Japan City Guides: Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu
Kagoshima is the prefectural capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture and the largest city in the southern part of Kyushu, with a population of over 600,000 inhabitants.
Kagoshima is situated on the north west of Kagoshima Bay opposite the active volcano of Sakurajima.
Kagoshima enjoys a mild and sunny winter and makes for an excellent long-weekend break from such far colder cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya to the north, with which it has direct cut-price air links.
Summers, on the other hand, can be baking hot and visitors are advised to head for the beaches of Ibusuki and the Satsuma Peninsula.
Kagoshima is a major transport hub in Kyushu, being the southern terminus of the Kyushu shinkansen as well as having an international airport and ferries to Sakurajima and the UNESCO World Heritage listed island of Yakushima.
See below for full transport details.
Modern day Kagoshima Prefecture was known as Satsuma domain during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and was ruled by 29 generations of the Shimazu clan.
Along with the domain of Choshu, centered on the city of Hagi in southern Honshu, the Sat-Cho alliance was to bring down the Tokugawa shogunate and usher in the so-called Meiji Restoration and the beginnings of Japan's modern industrialization and westernization.
The murder of the British trader Charles Richardson by retainers of the Shimazu clan outside Yokohama in the so-called Namamugi Incident of 1862, led to the bombardment of Kagoshima by British vessels the following year.
Much impressed by this demonstration of western firepower and technology, the daimyo of Satsuma dispatched 17 young men to study at University College London in the UK. A statue of these early students including Mori Arinori, who later became the Minister of Education in the new Meiji government, stands outside Kagoshima Station.
Kagoshima's most famous son of this period, however, is Saigo Takamori, who played a leading role as a general in the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime but then led the ill-fated Satsuma Rebellion against the Meiji government in 1877. The uprising is loosely portrayed in the movie Last Samurai and saw Saigo's forces burn down Kumamoto Castle before been forced to retreat to Kagoshima where Saigo committed suicide. A statue of Saigo Takamori stands in the center of Kagoshima near Chuo Koen (Central Park).
Further back in time Francis Xavier landed in Kagoshima in 1549 and received a fairly receptive welcome from the authorities at the time, though was not allowed to preach or make converts. A statue of Xavier stands in Xavier Park in the city.
Since 1609 the Ryuku Islands of Okinawa had also been controlled by the Shimazu clan, which gave them access to lucrative trade with the southern islands, especially sugar cane, and through Okinawa channels to China and South East Asian trade.
Many of Kagoshima's attractions reference the area's role in the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime (see above). The Museum of the Meiji Restoration (Ishin Furosato Kan) is dedicated to Kagoshima's part in the tumultuous events of the 1860s and 1870s and outlines the careers of such local heroes as Saigo Takamori (1828-1877) and Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878) using dioramas and video displays.
The nearby Reimeikan at the foot of Mt. Shiroyama has exhibits on the history, culture and folklore of Kagoshima Prefecture from pre-historical to contemporary times.
The modern Reimeikan opened in 1988 on the former site of Kagoshima Castle (Tsurumaru), of which only the impressive stone walls and moats remain. The Reimeikan grounds contain a number of cherry trees.
Xavier Park commemorates the stay of Francis Xavier and his Japanese disciples Anjiro (Paulo de Santa Fé) and Bernardo in Kagoshima. Xavier Park is actually the remains of the first stone church built in the Meiji Period, which was largely destroyed by World War II bombing. The modern Kagoshima Cathedral St Francis Xavier Church next to the site was constructed in 1999 to mark the 450th anniversary of Xavier's arrival in Kagoshima. The architect, Seizo Sakata, chose a striking design influenced by the shapes of the sailing ship that brought Xavier, and features a 31 meter high bell tower.
Sengan-en Garden (Iso-teien) is located about 1.5km north of the city center and was first laid out as a strolling garden in 1658 by the 19th Shimazu daimyo (feudal lord). Sengan-en incorporates the Shimazu-ke villa (Iso Residence) - a rural retreat for the Shimazu lord and his family.
After the abolition of the feudal system in the 1870's the Shimazu family continued to live in this luxurious villa, which was rebuilt for their use in the mid-1880s. The Sengan-en Garden has spectacular "borrowed" views of Sakurajima and includes ponds, running streams, bamboo and cherry blossoms in season. Included in the price of admission to Sengan-en is entry to the interesting Shoko Shuseikan Museum, with a vast collection of Shimazu clan family heirlooms including scrolls, weapons, ceramics, dolls and tools.
The Foreigners Mansion (Ijinkan), within the grounds of Sengan-en, was constructed at the end of the Edo Period in 1866 to house seven British engineers brought over to Japan by the Satsuma domain to set up a textile factory.
Indeed the Shoko Shuseikan can claim to be Japan's first factory as it was built to manufacture machines in an effort to copy western industrialization. A number of buses run out to the Sengan-en-mae bus top including the Kagoshima City View Bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station, Kagoshima City Aquarium and the Shiroyama Observatory.
