The bus rambled down the mountainous road; the tropical air enveloped me as I gazed delightfully out the window. It was immediately obvious this was a volcanic island. Majestic, green, craggy peaks towered and were plentiful. The sheer greenery and rolling countryside delighted me. It reminded me of Tahiti with the tall rugged peaks, the tropical coloured ocean and the palm trees littering the route. I flew into Kagoshima on Saturday, July 19, 2015. It was a long weekend in Japan – Ume No Hi (海日) Marine Day, and I had made plans to meet my Mexican friend, Felix, in Kagoshima for three nights and two days! The first glimpse of a bushy low-lying crop reminded me of the Rooibos in South Africa, so I was pretty certain it was tea. The forty minutes bus ride into town flew by as did the gorgeous scenery which left me in awe and heightened my excitement! I was on a holiday on a sub-tropical island.
Kagoshima is in the southern part of Kyushu, the third largest and most southern island of Japan. The name Kyushu means Ninth Province, as originally that was the case. The mountains thrilled me, and I had known about the active volcano on an island off the bay of Kagoshima called Sakurajima, but I wasn`t prepared for how breathtakingly beautiful it was! Originally an island on its own in the Bay before Kagoshima, an eruption in 1914 spilled lava into the Bay to connect it with the main island on the other side of the Bay from Kagoshima city. The cone-shaped volcano was proud and beautiful as I caught glimpses between mountain peaks on the bus ride into Kagoshima. It reminded me of Mount St Helens in Washington State, USA, which erupted in 1980; I remember the Mount St Helens eruption causing our little Datsun truck in the carport to be completely coated in ash, with ash-flakes floating down from the sky like snow one morning when we woke up.
Entering the city centre, I giggled at the cable car in the middle of the road which had grass on either side of it, and gaped at the tall buildings, and mix of modern and traditional architecture.
The statue of many men at the entrance of the Train Station was particularly intriguing. I found out later it was a group of 17 men from Kagoshima who travelled by boat to go to University in London to learn about western guns and technology somewhere around the 1860`s. After a sweaty, somewhat longer than necessary (we call it exploring ahem… getting lost) we found our hotel and then went out for a nice Italian dinner.
The next morning we got up early and headed out on a bus tour of Sakurajima. The peak of the active volcano was shrouded in clouds, but the size was still impressive. Our tour travelled around the island, seeing the volcano from several views.
The island also is famous for producing sakurajima daikon (a white Japanese radish). Daikon is generally long and large and white. The Sakurajima Daikon is massive and round and white. The flavour was very sweet and I enjoyed it a lot. We sampled it at a small roadside farmer`s shop and the farmer and his wife were impressed we both liked it. We heard a sound like thunder, and I visibly startled – the farmer said with a grin of wonder that it was the volcano!!! My eyes light up as much as his, I`m sure, but I had to ask: “Aren`t you a little scared to live here?” He vehemently said “No, I love the volcano and I`m not scared at all!”
There are a number of protective measures on the island, however – the children wear hard hats when playing outside or walking to school. And there are cement shelters frequently located for safety in the event of a massive lava eruption.
After the bus tour, we`d made arrangements to get off the bus on the island to walk around and explore and catch the afternoon bus tour back into Kagoshima. So, we parted ways and headed off. Our first stop was the Sakurajima visitors centre where we saw many models of Sakurajima, a video of the eruptions, and comparisons to other volcanoes. The volcano has spewed intense lava flow four times – the last two being in 1914 and 1946. In 2014, there were 450 eruptions, and to the date we were on the island, there had been 685 and counting!
The volcano produces warm hot springs that are famous on the island and while we didn`t venture to one, we did enjoy a foot soak in the free public foot baths. A relaxing time.
The beaches were littered with large black boulders and black sand – a unique and beautiful sight.
We went on a search for a dinosaur park (my idea, which thankfully my friend merrily joined in!) I sad on several dinosaurs and animals and enjoyed the hugest hill slide I`ve ever seen. Sadly it wasn`t super fast, actually!
It was a smokin` hot day – I guess the sub tropical climate produces heat and swear I could feel the heat from the volcano on the island as well! The atmosphere was really lovely, though, and I really loved the visit to Sakurajima Island. Did have a lovely sample of citrus juice that is made from fruit grown on Sakurajima.
