Pip from Pip in the City recently visited Kagoshima in Japan for The Travel Hack and today she’s sharing the best things to do in Kagoshima and why she thinks you should visit! This trip was supported by Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Imagine a city where the centrepiece is a gigantic, active volcano, spewing out ash clouds on a nearly daily basis? Welcome to Kagoshima, a lesser-known seaside city on Japan’s Kyushu Island.
The city plays second fiddle to Sakurajima, a volcano that is beloved by locals who have learnt to co-exist with the frequent eruptions.
Look out for raised umbrellas when ‘Sakurajima’ spews out dense clods volcanic ash that turns the sky grey and moody.
The area of Kagoshima itself is an otherworldly blend of the traditional and tropical, plentiful sunshine coats the city and surrounding woodlands with a bright golden hue. It’s a dreamy part of Japan to explore, especially if you are a fan of off-beat places.
If you are a keen photographer Sakurajima erupts on a very regular basis, which makes for some amazing travel photos.
The funniest part about visiting Kagoshima is that locals just carry on as normal when the volcano erupts, as if it is a total non-event? You can spot the tourists here, they’ll be the one with phones in the air getting those #eruption photos for the ‘gram.
There is a range of weird and wonderful things to do in Kagoshima that should definitely be added to your travel bucket list.
Here are 11 reasons why you need to visit Kagoshima, a wonderfully off-the-radar area of Japan.
1. Try a hot steam sand bath
Having a ‘hot steam bath’ [Sunamushi Onsen] is something of a unique experience in Japan. You first have to remove all your clothes in the changing rooms and then wear brightly coloured robes and a towel hat to have your sand bath. If you are of the British persuasion, a naked bath in the sand is frankly horrifying. Doesn’t sand get everywhere? You really have to put your sensibilities aside for this.
Once you are in your robe you will be taken down by the beach and buried under layers of sand. This is unlike any other spa experience you might have tried.
“You have a sand bath for health,” beams the tour guide. I would recommend you try to silence the growing anxiety that you are literally being buried alive by reminding yourself repeatedly that it’s for your wellbeing.
A small umbrella is also placed next to you adding to the strangeness of the situation. It is definitely an activity you must try in Japan if only for the bizarre photos you will get.
2. Learn about volcanoes at Sakurajima Geopark
The area around Sakurajima is known as the Sakurajima Geopark. You can learn more about life under an active volcano at the Sakurajima Visitor Centre.
The small centre contains video, dioramas and information as to how a city grew to love and respect a giant volcano. The genuine admiration the locals have for Sakurajima is really touching. “When I was in London, I was so sad that I couldn’t see Sakurajima every day” explained our tour guide. Bring tissues on your trip, you’ll hear many stories like this.
There are also several walking trails in the area including a 3-km long seaside lava trail called the Nagisa Yogan Trail.
The trails are beautifully laid out and feature superb views of the volcano and the surrounding woodlands and hills. It’s a total photographer’s dream there. Of course, one must simply get a ‘Selfie with volcano’, how are your friends at home ever going to top that?
3. Admire outdoor art at the Kirishima Open-Air Museum
The Kirishima Open-Air Museum is a place to experience art in a natural setting.
There are around 30 sculptures of varying sizes and impressive art pieces scattered around the site. You can take a self-guided walk around the manicured lawns and forest trails and discover the art for yourself. It’s a tad David Lynch at times, but in a thoroughly pleasant way.
The pieces actually have an intriguing way of blending into the grounds and becoming part of the landscape. Especially the ‘Forest Observatory’ piece.
It’s a lovely way of seeing a range of sculptures and installations that are bursting with creativity. The forest walk is an especially serene experience with many intriguing installations and sculptures to be discovered and snapped.
4. Go biking around the Chiringashima area
Chiringashima is a pretty and uninhabited island located in Kinko Bay. It is also known locally as “the island of mystery” due to its remote nature. It is connected to the mainland by the sand bar when the sea is at low tide.
The sandbar roughly appears for one to four hours a day and allows you to walk across to the island in about 20 minutes.
You can also rent a bike from right outside the train station and bike around the area and enjoy the lovely views of this incredibly quiet area. It’s quite a contrast after spending a few days in Tokyo. The roads are quiet and cars make allowances for bikes, making it a safe and enjoyable biking experience. London take note.
5. Enjoy a free foot spa
Kagoshima has 2,730 hot spring sources and has the second largest number of hot springs in all of Japan.