The Kagoshima Prefectural Museum has exhibits on the geography, geology and natural environment of Kagoshima Prefecture. The museum also has a planetarium in its annex.
Kagoshima's other attractions include the Shiroyama Observatory - a viewpoint of the city down below and Sakurajima in Kinko bay from Shiroyama Park - a 100m high hill rising up from the Reimeikan Museum and the site of Saigo Takamori's last stand and ultimate death.
A cave where Saigo took refuge still exists within the park and a memorial marks the spot of his death, possibly performed by seppuku followed by beheading by a follower, though the exact details of his demise are not known.
Close to Chuo Park and Saigo Takamori's Statue is the Kagoshima Museum of Modern Literature and the Märchen Museum. The former is dedicated to Japanese authors of the modern period (1868-) who have a connection with the city; the latter "fairy tales" with numerous fairy tale books in personal reading areas as well as playrooms, interactive exhibits, and an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" room.
The seven-floor Kagoshima Aquarium (Io World Kagoshima Suizokukan) is situated next to the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal and is a modern construction which opened in 1997. The warm waters off Kagoshima Prefecture support a vast array of marine life which is represented in the aquarium. A whale shark, manta rays, dolphins, electric eels and sea otters are among the creatures that can be seen. Both Shiroyama Koen and Kagoshima Aquarium are on the route of the Kagoshima City View Bus.
With an active volcano just offshore, it is not surprising that Kagoshima city has a number of onsen hot spring baths: Nishida Onsen near Kagoshima-Chuo Station and Kagomma Sento near the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal are two of the over 50 hot spring baths in town.
Kagoshima's main festivals are the Sogadon-no-Kasayaki or "Umbrella Burning Festival" held at night outside the Museum of the Meiji Restoration in late July, and the Isle of Fire Festival on Sakurajima also in July. The Ohara Festival on November 2-3 is a mass street dance with visitors encouraged to participate along with the drummers and marching bands. The festival began in 1949.
Terukuni Shrine close to Tenmonkan is Kagoshima's most impressive shrine and enshrines the 28th Lord of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira.
Ishibashi Memorial Park near Kagoshima JR Station has three of the five Edo Period stone bridges designed by Iwanaga Sangoro that once spanned the Kotsuki River until damaged in a massive storm in 1993.
135 km south of Kagoshima city, Yakushima Island is famous for its ancient cedar trees, wild monkeys and incredible landscapes and deserted beaches.
A short ferry ride across Kinko Bay, Sakurajima is one of the world's most active volcanoes, famous for its large daikon radish and small mandarin oranges.
Kirishima in the northern part of Kagoshima Prefecture is known for its volcanic hot springs (onsen) and forested mountain walks.
Located on the Satsuma Peninsula 34km south of Kagoshima city is the pretty town of Chiran, famous for its preserved samurai houses and gardens and a memorial and museum to Japan's World War II kamikaze pilots, who flew their planes from the airstrips here.
The Chiran Peace Museum For Kamikaze Pilots has aircraft, photographs and personal mementos including letters and poems on display from the over the 1,000 young pilots who sacrificed themselves in Japan's war effort. The approach to the museum is lined with stone lanterns representing the fallen.
The Chiran Peace Museum For Kamikaze Pilots is over an hour's drive from downtown Kagoshima but well worth the journey if combined with the beauty of the samurai district a short distance away.
There are also buses to Chiran from Kagoshima-Chuo Station and Ibusuki.
Further south from Chiran and about 50km from Kagoshima city, Ibusuki is a popular seaside onsen resort famous for its hot sand baths. Well-known hot springs in Ibusuki include Yajigayu Onsen, north of the station, Nigatsuden Onsen near Nigatsuden Station and Surigahama Onsen south east of Ibusuki Station.
For something a little different, have yourself buried in the hot sand at one of Ibusuki's suna-mushi sand baths. You change into a yukata and are buried by the staff, who dig you out when you have had enough. Sand baths are a good detox and improve the circulation.
From Ibusuki it is a short drive or rail journey to the trail head for a day hike up Mt. Kaimon, aka Satsuma Fuji, a 924m-high dormant, almost perfect conical volcano, with lovely views from its summit on clear days.
There are both trains and buses to Ibusuki from Kagoshima. Trains take 50-70 minutes depending on the service to Ibusuki from Kagoshima Chuo Station on the JR Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line.
Each winter thousands of cranes gather at Arasaki village, near the small town of Izumi, on the west coast of rural Kagoshima Prefecture.
The island of Tanegashima is part of the Osumi chain of islands north east of Yakushima with ferry and air connections to Kagoshima. Tanegashima was the place where Europeans, in the shape of two, possibly three Portuguese merchants aboard a Chinese junk, where blown off course from China by a storm and made land on the island. It is thought the merchants made a present of one of their muskets in exchange for the repair of their ship and thus guns were first introduced into Japan via the island.
Legend has it that a woman from the island, Wakasa, was later given to a Portuguese man in marriage in exchange for the secret of gun-making. An annual summer festival celebrates the event and a museum on the island presents the history of gun manufacture on Tanegashima.
