Day 18: Sakurajima and Ibusuki

View from the Kagoshima flower garden in Ibusuki
Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Continues from Day 17: Kagoshima

Today we awoke to a heavily overcast day, as predicted.

In response, we had already changed our plans from hiking in the Kirishima Mountains to a trip around the Sakurajima Volcano in the morning and then down to Ibusaki of the Satsuma Peninsula for the afternoon.

This plan called for a lot less walking and also meant that we’d be in areas that were forecast to have lesser amounts of precipitation.

Our second rental car for the trip had already been booked a few weeks ago from Budget, though it was still too early at this stage to pick it up. Moreover, it was breakfast time!

Breakfast wasn’t included with our Hotel Crestia but it was available at the Farta restaurant after buying a coupon from the front desk. The quality of food was good; I think Kate had some curry noodles. And not farty in the slightest.

Once it was near the 8am opening time of the car rental place we got our day's supplies together, exited the hotel, walked through the station and then another 500m to the Budget car rental shop located on the opposite side of a small park.

This was our second time renting a car in Japan and the process was very similar to our first time in back in Beppu, though this time without a queue.

Basically we just had our passport and drivers licenceses scanned and were told what to do in case of an accident.

Actually speaking of accidents, I noticed a sign up behind the counter stating that there had been none for the past nine days.

Wow… Nine…

This didn’t seem like much of an interval for such a small place and we also noticed that the sign didn’t even have any more than two digits!

Getting to a 100 days is obviously preposterous!

It’s also a pretty odd thing to have up for the staff as they have no control over any car accidents.

Here it is on the Sakurajima Ferry
Actually, I guess it’s really for the customers then.

Anyway, once the paper work was sorted out we went out to meet our car!

A Toyota Vitz!
(Also known as a Toyota Yaris)

We were headed to Sakurajima first as the bad weather seemed to be moving down from the north.

It’d be bad in Kirishima all day, alright in the morning for Sakurajima and not too bad further south on the Satsuma Peninsula until the late afternoon/evening.

Sakurajima is large and highly active composite volcano located only a few kilometres from Kagoshima city. It used to be located at the centre of a circular island formed by previous eruptions but the land got so big that was eventually welded to the mainland during the major Taishō Eruption of 1914.

The peninsula is the currently active region of the Aira Volcano which formed a 20km wide caldera during a colossal eruption over 20,000 years ago. This is why the upper part of Kagoshima bay is circular in shape.

In 1946 the Shōwa eruption became the other major volcanic event when a new crater formed and spewed enough lava to engulf a number of nearby downs. The eruption was also associated with a large amount of ash and earth movement.

Volcanic activity from the Shōwa crater continues daily making Sakurajima the most active volcano in Japan and it is listed as one of the sixteen decade volcanoes which are recognised for their proximity to large settlements and destructive history.

The car ferry unloading vehicles and people at the Kagoshima terminal
Since we visited in May, a particularly large eruption in August made news headlines when ash was ejected over five kilometres into the atmosphere.

The highest point of Sakurajima is the Kitadake peak which is 1117m tall and was volcanically active up until around 4,900 years ago.

Since Kagoshima is now attached to the mainland it is possible to drive over, however as the join is on the eastern side it is much easier to simply catch the car ferry over from Kagoshima.

The lower inside passanger deck
It was a little tricky navigating the streets in the car and finding the right slot to drive down to get on the boat, but we managed somehow.

This car ferry between Kagoshima and Sakurajima runs 24 hours a day and every ten minutes for the time we were there.

We were not sure exactly what to do about tickets, however we did know the approximate price and that we didn’t have to prepay.

The ferry was unloading vehicles when we arrived and once that was finished we followed a line of cars onto the boat and were directed into a certain place by a member of the crew.

The colder and wetter upper deck
Everyone was also instructed to turn off their engines and apply the hand brake.

Blocks were put under everyone’s wheels as well- just in case.

A short time later we were underway!

Rather than just sit in the car, we decided to get out and explore the large boat.

After some sets of stairs we found a couple of big passenger decks, one of which had a little restaurant/food shop.

The lower deck with the food was indoors and had lots of seats and the upper deck was outdoors but with a roof.

It basically just didn’t have any walls.

On both floors there were a few vending machines and Kate got a coke from one of them.

Thanks to the rainy day there wasn’t a great view available but it was fun travelling across the bay all the same.

The Nagisa Lava Field
As with yesterday Sakurajima was still cloaked in a veil of foggy clouds and we could only see about halfway up.

