, photography isn’t allowed in the onsen; so I will forever keep that special image in my head. After the onsen dip, I made my way to the hotel’s breakfast buffet — where they had a variety of dishes, from Japanese to international choices. I decided to go for a Japanese breakfast that morning; and thoroughly enjoyed the Chazuke, a Kyushu dish that is made by pouring green tea over cooked rice and slices of sea bream. A great start to the long day!
Morning at Shiroyama Park
After breakfast, I decided to take a little solo stroll to Shirayama Park. Located just a couple of minutes walk from the hotel, the park offers the same beautiful views of Sakurajima looming over Kagoshima City — so even if you’re not staying at the Shirayama Hotel, you’d still be able to enjoy the view from here.
There were many older Japanese locals walking and jogging around the park, and a friendly lady came over to me as I was sitting at the viewpoint. It was difficult trying to make out what she was trying to tell me in her broken English; but we got to talking anyway. She told me that she is almost 70 years old, and that she has been walking on the hill every morning for many many years. She also told me that the view I had of Sakurajima that morning wasn’t too pretty because of the mist. And then she waved as I took a video of her. I really enjoyed that short interaction.
Kumamon Theme Ride on the Hisatsu Orange Railway (Sendai to Izumi)
As soon as I returned from my walk to Shiroyama Park, we were ushered into the bus for a 1-hour trip to Sendai Station. Located in Satsumasendai, the train station was our first stop for the day because it was our connection to Izumi via the Hisatsu Orange Railway Line. The journey takes a little more than an hour along the coast of Kagoshima; and our ride was very special that day because we got to get on the Kumamon Theme Train!
Kumamon is the popular mascot of the Kumamoto Prefecture — a cute little black bear with red dotted cheeks. And everything on our private train was Kumamon. The entire train was wrapped in orange with Kumamon pictures. Our seats were Kumamon. The train’s banners had Kumamon. There were Kumamon dolls everyone on the train. And when we got a snack, our cupcake was Kumamon! Honestly, I have never heard of Kumamon prior to my visit to Kyushu — but since it’s such an adorable cartoon character, I was all love! I had so much fun being a little kid again on the train ride.
Izumi-Fumoto Samurai Village
It was late morning by the time we arrived in Izumi, located in the northwestern corner of the Kagoshima Prefecture. From the train station, our bus brought us to the entrance of the Izumi-Fumoto Samurai Village. Built almost 400 years ago as a strong point to guard the border of the Higo Domain (present day Kumamoto Prefecture), this samurai village was the first and largest one during that time. Today, about 150 buildings remain, and visitors to the village can get a small glimpse into the life of a Japanese samurai warrior.
During our visit, we were brought around the village on an ox-cart. It was a 25-minute ride with a guide (he didn’t speak much English, though), and to be honest, I was a little worried about the poor ox all throughout the journey. We were dropped of at the entrance of the two samurai houses that are open to public, Takezoe-tei and Saisho-tei. It was really interesting to explore the two fully preserved samurai houses — we sat around the hearth, walked up the bamboo ladder to snoop around the attic, peeked through a small escape route, admired the samurai costumes on display, walked through the gardens; and I even got the chance to don a samurai outfit, complete with the headgear and the sword.
After that we also made our way to the Izumi-Fumoto History Museum that showcases a collection of swords, armor, and scrolls once owned by the Izumi samurai families. Tickets include all three attractions and cost JP¥500 (US$4.5). The ox-cart ride costs JP¥1000 (US$9).
Sogi Falls in Isa City
Our last stop in the Kagoshima Prefecture was the Sogi Falls in Isa City, about a 45-minute drive from Izumi. It was just a quick stop to what the locals call the Niagara of the East. The falls are indeed breathaking as the thunderous water flows down the many levels of unique shaped rocks, but I would say it is much smaller than many other waterfalls that I have seen in Japan. It measures at a width of 210 meters and a height of 12 meters. The Sogi Falls are probably best known for its beautiful autumn foliage and cherry blossom views during the season — but during my visit, everything was green. A lovely green of course, but a pretty normal green.
… And Next Up on the Tour!
I had a lovely time in Kagoshima City, and traveling around the many other smaller cities in the Kagoshima Prefecture. On this league of my Kyushu tour, I got to go on fun train rides, visit a samurai village, enjoy nature at the gardens and waterfalls, and savor some of the prefecture’s gastronomy delights like Kurobuta black pork, sweet potato treats, and Satsuma shochu. A visit to Kagoshima is definitely a must on any visit to Japan’s Kyushu island — because of Kurobuta black pork. You need to visit just for a taste of that Kurobuta black pork. And if you don’t eat pork (or meat), then visit for Sakurajima — because that’s one gorgeous volcano.
And then from the edge of the Kagoshima Prefecture, we took a short drive over to our next adventure in Kyushu — a homestay at the Hitoyoshi-Kuma farmland. Read about my experience living with the locals here!
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours. Kagoshima was one out of the many city/prefecture stops on the familiarization tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.