Day 17: Kagoshima

Monday, 27 May 2013

Continues from Day 16.2: Nagasaki

As we had worked hard yesterday to fit in everything we wanted to do in Nagasaki, we were free to leave early for our trip down to Kagoshima!

Kagoshima (鹿児島= Deer + Baby + Island) is a major city located right at the bottom of Kyūshū and is the most southern Japanese city you can catch a taxi to from Aomori.

Like Naples in Italy, Kagoshima is located in the shadow of a huge volcano known for its large destructive eruption and is an enduring risk of living in the area.

The volcano’s name is Sakurajima and the minor eruptions that occur nearly every day often blanket Kagoshima in black volcanic ash.

Thanks to its southern latitude Kagoshima has a humid subtropical climate and is used as a gateway to Japan’s subtropical islands.

After our included breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and then headed straight for Nagasaki station.

Once we’d lugged our luggage all the way there we used our rail passes to reserve seats on the 8:29am Kamome to Shin-Tosu Station with a transfer to a Kagoshima-Chuo bound Sakura shinkansen at 10:13am.

Both our trains were exactly on time and we arrived into Kagoshima a little over three hours later at 11:33am.

For the next two nights we’ll be staying at the Hotel Crestia, which is located very close to Kagoshima-Chuo Station. After working out the slightly disconnected station building we found the appropriate exit, walked the hundred or so metres down to our hotel and left our bags with the front desk.

Something we noticed immediately on the streets was a thin coating of black material that I identified as volcanic ash from the nearby Sakurajima Volcano. We could even see it on cars and in gardens!

It had been some time since breakfast so we were feeling hungry for lunch and somehow ended up at Starbucks. I say somehow but it’s because they had the cherry flavoured muffins I’d been coveting since our last trip!

I’d kept an eye out for them the last couple of weeks but hadn’t managed to find any until now- so I made sure to buy two! I then shocked and disgusted Kate by eating both and a hot chocolate at once; she thought I was saving one for later.

As for Kate’s food, it was probably some sort of sandwich and a coffee.

Unlike yesterday, we hadn’t actually planned out what we wanted to do today or what transport/passes to get at all.

Although we had two nights in Kagoshima tomorrow was already reserved for a trip out in a rental car to the Kirishima Mountains, where we’d spend the day hiking.

The main activity we wanted to do today was visit the nearby Sakurajima volcanic peninsula.

Our main problem with that despite the frequent ferries over to the island, the public transportation after arrival isn’t particularly cheap or convenient.

The Sakurajima Volcano is hiding behind clouds in the background
In the end we decided that if we were going to go to Sakurajima, we’d really want to fully explore the island with a car and so instead caught one of the loop buses to explore the other attractions around the Kagoshima.

Our first stop was the Shiroyama Park which is a large foresty area that covers a small 107m high mountain known as Shiroyama (城山= Castle + Mountain).

The name comes from the fact that mountain used to be the location of a castle fortification, the ruins of which are now part of the Remeikan Museum.

The parks most interesting feature for us was the Shiroyama Observatory which provided fantastic views down over Kagoshima and across to Sakurajima!

As you can see above, the  volcano was unfortunately feeling a bit shy today and had draped its upper reaches in a thick fog of cloud.

Apart from that though, we could see lots of city buildings, such as the aquarium and as well as few structures in the bay, including something that looked like a submarine!

We alsosaw Satan's cat
Like the rest of the city the ground up here was coated in layer of fine powered black glassy rock; the volcanic ash.

We also noticed steam coming up from some drains and that the flowing water in the area was hot to the touch.

Thanks to high geologic activity around Kagoshima there are a number of hot spring scattered about the place with one of these, the Satsuma no Yu, located nearby on the side of Shiroyama.
Samurai armour at Sanganen

Apart from the actual view, the observation area also had a couple of shops and some historic cut-out things.

We had made sure to take a note of the bus timetable and when the next one was due we walked down and caught it all the way down to the Sanganen (仙巌園 = Wizard + Rock + Garden).

Also known as the Isoteien, this Japanese landscape garden was first constructed in 1658 by the Shimazu clan, who were a powerful feudal family that dominated the Kagoshima region for nearly 700 years.

The garden additionally houses the Iso Residence and is located next to the Shoko Shuseikan museum, which contains exhibits on the Shimazu clan and machines used during Japan 1800s modernisation.

We decided to just purchase a ticket for the gardens rather than the combination that included the museum as it was already past 2pm by now.

The gardens themselves had plenty of historical articles such as, traditional armour, remnants of a furnace and a restored 150-pound iron cannon that was used in the 1863 battle between western powers and the Satsuma region of Japan.