At this rate it looked like we wouldn’t be seeing the peak of the volcano at all!

After about fifteen minutes we had crossed the bay and reached the island turned peninsula.

We were already back in the car at this point and didn’t have to wait long as those in front were rapidly directed out of the boat along a ramp.

Before we were released onto the island (let's keep calling it one) we drove through a toll point and paid the 150 yen fare.

This fee is quite dynamic and depends on the length of your vehicle- longer cars have to pay more.

Tolling for both directions is done on Sakurajima- I guess because there is much more spare room here.

There are a number of attractions within walking distance of the ferry terminal which we wanted to check out first, so we drove over and parked at the Sakurajima Visitor Center.

On the way over we passed by a weird brown coloured Lawson’s which we later learnt was attempting to blend into the natural ecosystem.

The visitor centre didn’t open until 9am so in the meantime we went exploring along some nearby walking trails.

The paths were a combination of a normal concrete footpath along the coast and a large amount of wooden boardwalks that wrapped around a lava field.

The rock had obviously long since cooled but it was still very interesting as it had not yet eroded much and was therefore very jagged and cool looking.

At the start of the path there was an informational graphic that explained how vegetation develops after being wiped out by a lava flow.

From the guide I estimated that the flow occurred between 30-80 years ago as there was mix between short trees and bushes.

After writing this I’ve since learnt that I was a bit off there; the lava is from the 1914 Taishō Eruption.

The vegetation was quite diverse and interesting and in places the uneven lava had captured large pools of clear blue water.

After the lava field we walked along the shoreline of Kagoshima bay. According to a sign there’s a large variety of sea creates that live along the shore though we unfortunately were unable to see any.

At one end of the walk we came to the Nagisa Foot Baths which are a set of really long shallow pools you can use to soak your feet while observing the volcano. They were pretty empty while we were there though we did see one guy having a go.

We personally did not much feel like taking our shoes off, and instead made our way back to the Sakurajima Visitor Center which had just opened.

The centre is free to enter and inside we found a large amount of models, pictures and information about the island and volcano.

The writing wasn’t all in Japanese and there was a decent amount of English, so we made sure to walk around and learn as much as we could.

One of these displays was a count of the number of eruptions so far this year and a total from last year, 413 and 1107 respectively.

These are not major eruptions like the one in 1914 but are part of the regular background emissions that constantly dust Kagoshima in ash. So far this year looked just about as active as last and looked on track for a total amount in the low 1000’s.

Also in the centre there were a number of small models showing how the island has changed shape over the years and a big one on how the island looks now.

Another set of models showed the evolution of vegetation after an eruption.

However, the display I found the most interesting was the wall with a stratigraphic cross section where it was possible to see the different layers deposited after each eruption.

Near the front door there was a big map of the world that had become somewhat graffiti’d with everyone’s name- we made sure to add ours!

Also near the front was a little shop and Kate really wanted to buy a shirt, but didn’t for some reason.

Finally, the lady and man running the place were really nice and friendly!

With the visitor centre finished it was time to hop in the car and travel up to the Yunohara Observation Point.

This is the highest of the public viewing areas located about a third (350m) of the way up the western slopes of Mount Sakurajima.

It’s also pretty close to the port area and only took us about 15 minutes to drive up and park.

The elevation and proximity meant we were able to get fantastic up close views of the white clouds enveloping the top half volcano.

Oh well, on the plus side it wasn’t actually raining, and we were able to get superior views of the lower flanks at least, which included some rock falls and a drainage structure?

The nearby environment was also interesting for its ash and vegetation.

The observation area included a relatively large building and lots of information in Japanese.

Ignoring Sakurajima and instead look down along the coast was rewarding and we were kinda sorta able to make out the Satsuma Peninsula the distance.

The next part of our tour of the island was where the car would prove its usefulness as it’s expensive/difficult to get around to the far side otherwise.

For no particular reason we decided upon a clockwise direction and first drove through a little residential area and then continued around the ring road.

The drive was nice and after about twenty minutes we reached our next destination called the “Lava Field from the Eruption during the Shōwa Period”.

Personally I would have just translated as “The Shōwa Eruption Lava Field”, and on the Japan-Guide website it’s called the “Kurokami Observation Point”.

Anyway, we learnt from a sign that the 1946 Shōwa eruption had produced lava that flowed down the eastern flank and completely engulfed the village of Kurokami and half destroyed Arimura town.

Thankfully, the lava was slow enough that the villagers were able to not only move themselves to safety but also had time to save some of their furniture and possessions, but sadly not their homes.

