Kagoshima is well known for her Kurobuta pork and also black wagyu beef that you supposedly can’t get anywhere else. So basically, I had to sightsee in between to ensure I am able to stomach all the best food Kagoshima has to offer.
The one thing that is most obvious when you are in Kagoshima is Sakurajima volcano. It’s still an active volcano and you can see smoke on most days. In fact, when I was there, there was quite a lot of smoke as the day I went to the island was rather ‘cloudy’, caused by the ash.
Sakurajima volcano is huge and easily reached by ferry from Kagoshima ferry terminal near the aquarium. The ferry runs 24 hours and during the peak hours, it runs about 3-4 every hour. It only costs 160 one way and if you don’t want to hike to the observatory, you can buy the 500 yen ticket that gives you discounted ferry rides (130 yen) as well as free unlimited rides on the Sakurajima city view bus which brings you to the main attractions. You can buy the pass when you arrive at the Sakurajima as you only the fare on Sakurajima island.
One of the most important things to do on Sakurajima island is to soak in the magma onsen, famous for its healing abilities. You can choose the free foot onsen just 10 minutes walk from the ferry terminal. I recommend doing this at sunset so you can soak your feet while you see the sun set against Kagoshima. The lava trail which is a coastal walk is also an amazing thing to do an hour before sunset so you can finish it and then walk back to soak your feet, which I did.
If you need more healing, which I do and I love onsens, check yourself into the rainbow onsen just a short walk away from the ferry terminal too! It’s only 360 yen and you can rent a towel there to soak to your hearts content. There is also a sauna that revitalizes you and a low frequency water bath. If you bought the Sakurajima day pass, it’s discounted and the bus also stops you here.
The Yunohira Observatory is the highest point of the volcano where you can get a wonderful view of the whole island and it’s also one of the stops of the bus. I contemplated hiking up as it takes about 2 hours but decided against it as it was mid day and really hot. Plus you also hike on the roads that cars drive on. The observatory gives you a very good view of the active smoking volcano and it’s a a must do here.
There are other observatories but none is as high as this one. I stopped at 2 others in the middle and just waited for the bus to hop onto the next stop.
If you have more time, take the local bus to see the buried shrine on the far side of the island. I didn’t do that as I wanted more time soaking and relaxing in the onsen. I also brought along snacks as there were not a lot of places open for eating as it’s not high season as yet.
One of the special things to eat here on Sakurajima is the sweet potato, daikon and the mandarins which are very sweet. There is a farmers market near the ferry terminal as well where you can buy these produce. You can also eat the ice cream made from these produce! I tried the strawberry ones.
Remember to stay for the sunset as it’s gorgeous and take the evening ferry back for the night view of Kagoshima.
On Kagoshima mainland, one of the most beautiful and famous gardens is Senganen. The garden has the annual poetry recital held in the most well preserved gardens in Japan right here in Senganen. The entry ticket comes with the museum and house visit if you like. The house is large and beautiful and it shows you how the Shimadzu family used to live. The Shimadzu family by the way, is one of the most powerful samurai family who conquered and united the whole of southern Kyushu.
You can hike up the shrines to see where the warlords used to contemplate and strategize and rest. The shrines are no longer there but the views from there of Sakurajima and Kinko Bay is amazing. If you come in the evening, the route for the hike closes at 4pm.
Before you hike, do remember to eat the very delicious mochi with miso and soy. You can mix the 2 flavors like I did.
Senganen also has a very cute cat shrine, where you can pray for the health and longevity of your cats, which I did. History has it that lord Shimadzu used his 7 cats to tell the time. Their eyes will tell him with accuracy what time of day it is during his battles. In his 7 year battle with Korea, which he won, 2 of his cats survived and came home with him and thus, they were enshrined here when they died. I guess he was a cat lover and not a dog because guess what sport they engage in? The warlords used to compete on who can shoot the fastest running dogs with their arrows while they’re on a horse, and apparently they’re very good at that. No dog shrines found here, unfortunately.
I did the Shiroyama Park on the first evening I arrived in the hope of catching the sunset but it rained on me and also, after i did Sakurajima, I realized it sets behind me. 😂 The shiroyama observatory boasts great views of the Sakurajima volcano and also night views if you stay late enough. I hiked up and down Shiroyama as it was pretty near my hotel and the trail was steep but lovely as it boasts a lot of tropical trees. It wasn’t too difficult either.
If you get the 500 yen Kagoshima city view bus pass, you can go to the observatory, a museum and Senganen on the same day making your pass worth it. I only paid 320 yen both ways for my trip to and from Senganen
If you love shopping, there is a shopping stretch in Tenmonkan right in the heart of town. There are a lot of restaurants, shops, cafes selling Kagoshima food and it’s lively at night.
And now for the food!
On my first night, I ate a buffet meal of Kagoshima Kurobuta and Kagoshima black beef wagyu. I found Zen Shabu on my way walking back from Shiroyama observatory. It’s close to the Central Park. The shabu shabu and sukiyaki combo with said meat is only 8500 yen. Very good value considering I ate 2 large plates of pork and 3 plates of beef. The same amount of food would have cost me 3 times the price in Singapore or Hong Kong and the quality is superb!!
On the second day, I ate snacks for brunch as I spent the whole day in Sakurajima.
In the evening, I headed to a Beef yakiniku place called 中山亭, the cows have won awards and it seemed pretty crowded with locals. The beef was really good. In the stretch where it was on, there are also many izakaya restaurants that you can choose from that seemed pretty crowded too! Another good beef place I saw that was crowded was Gyudo, which I believe is a chain.
After my yakiniku, I headed to the food village near my hotel. That food village is a cluster of Yatais put together, very much like our food court. The vibe is amazing and so was the food. I tried the chicken skin and Torisashi, which is raw chicken sashimi, a specialty in Kagoshima and also the sweet potato sochu, satsuma Shochu, served with hot spring water, apparently the best eat to drink it.
The next day, I had Tontoro ramen, the best ramen broth so far and the best pork too as it’s so soft it melts in your mouth and I’m sure the broth has lots of bone in it as it was super thick and tasty. I had the char siew ramen and forgot to add the egg. It’s near the Kagoshima Chuo station, the same street where I found the yakiniku place.
I went to the food village again for my second lunch before I leave Kagoshima and tried another yakitori place called Lava skewer that was super crowded at lunch. The Kurobuta skewer was delicious as was the herring.
I decided I need to eat the tonkatsu here too and the simmered pork soft bones so I went to another stall called Nanshu Nojo. The summer pork was amazing and the pork loin was already sold out so I had the minced pork and that was amazing too.
I love love love Kagoshima for her famed meats and gardens and her gorgeous sunset at the healing onsens. I was so glad I made my way down to this gem of a place
I am headed back to Kumamoto from Kagoshima on the Shinkansen so my next blog will be on Kumamoto!
Till then, eat, sleep, explore, repeat!
Stella goes west