Active Japan: Kagoshima

Travel southern Kushu by train!

Shiranui Sea, famous for its mirages, is visible to the right side as the train speeds along on its course. A train trip is a great way to get to southern Kyushu. Diving right into the action with the Kyushu Shinkansen (Bullet Train) called “Mizuho” that runs between Hakata and Kagoshima Chuo in 1 hour and 19 minutes is great, and opting for the slow, scenic route with the “Sakura” train is also a nice way to go. Whichever option you choose, each train is fully decked out in wood for a luxurious ambiance unique to the Kyushu Shinkansen (Bullet Train) and provides an enjoyable trip you simply must experience.

Railways: An assortment of special ticket deals is available through JR Kyushu. The “Kyushu Rail Pass” is one of these specials. It is a free pass that lets you get on and off trains as you wish (reserved seat type). Within the ticket area, users can ride on express trains and Kyushu Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) in addition to regular and rapid-transit trains. Considering that a standard one-way passenger ticket from Hakata to Kagoshima Chuo costs 10,170 yen, the price of 14,000 yen for a three day Kyushu Rail Pass is amazingly inexpensive. It’s a deal you simply cannot pass up.

*This ticket deal is only available for purchase outside Japan. It is only available for foreign tourists visiting Japan for sightseeing with a temporary visitor visa.

Bus: Buses are also a great way to get around. The “SUNQ Pass” sold by Nishitetsu (the Nishi-Nippon Railroad Company) is a free-pass ticket that is good for almost all lines covered by expressway buses and standard busses and some boat routes around the island of Kyushu and Shimonoseki City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The pass is usable on as many as approximately 2,400 bus routes, making it usable for pretty much anywhere you want to go in Kyushu. Boat routes are scheduled to be included soon, meaning that access to remote islands is going to be even more convenient. Combined with the “Kyushu Rail Pass,” it isn’t an overstatement to say that this pass can get you anywhere in Kyushu.

The majestic view of Sakurajima from downtown

When you arrive at Kagoshima Chuo Station, you will want to admire the globally famous active volcano Sakurajima, the symbol of Kagoshima. You can see the majestic sight of volcanic smoke drifting upward from almost anywhere in downtown Kagoshima. After a big eruption, a mushroom cloud up to twice as tall as the actual mountain itself bursts out, surprising viewers with the sheer energy and magnitude that a real live volcano can possess. Get to Sakurajima on the city-operated Sakurajima Ferry that runs between Sakurajima and central Kagoshima City 24 hours a day. This short 15 minute boat ride along the quiet bay waters is so gentle; it’s as if you are crossing a still lake. Longer ferry rides are also available that depart from the standard boat rout and “wander” around the Kanze lighthouse and the Sakurajima lava field that juts out into the ocean.

A magnificent “borrowed scenery garden” uses Sakurajima as a garden hill and Kinko Bay as a garden pond

Senganen Garden was used as a villa for the Shimazu clan, which controlled this area in the Edo period (1603-1868). In Edo period, Kagoshima was positioned as the “southern entrance to Japan,” and actively engaged in trade with China through the Ryukyu Kingdom (modern day Okinawa). It absorbed many influences from Chinese culture. This garden also incorporates many Chinese concepts, and even uses a method of borrowing scenery called “shakkei,” one of China’s representative landscape gardening methods. This garden scenery delightfully employs Sakurajima in the role of a garden hill and Kinko Bay in the role of a garden pond. In its position as a leader of Japan through the late Edo period and Meiji period, Kagoshima was visited by many foreign dignitaries who would stop by Senganen Garden, where the current head of the Shimazu clan was used as a sort of welcoming emissary to entertain visiting important personages.

Experience modern day Satsuma in Tenmonkan

Experience modern day Satsuma in Tenmonkan

Kagoshima has many unique local specialties and foods, making “dining strolls” one of Kagoshima’s most enjoyable activities. “Tenmonkan,” one of the city’s best entertainment districts, is a gourmet area where you can find almost any of these specialties. The ever popular “kurobuta” (black pork) features sweet tasting marbling and a savory flavor. It comes in a multitude of different dishes, like the “tonkatsu,” which is a luxuriously thick cutlet, and the thinly sliced “kurobuta shabushabu” that is enjoyed with a special sweet sauce. And if you are having liquor, the star of the show is distilled potato “shochu.” Made from a kind of sweet potato called “koganesengan,” this distilled beverage with a mellow sweet fragrance will easily become your favorite. You can even find ultra premium shochu priced at some ten thousands of yen for one bottle.

With a spectacular location 1 minute on foot from the “Tenmonkan Dori” street car stop, “Remm Kagoshima” opened on October 2011 under the motto of “better quality sleep.” This is the perfect hotel for relaxing and recovering from the fatigue of sightseeing with features like a massage chair in almost every room.

The southernmost station and sand steam baths

Before visiting Ibusuki, the highlight of southern Kyushu, take a side-trip to Nishi Oyama Station on the JR Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line. This is the southernmost JR Japan train station. The train stops for a few minutes, and giving you enough time to take some commemoration photos is part of the charm of a local line. Then, heading towards Makurazaki, the sight of Kaimondake spreading out from a gentle slope base awaits. If the rugged Sakurajima is the father of Kagoshima people, the round and gentle Kaimondake is definitely the mother. “Iburin” rental bikes (2,000 yen per day) are perfect for traveling around to see great sightseeing spots scattered around the city of Ibusuki, like Nagasakibana, which is known as a great Kaimondake view-spot and for its flamingo and chimpanzee shows. These electric power-assisted bicycles make going up slopes easy and fun. Enjoy an easy stroll together with the sea breeze.

The hot-spring area of Ibusuki is blessed with a plentiful amount of spring water and is also known as a place for enjoying “natural sand steam baths,” a unique bathing method where bathers lie under beach sand heated by geothermal heat. Bathers put on a yukata (Japanese bathrobe), wrap towels around their heads, and plop right down inside the hot sand?! You’ll actually feel amazingly refreshed after working up a good sweat in the hot sand.

When you come to Ibusuki, you simply must stay overnight at “Ibusuki Hakusuikan,” a hotel featuring an extensive sand steam bath area. You can wash off the sand in a hot-spring bath inside the same hotel without changing clothes and then return to your room in the same bathing yukata robe. And, with a large bathing area of over 3,300 square meters and open air baths, you’ll be in bathing heaven. Gazing out on the scenic Kinko Bay, enjoy a relaxing stay in Ibusuki.

Chiran – imbued with serenity and grace

Chiran, with its vast tea plant fields expanding out from Kagoshima Prefecture Route 34 (Makurazaki Chiran Route)… The sight of red tea plucking machines rushing around amongst the plush green of the fields like red dragonflies is one of Chiran’s charming local sights. Chiran is called the “Little Kyoto of Satsuma,” and even now old samurai mansions with beautiful plant hedges and stone walls remain standing. The frugal modesty of samurai households can be felt from the beautifully trimmed hedges atop stone walls.