The viewing platform here was just a raised square of concrete that had some stairs to a fenced top area.

The concrete block was also partially hollowed out on one side for shelter in case of eruption.

From the top we could see across a long flat area and then up the slope of the volcano which looked like a recent lava feature due to the lack of vegetation and jagged nature.

Entrance to the Kurokami Shrine
Apparently you can get good views of the Shōwa Crater from here though that obviously didn’t apply today.

After we were satisfied with our observations we continued along the road for a short distance to reach the Kurokami Shrine Gate.

During the 1914 Taishō Eruption, which made a peninsula out of this island, vast amounts of ash was ejected over seven kilometres into the sky and upon its return to earth buried nearly 700 homes in the town of Kurokami.

One striking example of the extent of the ash fall can be seen at the Kurokami shrine as only the very top of the tall torii gate now pokes above the new ground level.

The ground today is the top of the ash that fell a hundred years ago and it was quite amazing to think that we were standing on top of a buried town.

There were quite a few people at the shrine and beyond the gate we found that the shrine buildings had been partially excavated but were otherwise preserved.

We could look inside a few, though others were locked shut. There was also a bell.

The current town was built on top of the old one and up on the higher ground level nearby we could see a school.

Once we’d seen everything we returned back to the car and continued another ninety degrees around the island to the southern Arimura Observation Point.

On the way we passed the point where the mainland joined with the former island.

Even from the car it was easy to see that two distinct landforms had recently merged.

At the Arimura Observation point we found ample parking, some ashy shops and more information about the island and volcano.

The main attraction here was the walking trails that lead up and down a lava field to a number of observation points.

The mountain was still covered up by clouds, but from our 75m elevation we were able to get good views out over the bay and ocean.

The paths were well maintained and like the other walk we’d done near the ferry terminal it was fun and interesting to look at the lava rocks and vegetation.

To protect people from eruptions, there were a couple of tunnels along the trails that could be used for shelter and near the parking area there were some serious looking concrete bunkers.

After our walk it was time to finish up the last quadrant of the island and arrive back at the ferry terminal.

As it was nearly midday by this stage and we were getting hungry we decided to stop in at the Hinoshima Megumikan.

The Hinoshima Megumikan is a roadside station for cars and trucks using Sakurajima and the ferry to travel between Kagoshima and the Ōsumi Peninsula.

Inside we found a large amount of fresh produce for sale, including the Sakurajima Radish which famous for being the largest in the world and can reach a weight of over 45kg.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any that were quite that big.

Also sold at the rest house were some pine cones (why? who would buy a pine cone?) and some famous ice cream.

I passed after my last soft serve disappointment but Kate got some and said it was yummy.

I was still hungry so I went over to the restaurant on the other side of the resthouse and ordered some really nice chicken katsu.

The meal included desert and a few other interesting things, was really delicious and pretty cheap as well!

By the time I had finished it was raining outside and we had to quickly run over to our car.

Upon reaching the ferry terminal we paid the toll, drove on, parked and climbed up to the passenger decks.

Since Kate had only eaten an ice-cream she bought a set of inari sushi (rice in fried tofu) from the little shop on the boat.

Once we reached the mainland we began our long journey down to the bottom of the Satsuma Peninsula.

I’m not actually sure if it’s a particularly good idea to drive rather than get the train as a few passed us along the way.

I guess it did make things easier at our destination at least since the buses are probably quite infrequent.

Our route took us first through the city, then along the coastline, through farmland and small towns.

Eventually, after about an hour and thirty minutes (60km) we arrived at the Peninsula and followed the signs down to the Flower Park Kagoshima.

There was heaps of parking available and only a couple were taken on this overcast Tuesday afternoon.

This botanical garden has nearly five hundred thousand plants across over two thousand different species!

As well as species native to Japan the park also contains flowers from tropical regions in other parts of the globe including Australia, Brazil and South Africa.

The grounds of the garden are quite large and contain over three kilometres of walking paths. It’s actually possible to hire a golf cart to give your legs a rest and we thought about doing so but we decided not to as there were a few areas you could not take it.

With our ticket (¥600) we got a map of the gardens and the lady circled some areas that were blooming and highly recommended.

Along with the glossy coloured Japanese brochure, we were also given a black and white version that had English translations.

On the map there were two trails marked, the shorter red one was a one kilometre round trip viewing path and the much longer blue line was the route a park bus (not kart) takes.

Since we wanted to try and cover the whole park we starting out along the blue trail which lead us directly over to the currently blooming areas.

