I think it's safe enough to say that Sakurajima is the no. 1 attraction in Kagoshima and suffice it to say that the 15-min ferry ride from the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal remains one of my highlights of my 7-month stay in Japan. It's awesome to witness its majesty from a distance and even more so when I edged closer and closer to the island.
I didn't have a lot of time to explore Sakurajima but even just taking the Sakurajima Port--Yunohira Observatory Loop Bus (500 yen for adults) offered some interesting sights. Just be aware that the bus runs on a schedule--my friend and I didn't realise that and had to walk to the next stop to catch another bus consequently!
I really liked the quirky Sakurajima All-night Concert Memorial Monument that was built to commemorate one memorable night in which 75,000 people gathered for a rock concert. The expansive green space near it was gorgeous; I was contented just sitting on the fence and watching Kagoshima City. It was quiet there and hence, it was cool just deriving a sense of peace and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Another highlight was Yunohira Observatory where an in-your-face view of Mount Sakurajima awaited you. Best to just hang loose and enjoy staring into nothingness/cam-whoring, depending on the kind of person you're. Grins.
The Chiran Peace Museum is dedicated to the 1036 kamikaze pilots who sacrificed their lives by flying their bomb-laden planes into American ships. As such, this is not a visit for the faint-hearted but if you are curious to understand the frame of mind of these Japanese who knew that they did not have much longer to live, I would say this is a visit well worth your time.
For starters, it is a super comprehensive museum, with photographs of the pilots (both individual and group), letters, signed declarations (some of which were written in blood) and other personal belongings. I would suggest that you get an audio guide for 300 yen; it comprises recordings that illustrate the lives of some of these pilots. Listening to these recordings while looking at the faces really brought home the poignancy of the situation for me. How would I react if I were in their position? Honestly speaking, I wouldn't know.
I was struck by how serene they looked in the group photos. They looked so carefree in their shots of interacting with the villagers and horsing around with one another that you wouldn't think that these people were marching towards their deaths. After my visit, I Googled the Internet and it seemed that many of these young men were putting on a brave front and could only release their pent-up emotions by crying into their pillows at night. Nonetheless, these photos were a fine display of the Japanese psyche. Their sense of duty to their society and nation was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to witness.
After your visit, be sure to have your lunch at the Tomiya Inn nearby. These pilots viewed the former owner, Tome Torihama as a surrogate mother and confided in her. At this inn, you can see some memorabilia that were from the film set of the 2007 movie "I go to die for you". It made my heart a little lighter, knowing that these young men--some of whom were only 17--had someone to rely on during their final days.
I feel how much you get out of this museum depends on how knowledgeable you already are on art. The main gallery showcased one or two definitive works from the major art styles, including neo-classicalism, cubism and surrealism but because I'm a greenhorn when it comes to art, having all these art works gathered together at one gallery feels like a weird mashup of sorts. Also, explanatory notes in English weren't available, so I felt like I left the hall as ignorant as when I had entered it. LOL. Still, some art works caught my eye, so I suppose I can't complain when the entrance fee is a dirt cheap 300 yen. Most meals in Japan are pricier than this!
Of greater interest to me was a collection of Japanese-style works by artists from Kagoshima. Most works pertained to nature, so I could just hang loose and enjoy the perspectives offered by these artists.
Also check out the many interesting sculptures positioned all over this museum;)
Not the most comprehensive of museums, which means that this isn't exactly a must-go. Still, if you are seeking a place to allow your children to burn off some pent-up energy, this museum may be a good choice, especially if you have read aloud "Alice in Wonderland" to your children. The 3rd floor is replete with lively and colourful wall paintings of Alice and I'm sure you and your children will have a ball of time taking pictures besides them. Elsewhere, check out the "Blank Picture Book" at the basement, in which the audience gets to choose what happens to the story characters every step of the way. Kinda like an animated "Choose Your Own Adventure" if you are familiar with this reference.
Also, because I know a little Japanese, I was intrigued by the descriptions of the various artefacts owned by the different fairy tale characters. I was particularly taken in by the Monkey King, a popular character in Chinese literature. If you are proficient at Japanese, you can even take a stab at reading the many children's books that showcase Japanese favorite characters. Lol.
No visit to Kagoshima would be complete if one missed out on a side trip to Ibusuki which consists of Saraku, the one and only natural sand bath in the world. How would it feel like to be covered by warm sand all over my body, except for my head? Well, I can't quite imagine the sensation and hence, was determined to experience it for myself.
Upon reaching there, I was directed to queue at the indoor sand bath, which was fine with me since I was wearing only a yukata, hardly adequate insulation against the bitter cold. Then, I was told to lie down while the workers there piled sand on top of me, leaving only my head exposed. Imagine rows of heads sticking out of the sand--it's a pretty amusing sight;).
I had to resist the urge to move at first because it felt like the warm sand was scalding my body. But hang in there. It does get better when your body adjusts to the temperature. After that, just soak in the warmth of the sand--a welcomed respite from the cold--while grinning about how this bath would do your body some good. After all, it is said to stimulate the health and increase blood circulation. At least, that was how I spent my time.
Since I find it hard to keep still in one position for a prolonged period of time, I got up after 10 mins, wanting to take a break and have another go. That was my MISTAKE. When I queued up, the attendant politely told me that everyone was entitled to have one dip in the sand. Once I got up, that was it. Darn! I wish I had known this. I could have easily lasted another 5-10 mins in the sand. So, don't make the same mistake like I did;).
Aside: As you turn down Chou Dori to get to Saraku, check out the signs pointing towards a free foot bath besides the sea. It was therapeutic just feeling the sand beneath the feet while enjoying the view of the mountains in front of me. Don't miss it!
Located at an elevation of 373m on the plateau closest the crater, Yunohira Observation Point affords visitors an excellent look at smoke-spewing Minamidake crater as well as superb view of downtown Kagoshima city.
Senganen is a magnificent Japanese style landscaped garden which contains Sakurajima and the Kinko-bay as backdrop scenery. It was built in 1658 by the 19th lord of Satsauma domain Mitsuhisa Shimazu as his holiday villa. The area also set a precedence for Japan's modernisation.
The Dolphin Port is a recreational and dining area facing the active volcano Sakurajima. There are shops, restaurants and a waterfront park where one can take a leisurely stroll while taking in the sights of Sakurajima.
The Shimadzu Family dominated the Kagoshima for many years. The Iso-teien Gardens are now a beautiful Japanese Garden and traditional house and museum complex popular with visitors to Kagoshima. There is an entrance fee into the gardens which also gets you into the museum (about 800 Yen I think). We spent an afternoon here wlaking around the gardens and surrounding bush area. The garden is best reached by bus from JR Kagoshima Station.
You should definately see the lava flows on Sakurajima Island. The whole section of the island with the most recent flows looks so barren. I felt a bit like this might be what Mars looks like!! haha (if it weren't for the wooden paths built over it all!).
Shiroyama Park is a high point above Kagoshima city where you can take in a panoramic view of Kagoshima and Sakurajima.
SAKURAJIMA VOLCANO: The eruption in 1914 left the island with 3 billion tons of lava.
Maryanne & me (beauty & the beast?!) Hey, I'm refering to the lava ;-) which was once the beast!
These are the hardened lava in the island. One can see many of such rocks all over the island... it's really amazing what nature can do! An entire island of hardened lava!!! What a sight!