Satsuma is an old name from feudal Japan for the domain controlled by the Shimazu clan, which is now the Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures.

According to a sign, people from England call mandarins “Satsuma” as they were given as a gift to the English after the battle of 1863, and first exported to the west from the region.

I’d never heard of this before and as far as I can tell the English just call them Mandarin’s like everyone else.

There is a popular variety called the Satsuma, though most people probably wouldn’t make the distinction.

We could see some of the fruit growing on Satsuma trees in the garden.

Further into the ground we came to a display on the volcanic ash that had some pictures of them cleaning it up as well as a few bags full of the ash we could pick up.

The bags were incredibly heavy!

Near the ash bags, on top of a historic wall, there was a restaurant that was unfortunately now closed; we were starting to get hungry again!

As an alternate to the restaurant we stopped in at a little mochi shop and ordered three sticks of each of the two different flavours, soy sauce and miso.

Kate really liked them but I’ve personally found mochi to be a bit to gluggy for my liking.

Nearby we continued on to a few other buildings including one that had displays inside about swords and some big wooden logs outside we could use to swing around.

Beyond this point, we came to the main garden part of the grounds which were divided into a number of distinct sections.

All up the grounds were really big and we used the map in our pamphlet to navigate the extensive gardens.

Even in this more horticulturally focussed section there was a lot of historic material such as the main gate from 1895, an old power generation facility and the Iso residence.

You could pay extra to have a look inside the former villa and enjoy a tea and snack, though we didn’t as there was already heaps to look at around the garden.

One of the features of the Sanganen gardens is that Sakurajima and Kagoshima bay are used as borrowed scenery. Unfortunately the volcano was still shrouded in mist, though we enjoyed its presence all the same.

「千尋巌」 is carved into into the cliffs in the background mountain
In the other direction we could see the characters 「千尋巌」 carved into big stone up in the nearby hill.

The characters mean “Bottomless Rock” and it was carved in 1814 by nearly 4000 people.

Apparently these sorts of rock carvings are not very common in Japanese culture and the example here represents Chinese cultural influence.

As far as the actual garden goes we enjoyed an open grassy area with carefully trimmed trees and attractive stone lanterns wearing wide brimmed hats before moving to a different section containing lots of little streams, ponds, flowers, short plants and stone bridges.

In one of the larger ponds I was once again able to feed some bright orange carp!

That’s three days in a row now!

The ruins of the Shimadzu Hydroelectic dam
Moving on to the following section of garden we found the ruins of one of the earliest examples of a hydroelectric dam that was built in 1892 for the exclusive use of the Shimadzu family.

This part of the garden led up and around a hill and was filled with moss and denser/taller vegetation.

Our map had numbers on it and usually once we found the appropriate location in reality we’d be rewarded with an interesting display or feature.

Occasionally though we’d be trolled with just a numbered sign saying “Please verify your location in the Brochure”. Usually after considerable effort!

Some of the actual interesting featured included a shrine, the Konan Bamboo Grove and an area where we could look down on a section of the lower garden.

After the hill area we came to an old building from 1907 that was used as a filtration bed to filter the ground water and beyond that a working wooden device that was a lever that used water to periodically pound a large wooden stump down into a bowl.

From here we found a Nature trail leading 500 metres up the nearby hill to a waterfall and viewing pavilion. We decided to go on the walk and after setting out realised that the management of the path was pretty intense!

The former filtration bed building
There were lots of signs at the start saying not to attempt the walk after a certain time, and to make sure to check the weather forecast so as to abort if it might rain.

Along the very well maintained and easy path were as many as three marked rescue points!

I have no idea what the fuss was all about, but it might have just been them being extra careful as it was a private facility, rather than something run by the government.

If you look closely you can see eight legs here
As we walked along the path we came across some really big and weird spiders that had small bluish bodies and really really long legs.

At about the halfway point we came to pavilion that was constructed in 1799 to provide a view of a nearby waterfall.

From the edge of the viewing area we could look down into the Sanganen gardens and out over the bay to Sakurajima.

Off to the side of the viewing area we found a little sign pointing out a small waterfall in the distance.

Also in this area was a mound that lord Narioki used to bury old writing brushes from the Iso Residence.

From this first half way point we continued up the hill along the path before coming to another viewing ledge that had higher views from which we could see far across and along the bay, but could no longer see the garden below.

Apart from the view there was also the remnants of an 8km long canal that was used to transport water to the old hydroelectric power station we had seen earlier.

Once we were satisfied with all that was on offer we walked back down the track and were back at the garden only a short time later.

The walk was a fun and  invigorating small hike and we were glad we came up!

