A bay city with a nearby volcano, Kagoshima is a beautiful and rather unique Japanese city. The volcano, Sakurajima, is still active and thus erupts rather frequently. 1914 was perhaps its largest recorded eruption and covered the city in ash, including a torii on the volcano’s island. Its remarkable landscapes make Kagoshima City a destination well worth visiting.
Getting There and Around
Skymark is probably your best bet if you want to leave Friday evening. Their flight departs at 17:30 from Kobe Airport compared to Peach’s 19:00 departure from KIX. The extra hour it takes to get to KIX negates most of the hour-and-a-half time difference between the two, and it’s significantly more expensive to get to and from KIX than Kobe Airport. Skymark also has a 19:30 return flight Sunday night, which I found very convenient.
Once in Kagoshima, there are ferries and flat fare trams that can get you to most of the interesting places around the city. Definitely get the 1- or 2-day Welcome Cute pass for unlimited rides on these forms of transportation, as well as a couple discounts on attractions. These include the Magma Onsen on Sakurajima and the Fairy Tale Museum. Passes can be purchased near Kagoshima Chou Station, Tenmonkan, and the ferry terminals between Kagoshima and Sakurajima.
Where to Stay
Green Guesthouse is fairly conveniently located about a ten minute walk from Tenmonkan, Kagoshima’s liveliest neighborhood. You have to ask to use the lockers, but then you get to pick your own combination. The staff and the price were both nice.
Kagoshima’s most iconic landmark is easily Sakurajima. When I visited, it hadn’t erupted for several months. This worried the residents. Three weeks later, mere hours after my second year students left following the conclusion of their class trip, lava spewed forth and was joined by lightning, leading to some very spectacular views. When not blowing its top off, there are many things to do on the island.
For a rather packed, though very doable schedule, first take the bus out to Kurokami, a torii gate that’s been buried in ash. Keep in mind that the driver will probably think you’re confused and yell at you that it’s the wrong bus. You have to transfer once to get out there, and there’s not a whole lot else, but it is interesting and there’s an entertaining sign nearby. After your return trip, board the local (correct) sightseeing bus. It stops at several viewpoints from which you can observe Sakurajima and Kagoshima. The slight pressure of taking good enough pictures in the (sometimes extremely short) allotted time makes it seem like a game, which I took great joy in. Back near the ferry terminal, venture out to the Magma Onsen and soak to your heart’s content. The magma heated bath was too much for my fragile skin, however, so beware.
A manageable walk and hike from the city hall tram stop (even for me and my bum knee) is Shiroyama. If you trust your luck and old Japanese ladies enough, you may be offered a ride up by one parked by the side of the road. We are cautious folk, so we awkwardly just kept walking toward our unexpected incline. From the top, you can look out over the city with the volcano offering an attractive backdrop, on one condition: if the weather is relatively clear and sunny. A Japanese woman (potentially the same as your ride-offerer) may approach you and teach you about some of the city’s history, gift you with origami and “Kagoshima’s famous food” (but only pictured on a bag of ash), and try to take you home with her for tea.
I didn’t get the chance to visit any of them, but Kagoshima is home to more than its fair share of museums. You can get slight discounts at several of these with the Welcome Cute pass. The Kagoshima City Museum of Art is highly regarded on the interwebz, though I was personally more intrigued by the “Marchen” Fairy Tale Museum. This is especially true now that they have a special cat exhibition until July.
Last Minute Points
-Kagoshima is famous for its しゃぶしゃぶ, but we instead opted to eat at the pizzeria, L’Oro di Napoli, with a wood-fire oven imported from Italy. Their business cards are ingenious and we were surprised we’d never seen any similar to it before.
-On Tenmonkan, there is a vending machine of crepes. Avoid them if you dislike whipped cream.
-Senganen was on my list and is heralded as a must-see. Don’t make my same mistake of running out of time.
Go, drink, be merry. One weekend might not be enough time to see everything you want, but it is rather economical. I, myself, would love to get back out there once again.