Done in a day: Kagoshima

I don’t go through my old photos nearly as often as I should. There are a lot of gems in there, and many of them fill me with a rush of nostalgia. The other day I was browsing through my summer vacation photos and I stumbled across when I spent a week or so in Kyushu, an island south of Honshu in Japan that is home to boatloads of delicious food and sightseeing places that people rarely manage to put on their “to see” lists when coming to Japan.

The first time I heard about Kagoshima was when a student told me, proudly, that he was from there. When I told him that I’d be sure to visit, pride turned to dismay as he asked me why on earth I’d bother.

The second time I heard about it, I was walking with a friend in the summer heat in Kyoto. We’d stopped at a convenience store for ice cream, and while I’d gone for a cone, she had opted for a cup of Shirokuma which originated from, you guessed it, Kagoshima. And just like that, I had a reason to visit.

Not that frozen treats are the only reason to go–far from it! If you’re a fan of history, it’s the home of a samurai named Saigo Takamori. Sakurajima, an active volcano, can also be seen from Kagoshima. There’s also the aforementioned boatloads of delicious food. Let’s dive into it, shall we?

I took the bus from Fukuoka to Kagoshima. If you do the same, it’ll take you roughly 4.5 hours, and cost about 5,000 yen one-way. I used this website (English available) to make a reservation and it all went pretty smoothly! You can also take the train or fly in, but those methods will undoubtedly cost you more. Then again, if you’re short on time, it can be a life-saver, so choose your adventure wisely! Kagoshima 01.jpg

As I got to Kagoshima just in time for lunch, one of the very first things I did was try out their Black Pork (黒豚)in a lunch set with some greens and rice. You can have it in ramen, as katsu, etc. The meat is very tender, and it definitely filled me up after a long bus ride and an early morning.

Once full, I got myself on a little local bus and headed up to Shiroyama Observatory. While you have to pay for the bus, the observation point, up on a small mountain, is free, and you can wander around as you like once there. You can get some good views of the city and also of Sakurajima. It was a beautiful day, albeit a little hazy, and I enjoyed the fact that the observation area was shady so we could stay somewhat cool. Kagoshima 02 small

But no time to lose; I only spent about thirty minutes up there, though I wish I’d been around a bit longer as there are some little hiking paths. But I really wanted to check out the next place, Sengan’en Garden (仙巌園). This is another great spot for viewing Sakurajima (and Kagoshima Bay in general), but the gardens themselves are lovely, too. Originally constructed in 1658, it costs a whopping 1,000 yen to enter, which is unusually pricey for any place that’s not in Kyoto or Tokyo! Kagoshima 03

Still, I would say that it was worth it. There are lots of little walking paths within the gardens, and plenty to see beyond the bay area. There’s a nice mix of western and Japanese-style buildings, cherry blossoms, and much, much more. I spent a good two hours or so just sitting and enjoying the scenery. My favorite points were the bamboo grove–which reminded me of the grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto–and the mini crabs you could spot in the streams around the garden!

Of course, after all that I couldn’t be in Kagoshima without checking out the first Shirokuma shop, which was in a very easily accessible shopping arcade. It’s impossible to miss–there are polar bears absolutely everywhere! You can dine-in or take out, and the servings are massive compared to the little cups you get at the convenience store. I opted for take-out, as the sun was setting and my feet were beginning to remind me of how much I’d done in the day. Kagoshima 05-1

Is there more to see in Kagoshima? Sure! I didn’t make it to the Aquarium or the Kagoshima Reimeikan Museum, both of which are recommended sites for the city. But I got to see a lot of beautiful places in a short amount of time, and try some very tasty food to boot, so I’m pretty satisfied with my day there.

Especially as, the day after, I took to Yakushima for an overnight trip! Stay tuned for that.

What day trips have you done lately?

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