Considering it’s not a city that gets a lot of publicity, certainly in the west anyway, Kagoshima is remarkably well geared for tourism. The small airport is laden with English leaflets and brochures promoting the city’s many tourist attractions – and there’s certainly plenty.
Even without the gigantic active volcano on its doorstep, Kagoshima has a lot to keep a visitor entertained in and around the city. The city itself makes for a great stroll with lots of little side streets ripe for exploring. The harbour front is great and I was even lucky enough to make friends with some playful dolphins. Shrines and parks are scattered around the city also and make for relaxing people watching spots. For a more active viewpoint, a 20 minute easy hike up Mount Shiroyama presents you with a fantastic panoramic of Kagoshima and Sakurajima. Because I was travelling during summer, there weren’t many days when I could get a clear view of the volcano due to haze but, luckily, on the evening I hiked up Shiroyama I got a reasonably good view.
Many of the other sights are further out of the city but are easily accessible by foot, or on one of the many buses from Kagoshima Chuo station or by train. The city view bus has a number of routes in and around the city. One of the most popular tourist destinations on the outskirts of Kagoshima is the Sengan-en garden to the north. It was fantastic to finally visit an authentic Japanese garden and this site is pretty big and great to wander round. It’s 1000 JPY (around £7) to get in and this also gets you entry to two nearby museums. It was such a relaxing place, even if I was absolutely drenched in sweat. The garden has a cafe, some fantastic views of Sakurajima and an information board which handily tells you why the British call satsumas satsumas. It’s supposed to be especially beautiful during cherry blossom season but then, isn’t everything?
The garden is the final stop on the city view tourist bus or you can reach it, as I did, by walking about an hour out of the city. This allowed me to pass a great little park and chill for a while at Iso Beach, a small beach again with fantastic views of Sakurajima and beautifully warm water in summer.
Further up from Sengan-en, but not on the tourist bus route, is a park I loved even more. Yoshino Park is a huge open space, again supposedly at its prime in spring, which was almost completely deserted when I got there. For some reason it’s not promoted so much as a tourist attraction so I had to take a local bus to get there. From Kagoshima Chuo station I boarded bus #3 at stand 3 and alighted at the final stop (fare 320 JPY). Coming back, the buses ran about every hour. It’s the number 27 bus that goes back to the city and, for some reason it’s much cheaper at 100 JPY. The local buses are a bit of an experience with the most confusing, constantly changing fare chart at the front that I really couldn’t get my head round.
Yoshino Park is free to get in and so well maintained with ample room for picnicking and/or chilling. The highlight is the viewpoint right at the back. Because of its high vantage point, Yoshino commands the best view of Sakurajima I was able to get on the mainland. Especially in summer, much of the haze blows over into Kagoshima so the city itself isn’t always the best viewpoint. With Yoshino being further out, I got a much clearer view of Sakurajima and other spots around Kyushu. I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Another day trip I took was to Ibusuki at the southernmost tip of Kyushu. Local trains run frequently from Kagoshima Chuo station and no pre-booking is required. I just rocked up and bought a ticket from the vending machine. The fare each way is 1000 JPY and the journey took around 1 hour 20 minutes. Whilst it wasn’t the bullet train experience many have in Japan (the train looked more Northern Rail) it was still fantastic to be riding the train in Japan, especially with the sweeping coastal views this ride gave me. The schedule for the trains can be found here. I think the times might have changed slightly but only by a couple of minutes.
There’s not a whole lot in Ibusuki. Its most famous attraction is being buried in hot sand to soothe the body, though I was already sweltering enough. About a half an hour walk from the station is a great little coastal seaside walk which leads onto Chiringashima island, a small island which is only accessible via a narrow sand path for a few hours a day half the year. Unfortunately it had already been swamped by the choppy waves when I got there but it was still cool to see and a breezy seaside walk gave me a welcome reminder of home, albeit much warmer. You’re best off grabbing food around the station area in Ibusuki because there’s pretty much nothing except endless drinks machines once you walk elsewhere.
I spent 6 days in Kagoshima and, whilst I took things slowly as I wanted a holiday from the Hong Kong hustle and bustle, I was never once bored. Between its fantastic food scene, wealth of attractions and incredible natural wonders, Kagoshima is more than a match for the other amazing destinations Japan has to offer.