Kagoshima is a city in one of the southernmost regions of Japan, the southern tip of Kyushu. The city has a warmer climate than most Japanese cities because of its location but also because of the proximity of active volcano Sakurajima. If you do a cruise in the region of Japan, Kagoshima will often be one of the harbors where you will get off the boat, and also if you have Kyushu on your Japan tour itinerary this city is definitely worth a visit.
History of Kagoshima
Settlement of the area dates back to as long as 30.000 years ago, and traces of villages of around 9500 years ago have been found around Kagoshima. Because of the fertile volcanic ashes found widely in the area, agriculture has always been a large part of economic activity here. Civilization began around the 4th century when Japan was unified for the first time, and it was from the 13th century that the Shimazu feudal family started to rule the area that is today Kagoshima.
Because of its location next to the sea on one of the southernmost points of Japan, Kagoshima got in contact with foreigners early on from around the 16th century. It was here that guns and Christianity were introduced by the Portuguese at that time. Once the modernization of Japan started just before the Meiji period, Kagoshima happily adopted Western culture, and families from this area played a large role in the eventual overthrowing of the old government to truly start the Meiji Restoration.
What to See in Kagoshima
Most popular tourist attractions revolve around Sakurajima and Kagoshima’s history. The picture you see above was taken at a very famous lookout point in Kagoshima, Shiroyama Park. The view is not the only thing attracting people to this hill though; it is also the place where a legendary battle took place, the Satsuma Rebellion.
While that might not ring a bell for you, The Last Samurai most definitely will. The story of The Last Samurai movie is loosely based on what happened in the Satsuma Rebellion, and one of its main instigators’ character is quite similar to Ken Watanabe’s character.
There are also some good history-related museums in Kagoshima, here is a list of some of the best:
- Shoko Shuseikan; this museum is housed in the first factory in Japan that was opened halfway in the 19th century. The exhibition shows antique wares that belonged to the influential Shimazu family.
- Museum of the Meiji Restoration; this museum shows the important role people from Kagoshima have played at the end of the Edo period. There are some English explanations and the exhibition is quite interactive and kid-friendly.
- Reimeikan; if you want to learn more about the history of the area and Japan then just around the era of modernization, the Reimeikan will offer you a comprehensive overview of history from the New Stone Age until the 20th century.
Sakurajima is a volcano that is still active on a regular basis, so it is not always possible to cross over to the island, but if the volcano is not in a particularly active phase it is a must-do in Kagoshima. There are several ways to enjoy Sakurajima. Of course, the most common way to get there is by ferry, but if you want to make it a bit more of an adventure you can also paddle there in a canoe which takes around one hour one-way.
Tours that go there by canoe take around 3 hours. Once you are on the island, the hike to get to the main lookout point takes about 2 hours, so you have to plan accordingly. You should always check the level of the volcanic activity before you go.
Other Kagoshima Highlights
If you are coming during the warmer months and want to take a dip in the ocean, Iso Swimming Beach is the beach that is easiest to access from Kagoshima city. There are showers, toilets, changing rooms, and lockers for use. The beach can get crowded in July and August but is quieter during the rest of the season. If you get hungry, there are mochi (rice cake) snacks for sale around the beach.
The Sengan-en garden is one of Kagoshima’s highlights. The garden and its buildings belonged to the Shimazu family, and one of the garden’s most interesting features is how its background natural surroundings Sakurajima and the bay have been blended into the design of the garden. The often smoking volcano stands majestically in the background of this very well-kept garden that is 12 acres large. You can also enter the house where the family used to live, and see how the interior shows how internationally-minded the family was.
As for all Japanese regions, Kagoshima also has its local delicacies. The foods you should definitely try on your Kagoshima trip are products made with Satsuma sweet potatoes, tonkatsu made with delicious, sustainably bred Kurobuta pork, and sheared bonito sashimi. As for a Kagoshima specialty drink, do give the local shochu a try. It is made from locally sourced Satsuma sweet potatoes and really delicious when paired with fatty or fried food.
Diving in Kagoshima
Still an unknown location to foreign tourists and divers but absolutely worth the trek to Kagoshima for those with diving experience is Iojima, which is only one rocky ferry-ride away from Kagoshima city. Because of the active volcano, parts of the coast here consist of metallic rock that gives off a brown color to the water nearby. With the water looking opaque red-brown, it doesn’t look like a typical place to go diving.
For those who dare to make the dive, a surprise is waiting for them though. If you dive at the right time, the way the red water is separated from the bluer water and how the sunlight filters through make it look like you see aurora. That’s right, you can see the northern lights underwater! You can find more information (in Japanese) and pictures on this website, and here you can find out more about a tour to the area (in Japanese). If you don’t speak or read Japanese, we are happy to help you and arrange this diving experience for you. Please contact us if you have any questions or inquiries.
Izumi Crane Park
The Izumi Crane Park is a bit far away from Kagoshima, but as it is on the way to Kumamoto, tourists in Kyushu can easily make a pit stop in this special natural area. Cranes are usually associated with certain areas in Hokkaido, but they need to spend the winter in warmer climates. Izumi is the area in Japan that sees most migrating cranes in one place, as you can sometimes see over 10,000 individuals at the same time.
These cranes live in Siberia during the warmer months, but between October and December they migrate southwards and many of them end up in Izumi. They will stay there until March, and fly back to Russia once it gets warmer. There are 5 types of cranes that come to spend the winter in Izumi, and it is a joy to watch them when they are flying together, eating, and dancing. Cranes dance when they are courting each other for strengthening their bond, but also to assess each other as a rival. It is truly incredible to see them in the heat of the moment, synchronizing their movements in a beautiful dance.
Your Japan Tour
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Iojima (for diving)