The gardens were really neat and nicely presented with lots of gardeners working away.

Before the first blooming area of Jacaranda trees we passed a couple of smaller displays with different pretty flowers.

To tell the truth the Jacarandas were not very exciting for us as they’re a really common tree around Brisbane.

In fact they still instil a dense of dread in us as the flowers are well known for exploding into bloom during the university exam period.

From a distance the trees look a bit like purple cherry blossoms, though they’re not closely related at all.

After the Jacarandas we found a much more interesting rose garden filled with thousands of colourful flowers!

They smelt really nice and we saw orange, white, yellow, pink and red varieties.

Apart from the colours the actual flowers were different as well- some were the single traditional style, others were all bunched together and one type had absolutely ginormous flowers.

The garden was pretty quiet this Tuesday afternoon and apart from the friendly gardeners we didn’t really see anyone else.

From the roses we continued along to the Flower Plaza which confused us at first as it seemed to be a large circle of pretty unremarkable plants; some of which were blooming white flowers in certain areas.

Upon walking up to a platform though we realised that the garden was actually a big piece of artwork and four different plants were used to create a giant dove.

It was really quite impressive and I wondered how there were able to make everything grow just right.

On the other side of the hill we found another garden circle depicting a shooting star flying through a pink sky.

After the flower plaza we passed through a small grove of trees to another circle of colourful flowers. These were snap dragons and there were tens of thousands of differently coloured flowers all mixed in together.

We know this flower well from home as you can manipulate the petals to make it look like they're talking- it's quite amusing.

It was amazing to see so many closely spaced specimens here, like an ocean!

Like this part

Next we continued down some steps and around to a more forested area that had many different flowers blooming beneath tall trees.

The path here wound down a steep hill and towards the top we were able to enjoy fantastic views across the nearby bay (see the first photo at the top).

We were glad we didn’t have the kart now as this section had parts that excluded them.

At the bottom of the hill we came out into a more open area that had topiarian hedges and a kind of posh garden feel.

A building with a small café (with ice cream!) lead through to a European style garden where there were some short hedges that looked a bit like a maze.

Unfortunately it was too small for exploration.

A bit further down on the way back to the entrance we found a large conservatory that had a huge glass roof, but no walls.

Near door there was a smaller but fully enclosed greenhouse.

Under the open structure was another European themed garden with fountains and inside the greenhouse we discovered  an Amorphophallus Titanium plant!

The Amorphophallus Titanium
The name means “giant formless penis” (Titanic amorphous phallus) which is interesting… but the plant is most famous for producing the largest flowers in the world and for emitting the putrid odour of a decomposing mammal.

This smell has resulted in the plant being called the corpse flower.

It takes around ten years of growth for the corpse flower to bloom and once it does the spathe is only open for around 24 hours before wilting away.

It didn’t happen to be open on the day we were there, but there was a ring around the tree like plant indicating that the spathe reached a diameter of 60cm during the last opening in 2010.

Next to the plant there was a wealth of information in Japanese and we learnt that the height reached during the bloom was 2.43 metres.

This isn’t too far off the 2.74 metre record for a cultivated specimen!

The largest wild specimens however have topped three metres in height!

Back outside along the paths theer were more pretty flowers and, to our shock and surprise, a horrible weed!

Lantana is an unfortunate common sight in the parks back home and is recognised as one of Australia's most debilitating and invasive weeds.

It infests more than four million hectares of land across the country and its impact to  agriculture and the environment, costs $22 000 000 a year.

It's also poisionous, which is never a good thing.

There was actually a fair bit of lantana in one section of the garden and it really didn't look pretty to us at all. It looked ugly- I guess because we've been trained to hate it.

Anyway, after the penis flower and weeds we continued along the bath towards the entrance until we came to another greenhouse which was the Butterfly Hall!

There was only one type of big black and white butterfly inside with the various little plants but wow, the shiny golden cocoons they made were really pretty!

The Butterfly Hall was right next to the entrance which meant we had completed the outer loop leaving only a short inner section to go.

Golden butterfly cocoons

Mindful of the time we had a quick look at the flowers, ponds and water features along this last path before doubling back and returning to the entrance by around 4pm.

We had spent a really fantastic and fun one and a half hours wandering around the Kagoshima Flower Garden today and were really amazed at the variety and number of different flowers in bloom.

So I’d highly recommend the trip to anyone visiting Ibusaki and the Satsuma Peninsula!

The most famous attraction in Ibusaki is actually the sand baths where you can be buried in hot hydrothemically heated sand.

