Just outside of Kagoshima City lies an active volcano, Sakurajima. When visiting the city, you will definitely see it, or at least see the effect it has on its surroundings. Sometimes, it plumes ash up into the air that floats down into the city, coating everything with a fine layer of black dust. Whilst the term “active volcano” may seem scary, many people still visit the volcano every day as it is perfectly safe to do so and it has a wealth of activities and attractions. Here are 10 of them!
Sakurajima is actually an island volcano, cut off from the mainland except for having a narrow strip of land not big enough to cross. In order to get there, you have to get a ferry from the Kagoshima Port. Whilst on this 15-minute ferry over the still waters of Kagoshima Bay, you can get a wonderful snack. On board the ship, there is a tiny noodle bar that serves a specialty udon that can only be purchased on the ferry. You can slurp down your noodles as you look out for dolphins in the water and view the approaching volcanic island.
If you are lucky enough, you might get to see the volcano erupt before you get to the island. You can see the entire volcano from the port before you get on the ferry. Watching the black cloud rise into the sky is quite ominous, but don’t be surprised if the locals barely pay it any notice.
In this mini-museum, you can experience Sakurajima’s powerful eruptions visually and aurally. Shortly after disembarking the ferry, you can either hop on a bus tour of the island or head over to some of the attractions near the Sakurajima Port. One of the closest spots of interest is a Visitor Center that houses a small museum all about the history of the volcano complete with models and a cute little gift shop. The museum largely focuses on the last great eruption in 1914 when the island was evacuated and the lava swallowed several smaller islands, creating a narrow strip of land connecting the island to the mainland. There has not been a stronger eruption in Japan since.
After you’ve learned about the history of the Sakurajima, you can enjoy some of its natural beauty in the outdoor foot baths of the Lava Nagisa Park. Warmed by the volcanic activity, this bath of water feels like a revitalizing spa for your feet. The volcanic water is rumored to have healing properties and whilst you’re soaking them up, you can either look upon the volcano or out at the bay with Kagoshima City sprawled out before you.
If you thought the foot bath sounded good, you’re going to love this. Sakurajima has its own onsen that people travel from miles away to use. You can either go in the normal onsen water and enjoy a relaxing soak, or you can submerge yourself in the volcanic healing elixir that has been warmed by the magma under the ground. This spot is particularly popular with locals who swear by its healing abilities.
Now that you have experienced the easy-to-get-to attractions on the island, it might be time for remoter ones that the island boasts. All the way around the island is the famous Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate. The gate was buried during the eruption in 1914. Its bottom half was swallowed by lava and ash that was so thick, it formed a new surface for the island. But once the lava had cooled, protruding from the new ground, at about a meter high, stood the very top of the gate. It’s quite an interesting sight and a popular photo destination for many tourists.
The Yunohira Observatory is the highest point of the volcano where visitors can get a wonderful view of the whole island. There is a dedicated viewing platform that is an excellent spot to see the natural scenery and sweeping valleys. Along the way, there are several other photogenic locations where you can see the volcano from.
You can also see the power that lies beneath this mighty volcano from the Arimura Lava Observatory. If you’re lucky, you might get to hear the sound of the eruption from here as the observatory is very close to the Showa crater where the volcano magic is centered. Here, you will also have a chance to stroll along a landscape known as the “lava fields” with bizarre rock formations caused by the volcanic activity.
All of the rich volcanic ash on the island means that the Japanese residents can grow some really delicious food in the fertile soil. The island has its own local fruit delicacy called the Sakurajima komikan, or Sakurajima small mandarin orange, which is famous for its small size. These little mandarins are often likened to eggs because they are around the same size. The locals process them into sweet treats such as candy and jam and even incorporate them into udon noodles. Most importantly, the islanders make mikan flavored ice cream. This is a Sakurajima specialty and is a must-try. A place where you can try these is at the Hinoshima Megumikan Rest Stop on the island.
Once you have finished all of these fun activities and taken in the majesty of Sakurajima, you might think you’ve gotten everything you can out of this island, but I have saved the best until last.
The Sakurajima Nature Dinosaur Park is a bizarre theme park located on Sakurajima. I used the phrase “theme park,” but a more accurate term would be “a park that is themed.” This stop off point, that can be walked to or traveled to by bus, is a rather large park sat upon a very steep hill. At the top of this hill, there is a spectacular view from a mostly abandoned viewing station and a large park filled with climbing frames and giant styrofoam dinosaurs.
There are all sorts of dinosaurs, some ranging to almost six meters tall. Amongst these multicolored dinosaurs are other models of animal, such as a panda and a lion. All of the creatures have such twisted expressions that this park is undoubtedly unique and an unmissable experience for anyone seeking weird Japan. In this park, you will also find a dramatically tall slide higher than 10 meters.
All in all, Sakurajima is a beautiful and fun holiday destination. It has different foods and activities ranging from exciting and very odd parks to relaxing hot springs. There is something for everybody and you can explore the whole island in just one day.