[From November Issue 2010]
When hearing of Kagoshima, many Japanese think of SAIGO Takamori and Sakurajima. Saigo accomplished many great things during the Meiji Restoration, and is a very popular Japanese historical figure. In Shiroyama-cho, a town located at the center of Kagoshima City, there stands a statue of the uniformed military commander peering across at Sakurajima. Most tourists have commemorative photographs taken next to it.
To tour Kagoshima City, it is recommended to take the Kagoshima City View sightseeing bus. It is favored by many tourists for its popular retro design. Starting from Kagoshima Chuo Station, it connects a number of popular tourist spots. There are a few different routes available, including one covering the statue of Saigo Takamori, Sengan-en, a Japanese garden where you can enjoy seasonal flowers such as plum blossoms and chrysanthemums, and the Io World Kagoshima aquarium popular for its dolphin shows, as well as another for enjoying the town’s night views.
A 15-minute ferry ride takes visitors from the central area of Kagoshima City to Sakurajima. This large city of about 600,000 people is only 4 kilometers away from an actively erupting volcano, a rarity seldom seen elsewhere in the world. Its major eruption of 1914 is especially remembered for the three billion tons of lava that flowed out, filling in a strait 400 to 500 meters in width, that connected the Osumi Peninsula to Sakurajima. Still preserved today as a cultural artifact, is the half-buried Kurokami Shrine gate, a stunning example of the power of the eruption of that time. This area is also famous for producing the Sakurajima Daikon, the world’s largest radish, the Sakurajima Small Mandarin, the world’s smallest orange, and sweet biwa (loquats).
Heading southward from the central Kagoshima City for about an hour by train or car, visitors will arrive at Ibusuki. This area is famous for the enjoyment of its Edo Period natural hot springs and sand baths. In this unusual type of hot spring people soak in sand heated by natural hot springs welling up from below. Wearing a yukata (summer kimono), a person’s body from the neck down is covered with sand. It’s has been medically proven that the weight and temperature of the sand, and the natural compounds contained in the hot springs, can help improve a person’s blood circulation.
Near Ibusuki is Lake Ikeda, where a huge creature similar to Scotland’s Loch Ness monster, has previously been spotted. Similar to Nessie, this mysterious creature has been named Issie. Seen from the lake area, the Kaimondake volcano resembles Mt. Fuji, and is therefore referred to as the “Fuji of Satsuma (Kagoshima).”
A 30-minute drive to north from Ibusuki takes you to Chiran Bukeyashiki-gun (a cluster of garden samurai residences in the Chiran area). With beautiful hedges and gardens, this neighborhood is referred to as the “small Kyoto of Satsuma.” Also located in Chiran is the Tokko Heiwa Kaikan (peace museum for kamikaze pilots), which commemorates the bravery of the Special Forces who deliberately flew their planes into enemy ships on self-sacrificing missions.
Drive another hour away from Kagoshima City to the northeast, and visitors will reach Kirishima, where Karishima-Yaku National Park, Japan’s very first national park, is located. It is a famous spot where a myriad of Miyama-Kirishima or Rhododendron kiusianum (a type of azalea) can be found. A mythic tale also tells of a god who descended here from heaven and from which point the history of Japan is said to have begun.
To the east of Kagoshima Bay is the Osumi Peninsula. Called “Japan’s Food Production Center,” this area thrives with agriculture, livestock and dairy industries. In the peninsula’s southern part is Japan’s largest laurel forest area where the trees remain green all year round without losing any leaves, even during the winter time. On clear days, both Tanegashima and Yakushima can be seen in the distance from Cape Sata, the peninsula’s southernmost point. The stars above Kihoku Uwaba Park in Kanoya City are also a must-see. Based on tourism agency reports, this park is the best location from which to see Japan’s most beautiful starry skies.
Kagoshima is Japan’s largest producer of sweet potatoes. Imo-jochu, shochu (distilled spirits) made from sweet potatoes, is one of its specialty products. Kagoshima is also the Japanese prefecture where the greatest number of pigs is raised. Especially kurobuta or black pigs (Berkshire pigs), which are famous nationwide for having high quality meat, tender, meltingly soft texture and deep flavor. Called “the black diamond,” this pork commands meat market prices as high as beef. A number of Kagoshima restaurants serve this pork as tonkatsu (deep-fried, breaded pork cutlets), shabushabu (a hot pot of thinly sliced meat flash boiled in broth by dipping and swishing around) and tonkotsu (pork bone dish) dishes.
While frappes called “shirokuma” (white bear) are usually considered summer sweets, the people of Kagoshima eats them all year round. These frappes mix condensed milk with and a lot of fruit, including watermelons, melons (honeydew), mandarin oranges and bananas. In Tenmonkan, a major Kagoshima shopping district, there are many stores selling frappes of various flavors. And now, Kagoshima frappes have become so popular nationwide that they have been turned into commercial ice cream products.
Kagoshima’s signature craftwork is Satsuma-yaki (Satsuma ware – a type of Japanese earthenware pottery). Originating in the 1500s, it was introduced from the Korean Peninsula to Japan. Another famous local area craft is Satsuma-kiriko (cut glass). This glassware was secretly manufactured by the Satsuma domain and its manufacturing process had been guarded for a long time. This cut glass once ranked highly alongside other Bohemian and Venetian glassware. But, it has only been in the last 25 years that it has again started to be made, using newly developed techniques and technology.
So, as you can see, Kagoshima has fascinating history, culture, hot springs and food, while attracting around 8 million yearly visitors. In March 2011, the Kagoshima Route (257 kilometers between Kagoshima-Chuo and Hakata Stations) on the Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train) will open in its entirety. This will connect Kagoshima to Hakata in a travel time of about 1 hour and 20 minutes, while new, non-stop bullet trains will hasten arrivals between Kagoshima and Shin-Osaka to 3 hours and 55 minutes. Also, Kagoshima Airport offers regular international flights to and from Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. So reaching Kogashima is easy, from both Asian countries as well as other parts of Japan.
Text：Southern Publishing Co., Ltd.