We unfortunately didn’t get around to doing this though and after the park instead headed down to the nearby Cape Nagasakibana.

This cape is the most southern point of the Satsuma Peninsula though not quite the most southern point of Japan’s main islands; the Osumi Peninsula to the east droops down a little further.

The road to the cape ended quite suddenly in a number of confusing car parks.

It took us a little bit to work out what was going but basically the idea was that the distant car parks were free and the closer ones had a charge.

This was pretty strange as the distance between the free and paid was about ten metres.

Also, there were some others that you could only use if you were going to buy something from one of the shops. Not to mention a huge car park nearby for another attraction confusingly called the “Nagasakibana Parking Garden” which is actually a real garden with flamingos and plants.

Anyway, like the flower park it was pretty quiet here so after a tricky turn at the end of the road we parked back at one of the free spaces and walked past the various touristy shops down to the cape.

Just before the really capey bit we found a small shrine.

At the boundary of the supralittoral zone there was a medium size automatic light house and beyond that the cape continued as an uneven and exposed rocky surface.

I think this rock may have been lava considering the texture and proximity to Mount Kaimondake, which is a 924m tall stratovolcano that last erupted in the year 885.

Thanks to its shape, Kaimondake is often referred to as the Mt Fuji of Satsuma and good views of it across the bay can usually be enjoyed from Cape Nagasakibani.

Today however, like Sakurajima to the north, Mount Kaimondake was hiding from us in a thick balaclava of white cloud.

Nevertheless the striking cape scenery, rough waves and high wind were fantastic and added to the fun of exploring the rocky intertidal zone.

Some sort of concrete path had been draped over the rocks at some point but was now largely eroded away. Between the chasms of rock we found a great many rock pools filled with small sea creatures.

There were some big critters around too including some big birds of prey and millions of scuttling little nightmares.

They were kind of like titanic silverfish, probably about the size of hand or so and all armour plating and appendages.

A little research revealed that they’re some species of Ligia the genus which are isopodan crustaceans likened to rock lice or slaters.

They moved very fast so getting this photo was tricky!

Apart from us, there were also some people fishing off the end of rocks.

As mentioned the view was absolutely fantastic and we could see little islands, lots of cliffs and mountains with wind turbines in the distance.

Off to the side of the cape there was a beach with grey black coloured immature sand.

As a quick geologic aside, white sand is basically composed of the minerals quartz and feldspar which as the most resistant to weathering and the sole remnants of a mature (old) sand.

Dark sand hasn’t yet had the time for the darker less resistant material to break down and is therefore immature.

This beach looked to be made up of sand sized particles of the suspected lava rock we were walking on.

Black sand may also just have lots of fine grained muddy/silty (non sand sized) material in it too.

We really enjoyed this cape and like the Kagoshima Flower Garden, I’d strongly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

It was brilliant!

As our car needed to be returned soon we eventually had to say goodbye to the seascape and return up to the car for our journey back to Kagoshima.

There was still much down here we had yet to see and do such as the sand baths, a hike up Mount Kaimondake and a few museums and historical sites.

So along with the Kirishima mounts we have plenty of reasons to come back down to this region of Japan in the future!

It took us even longer to get back then it did to travel down as the traffic became pretty bad stop start congestion as we neared Kagoshima City.

On the way happened to notice a giant rocket poking up into the sky!

Kate managed to snap a quick photo and some research has revealed that it’s a model of the H-II rocket which was a satellite launch system used by Japan in the late 1990’s.

Despite the traffic we managed to make it back to Budget Car Rental just in time to drop off our car! Hooray!

After the quick inspection we were offered a lift back to the station in a mini-bus however we politely declined as it was only a short distance.

Tonight was our last in Kagoshima as we’d be heading off on a Hydrofoil early tomorrow to spend two days on Yakushima which is a UNESCO World Heritage listed island located 135 kilometres to the south.

We didn’t really want to bring our massive luggage along with us though, so after arriving at the station we sussed out the coin locker situation to make sure we’d be okay to come store our luggage early tomorrow morning. We were happy to find that there was heaps available.

Back at the hotel we cleaned our clothes using the hotel’s washing machines and dryers and packed up our day bags for Yakushima.

We must’ve had dinner somewhere as well but I can’t remember any details!

And that’s the end of today!

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 Sakurajima or Ibusuki?

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

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

Continue reading Day 19: Yakushima


  1. Good blog.
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    1. Hi Saruwatari!

      Thank you very much for your comment- I'm glad you like Kagoshima too.

      I had a look at your blog- your video's look good!

      Thanks again!

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