Kagoshima: THE POLAR BEAR, THE SAMURAI AND THE VOLCANO
This January we had the opportunity to stay for a few days in Kagoshima city, Kagoshima prefecture. If you want to explore Kyushu then definitely add this city to the list.
Where is Kagoshima? Located at the south-western tip of the island of Kyushu, Kagoshima is a 1 hour and 40 minute shinkansen-ride from Fukuoka.
Upon approach the view becomes dominated by the impressive volcano, Sakurajima, which has erupted as recently as February 5th 2016, but most days will send up monstrous clouds of ash into the sky. To reach the volcano you can take a short 15 minute ferry ride to it's base and begin to make your ascent. Although the peak is off-limits there are several 'levels' up the volcano which are accessible and open for tourists (including a rather pleasant dinosaur-themed park). Around 7,000 people live in villages at the foot of the volcano and take advantage of the extremely fertile volcanic soil.
In 1877, Kagoshima played host to a poignant moment in Japanese history- the last stand of Saigo Takamori and the end of the Satsuma rebellion (see The Last Samurai for 'details'). Shiroyama is the name of the mountain where Takamori and the last of his 40 rebellious samurai were surrounded and killed by 2,400 imperial troops. Carved into the mountain still remain the caves in which the samurai made their camps.
Another important historical site in Kagoshima, a UNESCO world heritage site in fact, is Sengan-en. Built in 1658, this estate originally served as the residence for the Shimazu clan and eventually became a hub for the Meiji restoration and Japan's industrial revolution. Visitors are able to enjoy the vast gardens; the first moso bamboo grove in Japan; the Shimazu clan's traditional home; and the 2 museums on site which showcase the advances made in shipbuilding, coal mining, iron and steel works.
A popular attraction is the Ibusuki sand-baths and natural hot-spring. If you've ever wanted to be buried up to the neck in warm volcanic sand, with a stunning view of the ocean and surrounding mountains then this is the place for you. For 1000yen you'll be placed in a hole on the beach and have sand shoveled on top of you until you're paralyzed- what a bargain! Enjoy the sounds of the ocean, the heat of the sand and the company of friends. Once you've had enough, head to the hot-spring onsen to refresh and unwind.
What good would a trip to a new city be without trying the local cuisine? Kagoshima boasts a variety of Japanese delicacies that should not be missed: Unagi no sueyoshi is a restaurant renowned for it's grilled-eel lunch/dinner sets and lives up to the hype (please go and try some); Garufu Kagoshima Ramen sells a generous serving of tonkotsu ramen with their trademark thicker noodles; Juan Arata Honten is THE place to go for shabu shabu (thinly sliced meat and vegetables that you cook at the table in a delicious broth); and for dessert why not try out Shirokuma ("polar bear"), a cafe that serves the famous shaved-ice desserts from which the cafe derives it's name; or Satsuma Jokiya Kagashi Yokocho Doughnuts, a small shop tucked in the corner of a local crafted-goods market that offers a 'healthy' but still thoroughly tasty freshly made doughnut.