By Kane Pride
Kagoshima. Let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first place you would think of visiting when COVID-19 clears up. However, both the city and prefecture are one of the most underrated locations in the entire country. Nestled away in the southernmost region of Kyushu, Kagoshima has plenty to offer those willing to make the trip. From hiking the volcanic island, Sakurajima, to relaxing in the hot sand baths of Ibusuki, to shopping up and down the streets of Tenmonkan, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re interested, then getting to Kagoshima can be done via nearly every mode of transportation. Flying in by plane? The airport is only 40 minutes outside the city center. Once you land, a limousine bus service can take you downtown for 1,300 yen. That being said, if you’re in Nagasaki, then I would recommend driving or taking the train instead.
The train will get you there in roughly 3.5hrs from Nagasaki Station, but requires you to transfer at Shin-Tosu station and costs about 14,000 yen. Driving from Nagasaki city takes 4.5hrs on average by highway. While this might be a bit of a slog for some, it pays off given how much freedom you will have upon arriving. This is doubly true for exploring Sakurajima. Having a car there will make your experience considerably better.
As the most famous attraction in Kagoshima, Sakurajima is also the most visible. The active volcano towers 1117 meters high and spans over 50km in area. Getting to the volcano is simple and cheap. There is a 24/7 ferry running from the city port to the volcanic island at 15- minute intervals. It costs 200 yen per person and about 1,400 yen for the average sized kei car, one way. Once you get there, you’ll see that Sakurajima is all about nature. On the Nagisa lava trail, you can hike for three kilometers and take in the vines, grasses and other plants growing wild across the volcanic soil. At the end of the trail, you can rest your feet in the naturally heated foot baths while gazing out at the Kagoshima skyline.
If you plan to go elsewhere on the island, this is when you’ll want to have a car. The bus schedule is fairly irregular, and it’s not fun to ride if you’re dealing with summer heat. With a car, you can easily access sites like the Yunohira observation point, the highest point you’re legally allowed to climb on the volcano; the Kurokami shrine gate, which is buried up to its top by volcanic ash; and other nature trails. Driving around the entire island can be done in about an hour, which I would recommend if you went through the trouble of bringing a car.
After a day of hiking, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite. When it comes to dining in Kagoshima, I recommend trying kurobuta (black pork). The fried pork cutlet I had from Kurokatsu Tei was the juiciest, tastiest tonkatsu I’ve had in my life. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth good, and came at a reasonable price, too. They also throw in a pork bone based soup as a side on top of the normal fare. If you’re a fan of all things pork, then this restaurant is a must visit when you’re in the city.
One of the things that struck me most about Kagoshima was how much space there was. Compared with Nagasaki, Kagoshima reminded me of the U.S. in terms of how open things were. The roads were wide, the cars you saw on the street were big, and the stores were massive. If you plan on shopping, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with choice. Kagoshima is a growing city and it shows. One of the super centers that stood out during my visit was a place called “N’s City.” This shopping center was like a fortress filled from top to bottom with everything you could imagine. N’s had fresh grocers, home improvement stores, pet shops, bakeries, gaming centers and even car dealerships inside. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, you can probably live inside of this place for years before running out of stuff. Give this place a visit if you can.
The last thing that deserves special mention is Ibusuki. While Ibusuki lies about an hour outside of Kagoshima city itself, you won’t regret checking out the Saraku Sand Bath Hall. At this onsen, the staff members will bury you up to your neck in heated sand. The sand gets warmed directly by the natural onsen water. Once you’re packed in, you can stay under for up to ten minutes. If it gets too hot, you can stand up and leave at any time. Going from piping hot sand to the cold pool in the onsen was pretty invigorating, and with a price tag of 1,100 yen, Saraku should be on everybody’s list.
While Kagoshima might not have the same appeal as more famous cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Fukuoka, it still has plenty going for it. This hidden gem features great museums, a decently sized aquarium, amazing restaurants and lots of vibrant nature. Head to the southernmost region of mainland Japan and check out Kagoshima once the pandemic is over.