Japan City Guides: Sakurajima
- one of the world's most active volcanoes
- located in Kagoshima Bay, between Osumi and Satsuma Peninsula, 10 km east of Kagoshima City, Kyushu
- famous throughout Japan for its springtime half-marathons
- first recorded eruption in 708
- known for its fruit and daikon radish production
- population 7,000
- 600m above sea level
- means 'Cherry Blossom Island' in Japanese
- called an island, but no longer a real one
If you're going to Kagoshima...
Sakurajima is a nice place to spend a few hours if you are planning a trip to Kagoshima. This active volcano has a great history and some interesting places to explore.
The town of Sakurajima is also known for its radish, which is the largest in the world, and its mandarin, the smallest in the world. There is an omiyage (gift) shop where you can purchase an assortment of products made from these two famous crops. Sweet potatoes and biwa (loquat) are also specialties of Sakurajima.
The first recorded eruption of Sakurajima was in 708 and the volcano has been in almost constant activity since then.
One of the most interesting facts about Sakurajima is that it was itself an island until 1914, when lava flows from a large eruption that year spread and hardened, connecting the island to Osumi Peninsula.
Since 1955, the volcano has erupted 100-200 times a year. In 1994, there were 126 eruptions and on May 23, 1995 an explosive eruption sent ash 8,200 feet above the summit crater. In 2013 another major eruption occurred sending ash up to 5,000 meters and coating nearby Kagoshima.
Ash falls up to 143 times per year, depositing an average of 100mm annually.
People can be seen walking around the town, or sometimes even in Kagoshima City, with umbrellas to protect their clothes and skin from falling ash.
The population of Sakurajima is aging and decreasing, with most adults engaged in either agriculture or fishing. There is no high school on the island and students must make the short ferry ride to Kagoshima. Various concrete shelters dot the island in case of the need to evacuate the island at short notice.
The highest of Sakurajima's three peaks is Kita-dake at 1117m in height
Sakurajima volcanic rock formations
Sakurajima Visitor Center
The Sakurajima Visitor Center is open from 9am-5pm daily, except Mondays. It offers simple exhibitions that provide information on the history of the volcanic eruptions, the evolution of its plant life, tourist information, and disaster prevention. It also has a high-vision theater, georama, and computers in which you can interactively discover information about the island.
You can get a nice sense of the history and feel of the island with a stroll along the footpaths that wind through the desolate lava plains of Sakurajima.
There are small shrines and several lava formations to explore.
Kurokami Buried Gate
The eruption of 1914 buried the gate of the Kurokami Shinto shrine in volcanic ash. You can explore the remains of the shrine and observe some of the damage that has been caused by volcanic eruptions in Sakurajima.
Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture moments before it erupts
Sakurajima volcano moments after it erupts sending ash into the air
Lava Beach Esplanade
The Taisho Lava Field has an esplanade that extends 3km west from the ferry terminal, from the coastline to the Torishima Observatory. It has nice fishing spots, where you can catch girella and scorpion fish, and is a nice place for a stroll and shell collecting. There are also monuments of famous haiku poets spotted throughout.
Torishima was located 500m off the coast, and when the eruption occurred in 1914 connecting Mr. Sakurajim to Osumi peninsula, the shrine was completed buried. The observatory and memorial stone have been erected 2km from the ferry in Taisho Lava Field.
Yunohira Observatory and Arimura Lava Observatory
The Yunohira Observatory is almost halfway up Mt. Sakurajima and at 373m above sea level, you can see the dramatic view of Minamidake (South Peak). Below you can see Kinko Bay and the busy streets of Kagoshima.
It is undoubtedly the best scenic point on the island. Arimura Lava Observatory also offers nice views of the island, although not quite as dramatic.
People travel from all over to Japan to take part in these 5km, 10km, and half-marathon races. The event usually takes place in the first half of March.
Fire Island Festival (Hinoshima)
Come and watch taiko drum performances, local arts and singing, and a huge fireworks display at a special stage at the Lava Ground in July.
A must visit is Furusato Kanko Hotel, which houses a beautiful outdoor onsen (natural spa), located on the ocean front, with a large, lovely shrine.
This onsen is unusual in that it is mixed gender and the hotel provides customers with a yukata (robe) that can be worn inside the water to cover the usual (single sex only) nakedness. It is a highly recommended place to visit for a relaxing slice of Japanese culture.
The onsen is closed on Thursdays, but can be visited every other day from 6am to 10pm. Admission is 1,050 Yen (c.US$11.75). You can reach the hotel by the free Furusato Kanko Hotel shuttle bus, which leaves the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal every 30 minutes between 8:45am and 5pm.
How to get to Sakurajima
From the Kagoshima ferry terminal in Kagoshima City, Sakurajima is a 15 minute ferry ride across Kagoshima Bay. The ferry port is 10 minutes walk from JR Kagoshima Station. The boats leave about four times an hour, slowing down to twice an hour at 10:00 pm. There are Shinkansen bullet trains to Kagoshima from Fukuoka. The Kagoshima City Aquarium is directly opposite the ferry terminal to Sakurajima.
Japan articles by Stephanie Plewes