The prefecture of Kagoshima, located in the far south of Kyushu, may not be the most well-known tourist destination in Japan but it certainly has a lot to offer visitors. Famous for its production of sweet potatoes, shochu, and green tea, Kagoshima is a friendly and welcoming place far removed from the hustle and bustle of bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka. So if you’re going to be in the area, here are four excursions you’re definitely going to want to try!
A trip to Kagoshima’s most iconic landmark, the active volcano, Sakurajima, is a must on any visitor’s checklist. Erupting over 800 times a year, it spreads characteristic black ash across the city and provides a dramatic backdrop across the bay.
For just 160 yen, you can take a 15-minute ferry over to the island and get a close-up look at the peaks from one of the observation points. There is an exclusion zone around the craters for safety, but you can still enjoy great views of both the volcano and Kagoshima City from here.
There’s also a beautiful hike of about three kilometers along the Nagisa Lava Trail, with a free 100-meter-long foot bath available at one end to soak your feet in afterwards.
The Sakurajima Island View Tour Bus runs in a loop around the main tourist attractions on the island, but visitors may find it preferable to hire a car and see things at their own pace.
This beautiful landscape garden is located along the coast just north of the city center. It has its own bus stop for easy access, or you can take a tram to the end of the line and walk for about 30 minutes to the entrance.
Once inside, guests can wander past a bamboo grove, stroll across bridges over ponds filled with koi fish, and admire the expertly-cared-for foliage. There’s also a special shrine dedicated to cats where you can hang up an adorable wooden plaque with wishes for your cat!
A hiking trail runs from the back of the garden up to two separate observation points higher up the hillside, which both provide spectacular views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay. The route is very straightforward and only takes about 20 minutes, so it is suitable even for absolute beginners.
If you buy the more expensive entrance ticket, you also get a guided tour of the Iso Residence in the center of the garden, where the Shimazu family who constructed the garden lived. The price includes a tea ceremony at the end of the tour. There is also a museum on site for those visitors who want to learn more about the history of the garden and the Shimazu family.
If you’re a keen hiker, you’ll absolutely love Mt. Kaimon. Known as “Satsuma Fuji” for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji, this dormant volcano stands at 924 meters and offers a unique trail to the top with no switchbacks or boring paved sections. The route involves climbing over exposed tree roots and scrambling over rocks, but the path is well marked and there are ropes, ladders, and steps in place to help you reach the summit.
The climb can be a bit tough in places, particularly if the weather is wet, so take your time and make use of the rest areas. It’s also advisable to bring plenty of food and water, as there are no water sources on the route (although there are a couple of vending machines at the campsite at the foot of the mountain). The view that awaits you is well worth the effort, and on clear days, you can see all the way to Yakushima and other nearby islands.
One thing to bear in mind is that getting to Mt. Kaimon can be a bit of a mission. There are only a few trains per day that stop at the nearest station (Kaimon) so you will need to plan your schedule in advance. Of course, taking a taxi to/from a bigger station in the area is also an option.
Looking for something unique to do whilst in Kagoshima? Then you have to try out a sand onsen! The town of Ibusuki, a 1,000-yen train ride south of Kagoshima, is one of the most famous places where you can experience a sand bath. We visited the SARAKU Sand Bath Hall, which is about one kilometer from Ibusuki Station and offers clean and professional facilities.
When you arrive, you are given a yukata to change into and a small towel to go around your head when you are lying in the sand. Free lockers are available for your belongings, but if you take a phone or camera down to the beach with you, the staff are more than happy to take a photo for you as a free memento.
After changing, head out to the beach and the staff will indicate where you should lie down. They then systematically cover you in sand! I’ll admit it’s a bit disconcerting to hear people shoveling sand so close to your head, and you might feel as if you’re being buried alive at first, but this is one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had in Japan!
The sand is naturally heated by the volcanic steam below so it feels really warm, and the weight of the sand on top of your body is surprisingly comfortable. It’s also meant to be really good for your skin, which is always a plus! After 10 to 20 minutes, you free yourself from the sand cocoon (carefully – you may feel lightheaded), rinse off, and relax once more in the traditional onsen inside.
These four activities are a great start to planning your Kagoshima trip. And with other notable towns like Kirishima, Kumamoto, and Yakushima Island nearby, you’re sure to have a fantastic time!