After a long day exploring the sights, be sure to soak your tired feet in a free foot spa, that has a rather lovely view of Sakurajima. It is rather splendid to soak your feet in a natural hot spring foot bath with a volcano view.
This free foot spa is located opposite the Sakurajima visitor centre and is also next to the gorgeous Yogan Nagisa Lava Trail. It really is the best way to unwind in Kagoshima.
6. Have sushi with a volcano view
Lunch at Ohkan restaurant is definitely an experience. This restaurant is located in the heart of Kagoshima’s fishing area. You can actually see boatloads of fish being hauled in by local fishermen.
Join the snaking line in this busy restaurant, choose your menu option, [have fun trying to decipher the Japanese and accompanying photos] and then take your seat with steaming cups of green tea.
The menu is packed full of fresh fish and specialities that will give you a real taste of Japan.
The views of the bay and the volcano are a brilliant addition to the restaurant. There’s nothing quite like eating fresh sushi with an active volcano view right?
7. Take a scenic train ride
The ‘Ibusuki no Tamatebako’ is a gorgeous train that takes you on a scenic route from Kagoshima-chuo Station to Ibusuki in Japan. The interior is very ‘Agatha Christie’ and is wonderfully ornate for a train.
Grab a window seat and kick back with a coffee from the service trolley and enjoy stunning sea views as you travel in style.
This has to be one of the most scenic train rides you will ever take as it passes by the bay, Sakurajima volcano and leafy residential areas. It is a must-do activity in Kagoshima.
8. Climb up Mt. Uomidake Observatory
If you are a fan of panoramic views this is a wonderful spot to get some great shots of Chiringashima Island. It’s a bit of a trek up but the views are really worth it.
Try and visit when the temperatures are a little cooler as it can get really hot and sticky on the walk-up. I was a hot mess by the time I got to the top, so make sure to pack some deodorant for the ascent.
If you want to see the sandbar disappear though, check the tide times and you can watch it sink beneath the water in front of your eyes. If your phone has a hyper lapse function, you can get a really cool time lapse of the vanishing sand bar. It’s a truly memorable experience.
9. Visit a food stall village
The Kagoshima Furusato Yataimura food stall village is a collection of small restaurants where you can try a range of Japanese food offerings.
It’s really nice to wander around and visit several different stalls so that you can sample a range of dishes including rice dishes, seafood dishes, noodle dishes and meat dishes.
Japan doesn’t really have much of a ‘street food culture’ in the same way than Thailand does, so this is your chance to experience a rare foodie find in Japan.
Sit inside the small restaurants or outside on stools perched over tiny tables slurping up udon noodles. The atmosphere is really lively and friendly as locals gather to eat, drink and catch up with friends.
10. Have an outdoor lunch in the forest
Having a forest lunch in the Kirishima Open-Air Museum is like something out of a fairy tale. You can sit amongst nature in a forested setting. Enjoy a beautifully prepared lunch as you listen to the sounds of nature. It’s very zen, darlings.
The lunch platter is incredibly colourful and vibrant and contrasts well with the surroundings. It is a very calm and almost spiritual way to have lunch, especially as the food is so fresh and healthy. It almost seems a shame digging into such a neatly presented plate of food. Hunger will surely get the better of you though?
11. Enjoy a luxury stay at Shiroyama Hotel
Spoil yourself with a luxurious stay at the Shiroyama Hotel. This grand hotel has an incredible open-air, natural hot spring bath that overlooks Sakurajima Volcano and the bay area.
Be aware that this bathing facility is an ‘onsen’, so you’ll have to overcome any prudishness and strip off. When in Kagoshima and all that….
There is also a multitude of dining options in Kagoshima as well as boutique shops, concierge and a spa centre. If you are looking for a little indulgence when staying in Kagoshima, this is definitely the place for you.
Kagoshima is just a short flight away from Tokyo with Ana Airlines, making it a perfect addition to a Japan itinerary.
It is a real contrast from the hectic pace of Tokyo and is the ideal place to relax and unwind after visiting Japan’s capital. Would you visit this charming area of Japan?
Read more about our trips to Japan
My secret Wakayama: Japan’s Hidden Gem
5 unmissable sites in Oita, Japan
Learning to wear a kimono in Japan
Massive thanks to Portia Jones from Pip and the City for sharing some of the best things to do in Kagoshima, Japan.