Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Tag: Kagoshima

Kagoshima, and rainy Shimabara

Saturday 14th

I was awoken around 3am by a sound I never wanted to hear in Japan – loud sirens that usually signify threats like earthquake or tsunami. Luckily they only sounded for a few seconds, so not sure if it was just a particularly loud emergency vehicle (but I don’t think so…). Back to sleep quickly, and the next morning as I was getting ready I heard a different sound in the street below my 11th floor room – this time it was a minibus fitted with large horn speakers, delivering political messages – we’re just a week away from elections in Japan, with Prime Minister Shinso Abe calling an election early – I’m sure he’s hoping to do better than our own Maybot…


Headed out to seek breakfast at a branch of Seattle’s Best Coffee. Decided that a cookies and cream muffin with iced coffe would hit the spot – and yes, that is an entire Oreo cookie baked into the top of the muffin.
Spot of culture today – walked via a number of locations, ending at the Kagoshima Reimeikan museum of local history. First photo is of a modern, but classically styled Buddhist temple. Then on to the Terukuni shrine, and its sculpture garden. This landmark 19th century Shintō shrine features a tree pruned into the shape of a flying bird.
Then in the sculpture garden, came across statues of two of Kagoshima’s famous sons – Shimazu Nariakira (surname comes first in Japan), and his brother Shimazu Hisamitsu. Nariakira was a politician but also a great moderniser and supporter of technology in the mid 19th century. He helped form business partnerships with the UK that brought many industrial and technical improvements to Japan, and Kagoshima was the first place in Japan to have gas street lighting. His brother Hisamitsu was also well known – but for the wrong reasons – it was his retinue’s treatment of British subjects (killing one, injuring two others) for not showing enough respect in the Namamugi Incident that led to the aforementioned Anglo-Satsuma war.

Very interesting stroll round the museum (which is on the site of the old Shiroyama castle), spotted an amazingly decorated palanquin – a carrying chair for higher class citizens in feudal Japan. Also, masses of bullet holes on the old castle walls – these from the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, where the remnants of the Satsuma Samurai unhappy with the Meiji restoration and loss of their old rule made their last stand.

Having made the genius move of taking the wrong tram back to Kagoshima station, I was able to change trams and get a couple of photos of the one I’d been riding. Then to my next iron steed – first bullet train of the trip – shinkansen time! Headed north at speeds of up to 190mph to Kumamoto, then bus to the ferry terminal and a rainy hydrofoil crossing to the port town of Shimabara. Then taxi, getting to the hotel late.

View from breakfast

The hotel was a spa hotel – or onsen –  and I seemed to be the only Westerner here. The Japanese love to bathe in hot spring water, and this hotel had great onsen baths for men and women. Very family friendly as well. The promotional material was great – lovely blue sky backdrops of the hotel – the reality was a lot of rain while I was here. Since the restaurant had already closed, grabbed a cab into town to visit the “Taj Mahal” – local Nepalese restaurant, one review called it the “best Indian food in Kyushu”. Having no reference point I can’t compare, but it was tasty and much needed.

Sunday 15th

I’d seen a couple of tourist programs on the NHK World channel about Shimabara, which has some lovely old suburbs that have water fed directly from mountain springs. One area has channels down each side of its roads – “Carp Street” – with lots of koi carp. It sits under another volcanic peak which has caused loss of life as recently as 1991 when an eruption led to pyroclastic flows of mud and lava that destroyed an area of houses on the outskirts of the town.

 My hopes of hiking Mt Unzen were dashed by the weather – low cloud obscured the summit for most of my time there. I took a long (and wet) walk out into the town for the day, first thing of interest I saw was an old steam engine, parked up at the side of the local shrine.

It didn’t take me long to find Carp Street, and one of the ‘must see’ old houses called Shimeiso. This is an Edo period building, with a beautiful garden and spring fed pond, where for a small entrance fee you can enjoy green tea while looking out at the pond.

