Located in Kagoshima prefecture at the southwestern tip of the island of Kyushu, Kagoshima is the largest southernmost city on the main islands of Japan and is often considered the friendliest Japanese city for visitors.
Kagoshima has a long history as an important commercial port, especially during the medieval period and the Edo period from 1603–1868, is widely regarded as the birthplace of the industrial revolution in Japan. It was officially inaugurated as a city in 1889.
Due to the dramatic backdrop of Sakurajima, an active volcano located just across Kagoshima Bay, as well as its temperate climate, the city is often compared to Naples in Italy. The city, as well as the rest of Kagoshima prefecture, is well connected by public transport and is easy to access using the JR Pass.
How to get to Kagoshima
Bordering Kumamoto Prefecture to the north and Miyazaki Prefecture to the northeast, Kagoshima Prefecture is well connected by public transportation and can easily be reached on the Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train from a number of major cities.
To get to Kagoshima City from Tokyo by Shinkansen, it’s necessary to transfer trains along the route, either at Shin-Osaka or Hakata Station. The entire journey takes around 7 hours to complete.
Getting to Kagoshima from Fukuoka by Shinkansen takes between 80-100 minutes and is fully covered by the JR Pass, as well as the All Kyushu Rail Pass.
Those arriving at Kagoshima airport can get to Kagoshima-Chuo Station by taking a short bus ride, which lasts approximately 40 minutes.
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Things to do in Kagoshima City
There are a number of enticing attractions scattered across Kagoshima city, but all are easy to access using the various public transportation options available, including city trams, local trains, and buses.
Some of the most popular attractions in Kagoshima include:
- Sengan-en gardens – This magical Japanese garden was constructed in 1658 by the ruling Shimazu lord and boasts a wealth of tropical trees and plants as well as stunning views over the Sakurajima volcano. It takes approximately 45 minutes to stroll around this green space and enjoy its many impressive features, including ceremonial gardens, ancient shrines, and symbolic sculptures. Visitors are also advised to take a tour of the on-site Goten villa, the former home of the powerful Shimazu clan. The garden and villa are open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission to the garden costs 1000 yen per person, or 1500 yen if the visitor wishes to tour the inside of the residence.
- Museum of the Meiji Restoration – This popular museum in Kagoshima is dedicated to exploring the traditional education system and samurai codes of the historic Satsuma province, and provides a detailed breakdown of the infamous Satsuma Rebellion. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and the cost of admission is 300 yen per person.
- Nishi Hongan-ji Kagoshima Betsuin – A Buddhist temple built by the Jōdō Shinshū sect, which was banned by the Satsuma regime, and destroyed during World War II air raids, only to be reconstructed in 1982 and renovated in 2013. Although the rather vanilla interior design does not help it rank among the best temples to visit in Japan, it’s well worth a visit for its gilded, carved altar and collection of maritime-inspired fusuma-e paintings. Admission to the temple is free and it is open daily from 6.30 am to 4 pm.
- Terukuni-jinja – This famous shrine boasts an uniquely shaped roof resembling a bird in flight and was erected in memory of Shimazu Nariakira, the leader of the Satsuma clan in the late Edo period who opened the area to Western influences. Entry to the shrine is free and it is open daily from 8.30 am to 5 pm.
- Shōko Shūseikan – Constructed in 1850 as Japan’s first modern factory, this Japanese UNESCO World Heritage Site has since been converted into a museum with a large collection of over 10,000 artefacts relating to the Satsuma clan and the art of Satsuma kiriko (cut glass). The museum is open daily from 8.30 am -5.30 pm and admission is free with a ticket for the Sengan-en gardens.
- Reimeikan – Located behind Kagoshima City Hall inside Tsurumaru-jō, an ancient Japanese castle, Reimeikan is a museum offering a range of exhibitions exploring Satsuma history and ancient sword-making. It’s open from 9:00 am to 18:00 pm daily, with the exception of Mondays, or Tuesdays if that Monday is a national holiday, as well as the 25th of every month unless it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, The price of admission is 400 yen per person.
Side trips in Kagoshima Prefecture
While visiting Kagoshima city, travelers also have the opportunity to discover some of the awe-inspiring natural attractions in the surrounding prefecture, including the Sakurajima volcano and the nearby island nature reserves of Amami Oshima and Yakushima.
Many of these attractions can be accessed by travelling by train using the South Kyushu Rail Pass.
Sakurajima is Japan’s most active volcano, and although formerly an island, has been connected to the Osumi Peninsula by lava flows since a powerful eruption in 1914. Despite regular eruptions and daily ash falls, disaster prevention measures are in place to allow the population of over 4,600 to live on the volcano without too much to worry about.
Located in the middle of Kinko Bay, the volcano can easily be reached on a cheap, 15-minute ferry ride from Kagoshima ferry terminal in Kagoshima City. It takes approximately 1 hour to get around the entire circumference of the volcano if traveling by car.
The majority of attractions on the volcano, such as the visitor center, the Tsikiyomi Shrine, and the Yunohira Observatory, the highest point accessible to visitors, are located in the western part of Sakurajima.
Ibusuki hot springs
Widely considered to be one of the best onsen hot spring towns in Japan, Ibusuki stands out for its idyllic seaside setting and the unique geothermally heated sand baths on its beaches.
An experience in these natural steam baths involves being covered in hot sand up to the neck, in a process that is said to cleanse the blood. However, there are also more conventional open-air onsen springs nearby for those who don’t find the notion of being buried on the beach too appealing!
Often considered among the 10 best national parks in Japan, Yakushima island has been designated as UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site because of its unique ecosystem, and offers the chance to see native species, including Yaku monkeys and Yaku deer, in their natural habitat.
Major attractions on Yakushima include:
- The Ohko-no taki waterfall, one of Japan’s highest
- Hirauchi Sea Onsen Hot Spring, which only appears for 2 hours every day
- Nagata Inakahama Beach, where sea turtles regularly come ashore between May to July.
The majority of Yakushima, over 90%, is covered by lush forests made up of rare local plant species, and it’s well worth taking the 3-hour drive around the 100km circumference of the island to explore it all.
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Amami Oshima Island
Located roughly 500 kilometres to the south in the Amami archipelago, the island of Amami Oshima is still technically part of Kagoshima Prefecture, and can be reached via an 11-hour ferry ride from Kagoshima City.
Like Yakushima, most of Amami Oshima is designated as a national park, and the sub-tropical island is full of extensive mangrove forests and filled with protected species and endemic animals.
The island also boasts some beautiful beaches on which visitors can relax, including Tomori, Tokuhama, and the pebble-filled Honohoshi Shore.