With ties to Naples, Italy, as its sister city, Kagoshima bills itself the "Naples of the Orient." That's perhaps stretching things a bit, but Kagoshima is balmy most of the year and even has its own Mount Vesuvius: Mount Sakurajima, an active volcano across Kinko Bay that has erupted 30 times through recorded history and continues to puff steam into the sky and occasionally cover the city with fine soot and ash. In 1914, Sakurajima had a whopper of an eruption and belched up 3 billion tons of lava. When the eruption was over, the townspeople were surprised to discover that the flow was so great it now blocked the 500m-wide (1,700-ft.) channel separating the volcano from a neighboring peninsula; Sakurajima, which had once been an island, was now part of the mainland.
Magnificent from far away and impressive if you're near the top, Sakurajima can be visited by ferry, which departs from the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal. The terminal is about an 8-minute walk from downtown Kagoshima or the Shiyakusho-mae streetcar stop, or a 2-minute walk from the Kagoshima Suizokukan-mae/Sakurajima-sanbashi City View bus stop. Ferries run 24 hours, departing every 10 to 15 minutes during the day and about once an hour through the night. The 15-minute trip to Sakurajima costs ¥150 for adults, ¥80 for children. Upon reaching Sakurajima, stop off at the small tourist counter (tel. 099/293-4333; daily 8:30am-5pm) in the ferry terminal for a map of the island and information about buses to Furusato Onsen and beyond.
There are lava fields with walking paths near Sakurajima's ferry pier. The Nagisa Lava Trail is a 3km (1 3/4-mile) trail that starts near the pier and travels past huge lava boulders and pine trees (many, unfortunately, dying of disease). From the nearby Sakurajima Visitor Center (tel. 099/293-2443), with displays relating the history and natural history of Sakurajima, longer trails lead to the Karasujima Observation Point.
Another fun thing to do on Sakurajima is visit Furusato Onsen, at the Furusato Kanko Hotel (tel. 099/221-3111), with open-air hot-spring baths set amid lava rocks right beside the sea. It has an indoor 25m (82-ft.) lap pool heated with hot-spring water, and indoor hot-spring baths with windows overlooking the bay. You wear your swimsuit in the pools but should completely disrobe and wear only the provided white cotton yukata when using the outdoor bath (an English-language handout provides guidelines). Furosato Onsen is open to visitors daily 8am to 8pm. Note, however, that various parts of the onsen are closed for cleaning on different days of the week: The outdoor bath is closed Monday and Thursday until 3pm; the indoor hot-spring bath is closed Wednesday until 2pm; and the indoor hot-spring pool is closed Wednesday and Thursday until noon. Admission is ¥1,050 including yukata; bring your own towel or buy one for another ¥210. You can reach Furusato Onsen by taking the free Furusato Kanko Hotel shuttle bus departing daily from the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal every 30 minutes from 8:45am to 5pm (no service 12:20-2:20pm). Otherwise, take the Kagoshima Kotsu Bus that departs daily once an hour from the ferry terminal, costing ¥290 for the 15-minute trip.
Guided Tours of Sakurajima -- Because Sakurajima is sparsely populated with only limited public transportation, you might want to join one of two tours operating daily that visit lava fields, lookout points (including the Yunohira lookout point halfway up the volcano), a shrine half-buried in lava, and other sights. The JR Kyushu Bus 6-hour tour for ¥4,000 combines city sights and Sakurajima (tel. 099/247-5244), while the 3 1/2-hour Sakurajima Nature Sightseeing Tour costs ¥2,200 (tel. 099/257-2111). Buses depart from Kagoshima Chuo Station East 9 and East 8 platforms, respectively. Children pay half fare.
Evening Cruises -- One of the most popular ways to enjoy summer nights in Kagoshima is on a boat cruise of Kinko Bay, offered mid-July through August every evening from 7 to 9pm (except for a few days during Obon in mid-Aug), the highlight of which are fireworks over the water. Boats depart from the Kagoshima side of the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal and charge ¥1,000 for adults, half fare for children. Call tel. 099/293-2525 for more information.
Whereas Sakurajima, rising dramatically out of the bay, is Kagoshima's best-known landmark, Sengan-en, 9700-1 Yoshino-cho (tel. 099/247-1551), is its most widely visited attraction. The grounds of a countryside villa, it's a garden laid out more than 300 years ago by the Shimadzu clan, incorporating Sakurajima and Kinko Bay into its design scheme in a principle known as borrowed landscape. There's a lovely grove of bamboo, a waterfall located a 30-minute walk up a nature trail with good views over the bay, and the requisite pond, but my favorite is a particularly idyllic spot where the 21st lord of the Shimadzu family held famous poem-composing garden parties. Guests seated themselves on stones beside a gently meandering rivulet and were requested to have completed a poem by the time a cup filled with sake came drifting by on the tiny brook. Ah, those were the days! Today it remains Japan's only garden with its original kyokusui (poem-composing garden) still intact.
The good life is also apparent in the Iso Residence, which was built as a villa by the Shimadzu clan about 350 years ago and became the family's main residence when the Meiji Restoration made feudal lords obsolete. Now only one-third its original size, the stately manor can be viewed by joining a tour conducted every 20 minutes and given in Japanese only (but with an English-language information sheet). You'll see 11 of the villa's 25 rooms, including a bedroom, a bathroom, a dressing room, living quarters, and reception rooms; throughout are furnishings and artifacts that once belonged to the Shimadzu clan. Ceremonial green tea and a sweet are included with the tour, served in a room with a view of an inner pond and garden. The 32nd generation of the Shimadzu family, incidentally, now resides in Kagoshima.