On Monday, my friend Bailey who I met in Hokkaido, picked us up early in the morning and drove us to some pretty amazing sights. We went further south on Kyushu to the town of Yamakawa. A farming area, on the ocean with amazing views of the majestic, miniature version of Mount Fuji – Mt Kaimon. We first visited the Hot Sand bath of Yamakawa Sunamusi Onsen Sayuri 山川砂むし温泉沙湯裏里. I had been told of this unique `onsen` by many people and was keen to experience it myself. You strip down and don a yukata – cotton summer kimono. Then, you lie on the hot black sand and staff cover you with the hot sand. The sand is very hot and you especially feel it on your heels. My pulse radiated through my body. I wondered if I would feel claustrophobic, but it was actually okay. I found it not as hot as I imagined, and Bailey helped by communicating this to the staff – they cleared the sand off, dug down deeper and found some super hot sand to cover me with. I then lasted about ten minutes with sweat beading on my face and running down to be caught by the lovely pink onsen towel (about the size of a handtowel) provided. Once you feel you`ve got the most of the hot sand bath, you free yourself out – rising like the dead, at the entrance to the changeroom you remove your slippers and then inside strip off, shower and there is a small onsen to soak in if desired. It was a slightly stormy day when we were there, so the usual bath with a gorgeous view of the ocean was out of commission, having been swept away by some massive waves, but the roar of the ocean was tantalizing to listen to as we got our sweat on. There is something about a rough sea and the crashing waves I have always loved, so I was pleased to be there!
Bailey next took us to a proper `water` onsen to soak – the Tamatebako Onsen たまて箱温泉. It was only rotenburo – outside bath, and it was amazing! I had a view of the Tropical mountain peaks, a lone rock figure in the ocean, and the sound of the roaring waves on my left side, the ocean straight ahead, and more mountains to my right. Mount Kaimon was meant to be visible as well, but the clouds didn`t permit. Drops of rain fell from the skies and delighted my exposed skin as I relaxed in the amazing water, all my senses were in heaven once more. The roar of the ocean waves crashing on the beach and the rocky cliffs, the most amazing view, the smell of the ocean, and the rain tickling my head and shoulders, the mineral waters relaxing my muscles in a feeling of all round joy!
We next ventured to the town of Chiran, where there is a samurai village. We had a tour of the various gardens from that time which were beautiful, and each unique. Each of the seven gardens were unique and beautiful – one had hidden stone figures signifying a turtle and a crane, and another had a dry waterfall. The homes the gardens belonged to were old samurai style with beautiful glassed-in verandas, gorgeous old wood, and were a pleasure to look at.
We enjoyed a soba restaurant and sampled the local alcohol – a hard liquor made from sweet potatoes called Imoshoju. It smelled like sweet potato and had a flavour like a mild whiskey.
Returning to Kagoshima, wehad a nice rest and visit at Bailey`s home, meeting his wife, three kids, mother-in-law and sister-in-law with her 5 kids while he taught an English lesson and then he took us up to Shiroyama Kanko Hotel where he teaches the hotel staff. Shiroyama is a well-known and beautiful hotel and we enjoyed a tour of the facilities! Five restaurants, I believe, a giftshop with amazing crafts and jewelry from the area, and a great view of Kagoshima. We enjoyed their home-made beer and then headed into the city for a nomihodai 飲みほだい all-you-can-drink!
I had been told by students to sample black pork. I was surprised when it came it wasn`t blackened pork, but just regular looking sliced pork. The light came, however, the next day when I noticed a poster in the train station showing a pig with black skin! Laughed at myself over that one! At the Nomihodai, we sampled some blackened chicken – which is truly how I imagined my black pork would look! Lol.
Felix and I flew back to Osaka the next morning together – Peach airlines is a discount Japanese airline and it was an efficient and inexpensive way to travel a great distance. The flight was an hour and the service was accompanied by a smile!
It was an amazing visit, and I feel so blessed to have had this mini vacation! Great people, amazing sights, and I am still in awe I was so close to an active volcano, rode a dinosaur, was reunited with footbaths, had a sand “bath,” had an onsen with the most beautiful view I`ve seen, and sampled such amazing food! So much gratitude!