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A smoking volcano, a reputation as Japan's friendliest city, and a proud samurai past all add up to making Kagoshima an inviting destination. As well as being home to Saigo Takamori, a samurai legend, this Kyushu castle town also played an important part in the Satsuma Rebellion of the late 19th century.
Kagoshima's symbol, the volcano of Sakurajima, lies on the other side of Kinko Bay and remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world. A short ferry hop to the island reveals to the visitor the lunar-like layers of lava that provide a testament to the volcano's fiery nature.
Visitors to Kagoshima can revel in its mild climate and palm-tree-lined streets, reminiscent of southern Italy, while making the most of its abundant nature, hot springs, tourist attractions, and delicious food.
Step into one of Kagoshima's 50 or more bathhouses and you'll enter the world of the ancient sentō or public bath. Based around hot springs, you'll find these onsen everywhere, even at the airport. The local favorite is Nishida Onsen, which is located near the main train station.
Monuments to Kagoshima's proud Samurai past are everywhere. The best place to start exploring this heritage is at the Museum of the Meiji Restoration. Animatronic performances detail samurai history and demonstrate sword techniques.
Follow your senses to the delicious aromas and tastes of Yatai-mura. This food stall village in the city center delivers traditional dishes like Sumibi-yaki or coal-cooked chicken, and Kuro Satsuma-dori, black Satsuma chicken.
One of Japan's most beautiful train journeys is on Kagoshima's doorstep. The Hisatsu line meanders through mountains and river valleys, stopping for a few minutes at small stations for souvenir buying and photo opportunities.
The rich colors of Kiriko glassware are famous around the world. From a laboratory inside Kagoshima castle, rich shades of indigo, crimson, purple, and jade were developed.
This volcano is a constantly smoking backdrop to the town, and you can't really say you know Kagoshima without paying it a visit. Make the short crossing by taking a ferry from Sakurajima Ferry Terminal.
Lying along the coast just north of central Kagoshima is the peaceful Senganen Garden. Leave the cares of the world behind you while strolling among its ponds, shrines, and streams.
Within easy reach of Kagoshima Port is the city's aquarium. It focuses on local marine life with fascinating exhibits spread over seven floors, including the vast Kuroshio Tank.
This museum showcases local history and culture and was built on the site of Tsurumaru Castle. The castle's moat and stone walls can still be seen.
Also created on the site of the former castle is this verdant park, which spreads itself up and over Mount Shiroyama. From Shiroyama Observatory at the top, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the city below and Sakurajima across the bay.
With its humid subtropical climate, Kagoshima is a year-round destination. Fall and winter are mild and relatively dry, while spring and summer temperatures range from 70°F to 85°F. Rainfall is heaviest in spring and summer. July is when the Rokugatsudo Lantern Festival takes place, while the end of August sees the Kagoshima Kinko Bay Summer Night Fireworks Display. Up to 14,000 fireworks are set off against the backdrop of Sakurajima.
The airport is located around one hour's journey by bus from downtown Kagoshima. Flights connect with major cities in Japan such as Tokyo, Okinawa, and Osaka as well as internationally to Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Taipei.
The JR Kyūshū Shinkansen and the JR Nippō rail services stop at JR Kagoshima-Chūō Station. Frequent services connect Kagoshima with towns and cities like Hakata, Miyazaki, Beppu, and Shin-Osaka. Kagoshima lies at the southernmost point of Japan's bullet train network.
Nine major highways and expressways link Kagoshima to all towns and cities on the island of Kyushu. There is a good choice of car hire companies, both on Kyushu and in Kagoshima itself.
Long-distance buses arrive at the express stops located just outside the JR Kagoshima Chūō Train Station. Services from towns like Nagasaki, Osaka, and Kobe operate during the day while routes to Fukuoka and Oita are available both day and night.
Kagoshima's ferry terminal is one of the main points of contact between mainland Japan and its southern islands. Ferries run between Kagoshima and Naha (26 hours, JPY14,610) and Kagoshima and Yakushima (4 hours, JPY4,800).
Castle Park is a luxury option in Kagoshima and offers its guests spectacular views of Sakurajima from its outdoor hot spring bath. For a real taste of old Japan, book into a ryokan. Often traditionally styled, these inns include communal baths fed by hot springs and provide guests with a yukata, or kimono to relax in. Kagoshima's ryokan range from the wood-built Nakazono Ryokan to the ultra-modern Ginsyo. The Tenmonkan District is at the heart of Kagoshima and is its most vibrant and prosperous area and a lovely area to stay in. Here you'll find the Tenmonkandori Shopping Arcade with its chain stores and independent boutiques as well as cafes, restaurants, and cinemas.
Hop-on-hop-off buses continually circle Kagoshima and are perfect for a city overview. While some knowledge of spoken Japanese helps when negotiating the city's buses, its network of trams is easy to navigate. The routes cover all major city destinations. For JPY600, you can buy a one-day travel pass from the tourist office. For the best value transportation, however, buy the Welcome Cute Transit Card, which costs JPY1,000 for one day and JPY1,500 for two days. This covers buses, trams, and the Sakurajima ferry.
Taxis are widely available at the port and train station as well as at points across the city. A taxi ride between city attractions will cost around JPY2,500.
Hiring a car lets you really explore all the sights of Kagoshima as well as go further afield on the island of Kyushu. Most car hire outlets are located around JR Kagoshima-Chūō Station. Hire car costs start from around JPY7,000 a day. Bicycles can also be hired from the train station and cost around JPY500 for 2 hours or JPY1,500 for the whole day.
If you want to shop until you drop, head to Tenmonkan where you'll find no shortage of opportunities to buy contemporary designer clothes or traditional Japanese kimonos, both of which can cost several thousand yen. For local souvenirs, look out for regional specialties that include Satsuma Kiriko glass, bamboo products, silk clothing, and the black and white Satsuma-yaki pottery. Satsuma Kiriko glassware can cost upwards of JPY20,000. For real bargain hunting, visit the Asa-ichi, a popular and busy market held every morning near the train station.
Supermarkets can be easily found across Kagoshima. Most popular are the Aeon Mall and various branches of the Coop Kagoshima. They carry reasonably priced local food products, while some branches have a small selection of international items. The Kagoshima Brand Shop offers over 1,500 local products including food, drink, and confectionery. As a guide, a quart of milk costs around JPY195 to JPY250.
The streets near the ferry terminal and station as well as the Tenmonkan district are the best places for dining out, while tiny restaurants serving both local dishes and international cuisine can be found in the narrow streets around City Hall. If the black Satsuma chicken dish of Kuro Satsuma-dori tempts you, you'll find it served in the chic-meets-rustic surroundings of Yamauchi Nōjō, or pop into Marutora Ikka where you'll find a young crowd. Noodles from a street stall cost around JPY750, while restaurant prices range from around JPY3,000 to JPY7,000 per head.