A must after visiting the garden, and included in the admission price to Sengan-en, is the Shoko Shuseikan Museum, located next to the garden. Built in the mid-1850s as Japan's first industrial factory, it houses items relating to the almost 700-year history of the Shimadzu clan, including family heirlooms ranging from lacquerware to tea-ceremony objects, palanquins used to carry Shimadzu lords back and forth to Edo (present-day Tokyo; the trip from Kagoshima took 40-60 days), everyday items used by the family, and photographs. An exhibit explores southern Kyushu's role in maritime trade and the scope of the Shuseikan Project in its manufacture of cannons, textiles, and other products. In all, you'll probably spend at least 2 hours seeing everything, especially if you stop off at souvenir shops selling Satsuma glassware, pongee silk, and other Kagoshima products.
Sengan-en and the Shoko Shuseikan Museum are open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm (to 5:20pm in winter); Iso Residence is open daily from 9am to 4:40pm (last tour). Admission to Sengan-en and Shoko Shuseikan Museum is ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for children. Tours of the residence are an extra ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children. To reach Sengan-en, which is on the edge of town to the north, take a City View bus (30 min. from Kagoshima Chuo Station) to the Sengan-en-mae bus stop.
More To See & Do
Kagoshima City Aquarium (Suizoku-Kan Ioworld) -- This aquarium, within walking distance of downtown and located beside the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal at 3-1 Honko-Shinmachi (tel. 099/226-2233; daily 9:30am-6pm; you must enter by 5pm; closed first Mon in Dec and the following 4 days), concentrates on sea life from waters surrounding Kagoshima Prefecture. The largest tank is home to stingrays, bluefin tuna, Japanese anchovy, a whale shark, and other creatures from the Kuroshio (Black Current), which flows from the East China Sea past Kagoshima to the Pacific Ocean. Another tank contains squid, octopuses, the Japanese giant crab (the world's largest crab), and fish that inhabit the Kagoshima seas. Other highlights include the world's only display of tube worms (which inhabit the deep sea by hydrothermal vents), a 3-D movie of the surrounding seas, the world's largest eel, and a children's touch pool. Dolphins, which have access to open waters, are used only for educational shows (conducted in Japanese only). Expect to spend at least an hour here, more if you have kids. Admission is ¥1,500 for adults, ¥750 for junior-high and high-school students, and ¥350 for children. It's an 8-minute walk from the Suizokukan-guchi streetcar stop, or take a City View bus to the Kagoshima City Aquarium bus stop.
For an overview of Japanese history in general and Kagoshima Prefecture in particular, visit the Kagoshima Prefectural Museum of Culture (Reimeikan), 7-2 Shiroyama-cho (tel. 099/222-5100; Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; closed 25th of each month unless it falls on Sat or Sun). It occupies the former site of Tsurumaru Castle, of which only the stone ramparts and moat remain. Upon entering the museum, you'll walk over a glass floor above a map of Kagoshima Prefecture (much of it is islands). The museum then traces the history of the people of Kagoshima over the last 30,000 years, including the rise of the Shimadzu clan in the 11th century and Kagoshima's preeminence as a pottery center after Korean potters were brought here in the late 1500s. There are models of an 18th-century samurai settlement, Tsurumaru Castle, and, best of all, Tenmonkan-Dori as it might have looked 80 years ago. The second floor is devoted to folklore and everyday life with bambooware, festival objects, and farming and fishing implements. The third floor shows Satsuma swords, pottery, scrolls, and paintings and has a hands-on learning room for children with old-fashioned toys and samurai outfits that can be tried on. You'll spend about an hour here. Admission is ¥300 for adults, ¥190 for college and high-school students, and ¥120 for children. To reach it, take a City View bus to the Satsuma Retainers Memorial stop or take a streetcar to Shiyakusho-mae stop; it's a 4-minute walk inland.
Only a few minutes' walk away from the Prefectural Museum is the Kagoshima City Museum of Art (Kagoshima Shiritsu Bijutsukan), 4-36 Shiroyma-cho (tel. 099/224-3400; Tues-Sun 9:30am-6pm), which has a collection of Western-style works by artists from Kagoshima Prefecture. Look for the portrait of Saigo Takamori, painted by Masayoshi Tokonomi, to the left upon entering the permanent gallery. A small selection of paintings by Western artists is also displayed (Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol), as well as decorative art including the famous Satsuma pottery and cut glass. You can see everything in about 20 minutes. Admission is ¥200 for adults, ¥150 for college and high-school students, and ¥100 for children. To reach the museum, take a City View bus to Statue of Saigo Takamori stop; the museum is a minute's walk away to the right of the statue. Or take the streetcar to Asahi-Dori and take the street beside the Minami-Nippon bank; it's a 5-minute walk ahead.
Although it's not as conveniently located, the Nagashima Museum, 3-42-18 Take (tel. 099/250-5400; daily 9am-5pm), is a very worthwhile private museum on a hill high atop the city with great views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima. While its focus is mostly works by such Kagoshima artists as Kuroda Seiki, it also contains some works by well-known Western artists such as Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Renoir, and Chagall, as well as pottery from South America. But most impressive, in my opinion, is an outstanding collection of mainly 19th-century white Satsuma pottery, including many pieces that were originally imported to London, Paris, and New York, and the more utilitarian 17th- to 20th-century black Satsuma pottery. An hour is enough time to see everything, but try to time your visit so you can eat lunch in the museum's French restaurant, Camellia (open daily 11am-3pm with set meals starting at ¥1,800 weekdays and ¥2,000 weekends), which has great views over the city. Admission to the museum is ¥1,000 for adults, ¥800 for college and high-school students, and ¥400 for children. You'll have to take a taxi to get here; it's about a 7-minute ride from Kagoshima Chuo Station.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.