Tanegashima has also long been known for its high quality knives and scissors.
Tanegashima is also the base for launching Japan's space satellites at the Tanegashima Space Center run by JAXA. Tanegashima is 90 minutes by high-speed ferry from Kagoshima. There are also flights from Kagoshima (40 minutes) and from Itami Airport in Osaka (90 minutes).
Shopping in Kagoshima
Kagoshima is famous for its potato shochu, ceramics (satsuma-yaki) and cut glass (kiriko). All of these products make excellent souvenirs and can be found in the shops and department stores of the Tenmonkan district between Chuo Koen and Tenmonkan Koen.
Tenmonkan is also the main entertainment area in Kagoshima with many restaurants, cafes and bars. The Kagoshima-Chuo Station area also has a number of eateries where you can sample the local cuisine - satsuma-ryori.
Hotels In Kagoshima
The area around Kagoshima Chuo Station has many hotels including the Hotel Gastof, the Hotel Urbic Kagoshima, the Toyoko Inn Kagoshima Chuo-eki Nishi-guchi, the JR Kyushu Hotel Kagoshima Hotel and the APA Hotel Kagoshima Chuo-Ekimae.
Access - Getting to Kagoshima
Kagoshima is the transportation hub for the deep south of Kyushu and onward to Yakushima Island.
Kagoshima Airport has connections to Seoul, Shanghai and Taiwan as well as domestic flights to Tokyo (Haneda Airport), Osaka (KIX & Itami), Fukuoka, Nagoya, Naha, Kobe, Mt Fuji Shizuoka Airport, Yakushima, Tokunoshima, Yoronjima, Amami, Kikaijima, Okinoerabujima. Jetstar has cheap flights from Nagoya's Centrair to Kagoshima starting at around 50 USD for the cheapest midweek return flight. Jetstar also flies direct to Kagoshima from Tokyo Narita.
From Kagoshima Airport
Kagoshima Airport is 30km north of Kagoshima city. There are buses (40 minutes) to Kagoshima-Chuo Station and Tenmonkan (45 minutes). There are also buses to other towns in southern Kyushu including Kumamoto, Sendai (not the northern city in Miyagi), Izumi, Kirishima, Miyazaki, Ibusuki, Kaseda, Kokubu, Taniyama, Myoken Onsen and Okuchi.
There are two ferry companies operating the Kagoshima to Naha (Okinawa) route: A-Line and Marix and they run on alternate days from Shin-ko Port (Kagoshima New Port). The ferries leave at 6pm and stop at Naze on Amami-oshima at 5am, then Kametoku on Tokunoshima at 9.10am, Wadomari on Okinoerabujima at 11.30am, Yoron at 1.40pm, Motobu on the north of Okinawa Honto (Main Island) at 4.40pm and finally Naha at 9pm.
A-Line Ferries (099 226 4141) run from Kagoshima via the Amami archipelago to Naha on Okinawa. Journey time from Kagoshima is 19 hours, and from Tokyo 44 hours.
Marix Ferries (099 225 1551) follow a similar timetable and route to A-Line and a second class fare in a communal room is presently 9,400 yen Kagoshima-Naha.
There are regular ferries to Sakurajima every 10-30 minutes which make the crossing in 15 minutes. Toppy jetfoils to Yakushima leave from Kita-futo and take 3 hours, regular ferries depart from Minami-futo and take 13 hours.
See our Japan travel section for further details.
Kagoshima-Chuo Station is the southern terminus of the Kyushu Shinkansen from Hakata Station. There are also regular JR trains to Kumamoto and Fukuoka on the JR Kagoshima Line. The JR Nippo Line runs to Miyazaki (2 hours) and Beppu (5 hours). For Nagasaki change from the Kyushu Shinkansen at Shin-Tosu.
Outside Kagoshima Station is a monument to the 19 young men who broke a ban on leaving Japan and sailed to Britain in 1865 with the help of Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish businessman based in Nagasaki. Among them were Mori Arinori, later Minister of Education in the Meiji government, Hatakeyama Yoshinari, the first president of Tokyo University and the 13-year-old Nagasawa Kanae, who would later become a wine grower in the USA.
There are long distance highway buses to Fukuoka, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Oita and Osaka (overnight, 12 hours). There are also more local buses to Ibusuki, Chiran and Ebino-kogen. City buses crisscross Kagoshima and out to the suburbs. The Kagoshima City View Bus loops the major attractions and is 180 yen for a single fare or 600 yen for the one-day pass which is valid on trams.
Transportation within Kagoshima
Kagoshima has an excellent streetcar (tram) system with two routes. Route 1 begins at Kagoshima Station. Route 2 separates at Takami-baba for Kagoshima-Chuo Station and on to Korimoto. The flat fare is 180 yen or a one-day pass 600 yen.
Car hire is an option if you wish to see more of rural Kagoshima Prefecture with the main operators congregating around Kagoshima-Chuo Station.