On the southwestern tip of Kyushu, a trip to Kagoshima might seem like a long way to go for such a short period of time. However, 48 hours is just enough to see the highlights of the city. From the mesmerising natural wonders to soaking up the history and culture, this is a coastal location with so much more to offer than its spectacular views.
Morning: The lava fields
Take a train from Kagoshima Station to Shiyakusho-mae Station, a journey of about 15 minutes (¥170 / £1.33). On disembarking, walk down toward the city aquarium, where you’ll also find the ferry port. Take a 15-minute ferry ride to Sakurajima, an active volcano that has been erupting almost constantly since 1955. The local weather forecast even includes a note about how much ash will fall. Experts guess that the volcano is due for a major eruption in the next 30 years, but this doesn’t deter tourists wanting to see one of the most active volcanoes in the world. People are not permitted to visit the peaks, the highest of which rises to 1,117m (3,665ft) above sea level.
Cycling is a popular option on the island, but there are also bus tours for those who want to see more than you can reach on foot. Visit the lava fields first thing in the morning. When there is a big eruption from the volcano, molten lava is spewed out and flows down the mountain, hardening into streams of grey rock that cloak the landscape. These rock formations are eerily beautiful, and a park has been set up with walkways cut through the grey vista.
To reach the lava fields, also known as the Arimura Lava Observatory, you can take a bus tour arranged by the Sakurajima-Kinkowan Geopark organisation. From the ferry terminal, the bus takes 20 minutes and departs once or twice an hour. While there are a few stalls and small shops in the car park, you’re probably best taking a packed lunch with you.
Afternoon: Hot springs
In the afternoon, head to the Sakurajima Yogan Nagisa Park Footbath, which is just a 10-minute walk from the ferry port. These beautiful foot baths are free to use and run with steaming hot water all year round. With views of Kagoshima city across the bay and the volcano rising behind you, it’s a glorious place to sit in the sunshine and soak up the peaceful ambience.
For the full onsen (hot spring) experience, head to Hotel Rainbow, which has a public bath that costs ¥390 (£3.06). The volcanically heated water on Sakurajima has a distinct smell (not necessarily pleasant) and a murky quality that looks like miso soup and will leave you feeling both refreshed and relaxed. Please bear in mind that, as with most hot springs in Japan, visitors with tattoos will not be allowed to enter.
If you want to shop, the visitor centre at Syunsaikan has little bags of volcanic rock as well as other lava-related items. The rich soil on Sakurajima also makes it an excellent place for growing fruit and vegetables such as mikan (a type of orange) and daikon (Japanese giant radish), and you can get a variety of snacks and gifts both in the shop and restaurant.
Evening: Convenient dining
After a long day traipsing around Sakurajima, you’ll probably want to dine somewhere close by rather than head into the centre of the city. The Dolphin Port shopping centre, within proximity of the ferry, has several good restaurants where you can enjoy an evening meal. Sushi restaurant Mekkemon is particularly popular here.
Morning: Reimeikan museum
After a day of adventure, spend your second day in Kagoshima soaking up the culture and history of the city. There are several museums and art galleries that are worth visiting, mainly centred on Iso-Kaido Street, nicknamed Culture Street. Start your morning with a visit to Reimeikan – the Prefectural Museum of Culture. Built on the ruins of Tsurumaru Castle, the museum spans three floors and has a pretty garden. On the ground floor, step into prehistoric Kagoshima and journey through time up to modern history. One of the highlights is the life-size display of Tenmonkan Street in the 1920s, featuring traditional shop signs, period clothes and quirky scenes.
On the second floor, artefacts relate to local folklore and show you the people behind the history. Learn about local festivals, religious life, day-to-day life and more. The third floor is much smaller, holding artistic items such as calligraphy, paintings, arts and crafts. Of particular interest are the Satsuma samurai swords and the local pottery. Make time to visit the small garden, which has a beautiful pond and some statues. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9am to 6pm, and tickets cost ¥400 (£3.12).
Afternoon: Art, shrine and mountain walk
If you want to grab lunch nearby, walk to the corner of Central Park to find a small ramen shop called Kuromiso – ‘black miso’. The local recipe of unique black miso produces a richer, darker broth with the noodles. There are standard tonkotsu ramen bowls you can order, or you can customise from the list of toppings. With prices starting at ¥750 (£5.86) for a bowl, this filling lunch will set you up for the afternoon.
Continue your day of culture with a visit to the Kagoshima City Museum of Art. Its collection has more than 2,000 pieces of artwork, featuring both famous artists from around the world as well as local artisans. You’ll recognise works by Picasso, Matisse and Ernst, as well as Impressionist artists (featuring Monet and Renoir) and the Post-Impressionist artist Cézanne.
Close to the gallery is Terukuni Shrine, unmissable behind a huge torii (gateway) and an impressive spectacle if you happen to visit on a festival day. Hidden behind a large topiary and nestled into a background of the forested mountainside, this picturesque shrine isn’t what you’d expect to find close to the centre of the city.
All three of these attractions (the museum, art gallery and shrine) are on Iso-Kaido Street. Afterward, find the walkway that weaves behind the back of the museums (past the Kagoshima City Modern Literature Museum and the public library) to the trail up Mount Shiroyama. The walk to the top is steep but not too far – aim to reach the summit before sunset to enjoy the incredible views.
Evening: Best restaurants and bars
A must-try dish in Kagoshima is kurobuta, or black pork. The unique culinary speciality is named after the skin colour of the pigs. One of the best ways to sample it is in shabu-shabu, a hotpot dish named after the sound of the ingredients swishing in the bowl. Ajimori is one of the best places in Kagoshima to try the delicacy; they offer a variety of black pork dishes. Choose individual items (such as kurobuta tonkotsu), or opt for a multi-course menu, with prices that can go up to ¥8,800 (£68.70).