Ema at the Sanganen Gardens cat shrine
Before leaving the gardens we had a look at a few buildings near the front we had missed earlier including a cat shrine and a shop that sold incredibly expensive glassware ($1000 for a cup!) and cedar from Yakushima.

The grounds were very interesting, extensive and beautiful so I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone who’s travelling to Kagoshima!

We had a lot of fun!

The next loop bus arrived shortly after we arrived at the stop (since we knew the timetable), and we caught it back down to the port area of Kagoshima thinking we’d perhaps have a look at the Aquarium.

Glassware for sale at the Sanganen Gardens
I’d been checking the weather forecast throughout the day, and as time went on it had more and more (or less and less?) clear we would not be hiking around Kirishima tomorrow thanks to forecasted heavy rain. This was a great shame and we wondered if we should just cancel the car rental.

Ultimately we decided to keep the car and instead spend the morning driving around Sakurajima and then all the way down to the Satsuma Peninsula (south of Kagoshima).

This way we’d hopefully be able to escape most of the rain as these southern areas were not predicted to be as miserable as the more northern and mountainous Kirishima.

So, once we got off at the port we had a little look at the car ferry to check the times and prices for tomorrow’s trip across the bay to Sakurajima.

We found that the big ferry boat departs every ten minutes during the times we wanted to go across, and interestingly operates 24 hours a day.

The aquarium was part of a large port building near the ferry but we untimely decided not to visit as it was a little expensive (for Japan) and isn’t really a must see attraction.

A thin building
Instead we went on a little walk around the area and agreed to go to a tourism centre on the bus route that sells local specialities. The next bus wasn’t coming for a while however, as it wasn’t too far away, we decided to just walk.

Along the way we stopped at a Lawsons Convenience store to get some food which we ate in a windy park nearby. Some of the ash was getting blown on us!

Eventually we reached the tourism centre and had a look at the brochures and goods. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as we were expecting and we didn’t end up buying anything.

There were a few other people inside, including some Canadians who wanted to go to the beach today but were being told that there were not any nearby. They held up a brochure that had beaches on it but it was an island located a really long way from Kagoshima City.

After exiting the tourism office we decided to spend the rest of the day singing in a Karaoke Box!

We’d done this together once before during our last trip and I had been promised that we’d be allowed to again this time around.

I had a look on my phone and phone that the nearest Karaoke-Kan (who use our preferred Joysound system) was located in the main city area. Rather than worry about public transportation we ended up just walking the one kilometre or so distance.

Along the way I spotted a few interesting buildings.

Usually the Karaoke places work by charging you for a relatively expensive drink of your choice (like 300 yen for a soft drink) and then a pretty small fee (~100 yen) for each half hour.

Kate had really enjoyed the tea she had ordered last time and planned to get some more but we were strangely not required to order drinks. So she was a little disappointed.

We originally ordered an hour but ended up having so much fun that when the phone rang telling us our time was nearly up we asked for an extra half an hour!

I sang lots of songs!

And mostly Japanese ones this time.

After karaoke we continued walking all the way back to the station as Kate wanted to have a look at the UNIQLO clothing store and the food shops.

 We decided to split up for this and I had a wander around a book shop, where I found some weird childrens book called “unko” which means “poop”, and sure enough there was a happy picture of a poop on the front.

I didn’t buy any more manga or anything as I already had far too much from my previous adventures.

Eventually I just went down to the food court and got some strawberry and banana ice cream.

When we reunited Kate said that she had tried to buy a pork bun from a little shop but was laughed at for some reason. I think she may have tried to use some weird Japanese. They were sold out of the bun she wanted at any rate.

After that she had a good look at UNIQLO and purchased three skirt/short (skort?) things that were pretty, well made and really cheap.

Finally, to end out day we checked into our hotel and found our room to be a nice, typical, well sized business hotel affair.

As mentioned earlier the forecasted rain for tomorrow had altered our plans from a hike through the Kirishima mountains to a visit to Sakurajima and then the Satsuma Peninsula instead. This wasn't really a loss for us as we really wanted to visit the Sakurajima volcano and also ended up having heaps of fun down at the Peninsula!

Look forward to the next post!

If you enjoyed reading this post or found any of the information useful please consider leaving a comment. I really appreciate them and they give me encouragement to keep writing about the rest of our trip.

Or, are you considering visiting or have you recently travelled to Kagoshima?

If so, feel free to share your plans and experiences!

I'm also happy to answer any questions you may have!

Continue reading Day 18: Sakurajima and Ibusuki


  1. Another great read
    really appreciate you taking the time.

    1. Hi Ranting Chef!

      Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment!