My favorite thing about Japan is the diversity of the land. If you decide to take a long trip from Hokkaido down to Kyushu, you’ll end up seeing thousands of different cities and landscapes. One of my favorite travel spots is definitely Kyushu, especially Kagoshima. Here is a quick list of what I think is essential to see in and around Kagoshima.
#1. Sakurajima Island
Sakurajima is a great local attraction. The ocean, the sun, the forest and in the middle: a volcano. Oh yes, a warm and very much active volcano. I come from a very quiet and flat area so believe me when I say that visiting and observing a volcano is a hypnotic experience. You simply cannot visit Kagoshima without stopping by Sakurajima. It is one of the most memorable experience you will have.
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Address: Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture
1. Rental car, which can be taken onto the ferry (1150 yen one way for 3-4 meter long cars; 1600 yen one way for 4-5 meter long cars). * Car rental outlets can be found in the city center and at Kagoshima Airport.
2. Sakurajima Island View Bus. The fare depends on the distance traveled or is 500 yen for a 1-day pass. Alternatively, sightseeing bus tours are available for Sakurajima (3-4 hours, around 2500 yen) or in combination with Kagoshima (6 hours, around 4000 yen).
3. Regular city buses that run infrequently from the ferry terminal along the northern coast (departures every 1-3 hours) and along the southern coast (departures every 40-90 minutes) of Sakurajima.
#2. Shiroyama Lookout
The Shiroyama Lookout is a park set above the city that offers a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings. This is another spot from where you can observe the volcano from a distance but more than that, you can visit Saigo Takamori’s cave and the Reimeikan Museum. On a good day, you can see miles out into the ocean and enjoy the view while hanging out in the park.
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Access: The City View Bus Shiroyama-Iso Line travels between Kagoshima Chuo Station and the Shiroyama Observatory (20 minutes, departures every 30 minutes, 190 yen or 600 yen for a day pass).
Kirishima is a short train ride away from the main part of Kagoshima. Kirishima is full of things to do, there are so many must visit spot. For those Studio Ghibli fans, be sure to visit the Totoro bus stop. If you are in Kirishima during the spring, the Shibazakura are beautiful. There is also some great onsen resorts and an observatory deck to see a 360 of Kirishima.
#4. Senganen Garden
One of the things that made me fall in love with Japan was the traditional architecture. Sitting and relaxing in Japanese gardens are amongst the most peaceful experiences of my life. Senganen Garden is simply gorgeous. Using Sakurajima as a backdrop, it hosts the Iso residence which was home to a powerful family in the 1600s. You can also visit the Shoko Shuseikan Museum and walk through the bamboo grove, around the ponds and over the streams.
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Address: Yoshinocho, Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: Few minutes walk from Senganen Garden Mae Bus stop
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (Kirishima park)
Website: Senganen Garden (Japanese)
#5. Yurigahama Beach
Another way to relax is to go to the beach and Kagoshima is not shy to offer some of the most beautiful beaches in Japan. Turquoise shallow waters with beautiful sandbars will make you feel like you’re in a different universe. It’s quite unusual to be able to access semi-remote patches of sands in the ocean simply by walking. Quite the experience.
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Address: 16−5 Furusato, Yoron, Oshima District, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: 10 minute walk from Yurigahama Iriguchimae Bus stop
Website: Yurigahama Beach (Japanese)
Japan is not short on good food and I can’t tell you about Kagoshima without telling you about the black pork. Cooked in a steam bowl or on the barbecue, its distinct flavor is quite the treat and the people at Kurobuto are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. They may even ask you to take a photo as the restaurant is slightly out of the usual touristic way.
Since we’re talking about food, you should know that Kagoshima is largely influenced by Okinawa and thus shares some similar dishes and flavors. Kyushu offers more than just black pork; you can enjoy Satsumaage, a deep fried fish based dish that is very popular in this area. It’s one of those things any Japanese person with who you share the fond memory of your travel down South will ask you if you tried. You better have a positive answer right there.
#8. Yakushima Island
Since we agreed that we love a volcano, another place worth checking out is the Unzen Amakusa National Park. It is the home base for Mt. Fugen-dake which is very popular in Japan for its volcanic activity. We are not talking about blast rays of fire here but rather the quieter water vapors which contain hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide that you can find in different places inside the national park in between the large patches of forestland. You may want to complain about the smell but the sight is a thing of wonder.
If you are into ecotourism then you must stop by Yakushima Island. Prepare your hiking boots and jump on the plane for a short trip South of Kagoshima. Once on the island, you will be able to hike up Mt. Miyanoura which stands tall at 1,935 m height, wonder at the Okonotaki Water Falls and touch the trunk of the largest Yaku cedar. This is a very good nature break from most tourist attractions you’ll find in Kyushu.
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Address: Kumage District, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: 30 minutes by airplane from Kagoshima
Website: Yakushima Island (Japanese)
#9. Kareigawa Station
For the lovers of tourist attractions with historical value, Kareigawa Station is a jewel tucked in the mountains. The station was built in 1903 and it is a registered intangible cultural asset. You can access it via the Japanese JR train but beware, unless you plan to spend the night in the middle of nowhere, make sure to get off the train, have a quick 5 mins look at the station and then get back on the train right away.
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Address: 2176 Kareigawa, Hayatocho, Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Website: Kareigawa Station (Japanese)
#10. Ibusuki Onsen
Once you have gone around and enjoyed the volcano, the town, the gardens and the historical sites, make sure to treat your body with Ibusuki Onsen, the steam sand baths on the beach. Those are the only natural sand baths in the world where you can lie down in a hole in the sand and let the staff cover most of your body with more sand. As you stay there in the warmth of the natural spring, your body can relax et get energized for the rest of your trip.
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Address: Junicho, Ibusuki City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: 7 minutes by car from Ibusuki station
Website: Ibusuki Onsen (Japanese)