The Power and Natural Beauty of a Real Volcano, at Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park

A National Park in the Center of Kagoshima Prefecture’s Volcanic Region

The southernmost of Japan’s four main islands – Kyushu. Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park spreads across Kagoshima Prefecture and Miyazaki Prefecture, uniquely encompassing three volcanic belts. With its combination of mountains, water, and lush green vegetation, the park boasts diverse scenery and abundant hot springs, Kirishima-Kinkowan was one of Japan’s first designated national parks.

The park is divided into two main portions across Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures: the Kirishima region, and the southern Kinko Bay (Kagoshima Bay) region. The latter encompasses the three districts of Sakurajima, Ibusuki, and Sata. Visitors can reach the area by bullet train from Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka to JR Kagoshima-chuo station. There are also regular flights to Kagoshima Airport. This is where your adventure begins.

Getting to JR Kagoshima-chuo station and Kagoshima Airport from Japan’s major cities

The Mountains and Lakes of the Kirishima Region – Imbued with Japanese Folklore

The visual splendor of Kirishima Rhododendrons from late-May to mid-June

Even among Japan’s largest national parks, none encompasses the more than 20 volcanoes, shimmering crater lakes, valleys, waterfalls, and surprisingly diverse seasonal vegetation for a volcanic landscape that the Kirishima region does. Kirishima’s diverse hot springs offer treatment for anemia, poor blood circulation, and liver trouble. All of this and more is located within proximity of Kagoshima Airport.

Many of the Kirishima region’s most popular accommodations are found in the Maruo area of the region’s hot spring district. It only takes 25 minutes by bus from Kagoshima Airport. By train, head from Kagoshima-chuo station to Kokubu station, and then board the bus bound for “Kirishima Jingu Keiyu Kirishima Iwasaki Hotel”. It takes approximately one hour to the “Maruo” bus stop. Keep in mind that access to volcanic areas can change depending on conditions and volcanic activity alerts. Ask your hotel front desk staff for guidance.

The volcanoes of Kirishima mountain range
The volcanoes of Kirishima mountain range

The tallest peak among the more than 20 volcanoes in the region is Mount Karakuni. At an altitude of 1,700m (approx. 5,577 feet), visitors can get an incredible panoramic view of Kirishima’s undulating mountainous terrain and Onami Pond crater lake. There’s also a trekking course through the Ebino Kogen (highlands) offering fantastic views of three more crater lakes. The changing flowers, vegetation and snowscapes add distinct beauty to each season.

Kirishima Shrine
Kirishima Shrine

Within the Kirishima mountain terrain, the Takachiho-no-mine peak holds a special place in Japanese mythology as the location where the deity Ninigi, grandson of sun goddess Amaterasu, descended to earth from Heaven and established the imperial bloodline. Ninigi is enshrined in the brilliant crimson Kirishima Shrine, near the foot of the mountain. It only takes 15 minutes to Kirishima Shrine by public bus from Maruo.

The hot spring waters of Kirishima Onsen district flow into the city, creating the rare sight of a steaming waterfall – Maruo waterfall. You can even eat delicious eggs cooked in these waters at the nearby Kirishima Onsen Market. There are plenty of other highlights to see in this volcanically active region, too.

*Bus schedules are current as of July 2017.

The Active Volcano of Sakurajima, Kinko Bay

Another major area of the Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park is the Kinko Bay district. The bay itself was formed by a huge volcanic eruption some 29,000 years ago. Even today, the active volcanic peak of Sakurajima continues to spew smoke as thousands of local residents go about their daily lives in its shadow, lending the city a uniquely dynamic atmosphere.

Plumes of smoke above Sakurajima volcano are visible from the local township
Plumes of smoke above Sakurajima volcano are visible from the local township

To get a closer look at Sakurajima, first get to JR Kagoshima-chuo station and transfer to the city tram to Suizokukan-guchi station. From there, it’s a seven-minute walk to the Sakurajima Ferry at Kagoshima Port. Ferries run all day to Sakurajima Port Ferry Terminal. On the deck of the ferry, breathe in the salty ocean air as the impressive, smoldering sight of Sakurajima looms nearer over the 15-minute ride.

Getting this close to an active volcano is a thrill like no other. From the ferry terminal, it’s a 10-minute walk to the Sakurajima Visitor Center, where you can rent bicycles if you want to explore the island on two wheels. If you’d prefer a more leisurely sightseeing option, hop on the Sakurajima Island View Bus, which departs from Sakurajima Port approximately once per hour and hits the major sightseeing spots. The bus makes a 15-minute stop at the Yunohira Observatory, from where you can get the closest view possible of Sakurajima Volcano.

Along the Arimura coast, you can dig into the sand and make your own hot spring foot bath
Along the Arimura coast, you can dig into the sand and make your own hot spring foot bath

If you have extra time to spend on Sakurajima, you’ll absolutely want to visit the Arimura Lava Observatory. This fantastical landscape is unlike anything you’ll see in all of Japan. At nearby Arimura coast you’ll find natural hot spring waters bubbling forth through the sands. Dig in and create your own heated foot bath! An island bus departs from the Arimura Lava Observatory for the ferry terminal once an hour.

Experience Natural Sand Baths in Ibusuki and Sata, Kinkowan.

A stunning view of Mt. Kaimon from Lake Ikeda
A stunning view of Mt. Kaimon from Lake Ikeda

At the southernmost tip of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park, located on the Satsuma Peninsula, is the town of Ibusuki. You’ll immediately notice the Mt. Fuji-esque outline of Mt. Kaimon, which is affectionately referred to as “Satsuma-Fuji”. In the Ibusuki hot spring district, you can enjoy the rare experience of a hot sand bath.

It takes approximately 70 minutes to get to Ibusuki station from Kagoshima-chuo station. A short 20-minute bus ride from Ibusuki station will take you to Lake Ikeda, where you can get a magnificent view of Mt. Kaimon amidst a carpet of seasonal flowers. In the Ibusuki hot spring district, there are plenty of facilities catering to both overnight guests and same-day visitors. Bury your body in beach sands heated by local hot springs as you listen to ocean waves and sweat your troubles away.

Cape Sata
Cape Sata

Elsewhere on the tip of the Osumi Peninsula in Sata, marvel at the natural beauty of bluffs and ocean waters under azure skies. From Ibusuki ferry port, a high-speed boat can take you here in an hour and twenty minutes.

The highlight of the area is Cape Sata. At this southernmost point of Kyushu island, you’ll discover bougainvillea flowers and other tropical vegetation. The impossibly blue ocean stretches out in front of your eyes.