Close to Shimeiso was the local area tourist office, with a very impressive carp pond:

Walked on through a covered shopping street towards the castle, and was surprised to see a number of people dressed in all sorts of costumes – turns out there was a cosplay (costume – play) event in town, with anime (animation) characters well represented. Unfortunately most seemed to be from Japanese anime and I didn’t recognise them – but I did have a nice chat while soaking my feet in a neighbourhood hot spring, with a guy dressed ninja/military style, and his companion, a girl in full on Disney princess pink – or possibly Princess Peach from Mario Brothers.
Hiked up the castle to see the view over the town – and you can see why I didn’t bother trying to hike the mountain. Headed back into town to look for food, and found myself outside a restaurant specialising in ‘shabu shabu’. This style of cooking has the diner being provided raw ingredients – in this case thinly sliced pork, ponzu leaves, cabbage, and honshimeji mushrooms – along with noodles, condiments and sauces. Then a hotplate and pot of boiling water complete the setup. The idea is to bring the water to a boil, then lower to a simmer and start adding the ingredients beginning with some of the vegetables. Once they are cooked you then cook the meat – it’s sliced so thin that just a few swishes through the water cooks it perfectly, and you eat as you cook. The ponzu (citrus) sauce is for the vegetables, and the sesame seed sauce for the meat.

The first photo is the sign outside the restaurant. I like to think the piglet is saying ‘please eat me!’. Then the menu – not much luck of me understanding it, so I tried Google Translate using the phone camera – not too bad actually. “Shabu shabu” is onomatopoeic in Japanese, it equates to “swish swish” as the sound that the ingredients make as they are passed through the simmering water.

On my way back to the hotel I finally found the small neighbourhood I’d been looking for, grouped around the Hamanokawa spring. There are 4 pools fed from the spring, the first for drinking from, second for washing vegetables etc, third for doing the dishes and the last (outgoing) for doing laundry. A lovely little spot.

Onwards – Kagoshima

Thursday 12th

Last night I had a very traditional Okinawan dinner – taco rice! All the fixings for tacos – spiced minced beef, cheese, salad, salsa – piled on a bowl of rice with a runny fried egg on top. Might not win any Michelin stars, but oh my word it was tasty. I was joined for dinner by an unusual companion, who just kind of hung out…
Talking of animals, the day before I’d met a dog owned by one of the staff, pretty sure he was a golden retriever. He looked very hot – just lying flat out next to his water bowl, tongue lolling. So how do you keep a hot dog cool? I found out the next morning – shave him! He looked cooler, though not in a fashion sense.

So the morning started with a pretty impressive torrential downpour, that led to a rather cool double rainbow. Turns out today was one of those where the ferries were cancelled from Uehara, and we had a 50 mins bus ride down to Ohara to get the ferry there. Got one last selfie with the island mascot, and you can see a plushy version on the bus next to our driver.

Sad to be leaving this beautiful place and heading north, some nice shots of the island retreating into the distance, and another huge liner moored up in Ishigaki port. Saw some things that made me ponder the accuracy of Japanese/English translations: there was a woman on the ferry wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Derived from a plant”. What was? Could be the cotton of the t-shirt I guess… Then the crew baseball cap proudly declared “Yaeyama Kano Ferry: We are willing to a safe navigation”. I was pleased to hear this.

Stained glass at Ishigaki Airport

Whole day travelling, flew Ishigaki to Naha (on Okinawa) where I had most of the day to wait. Went into town to find a late lunch at Helios bar where I’d visited last time – turned out to be a mistake. I’d forgotten that most bars don’t open until 5pm, then discovered that Helios was closed for the month anyhow. And it was so hot and humid I was glad to get back on the next plane north to Kagoshima.

More translation shenanigens: the airline I flew from Okinawa to Kagoshima was called “Solaseed Air”. Since the English language version of their website had no way to actually book tickets – just lots of info – I had to use Google Chrome and have it machine translate the website so I could make my booking. The airlines name was variously presented as “Solaside”, “Solar Side” and “Sorashid” – this last because Japanese has no ‘L’ in their syllabary, nor a ‘V’. Written Japanese is a syllabic language,  with single characters for syllables like “ka”, “ta” and “na”. But the lack of L or V means difficulty with translations, hence hearing someone say “runch” for a midday meal, or local convenience stores – or convinis – being pronounced “conbini”. It also leads to the hackneyed (and a little racist) mispronunciation of “lovely” as “rubbery” when a gaijin (foreigner) mimics the Japanese.

Hotel Kyocera-Mae

Arrived at my transit hotel around 11.15pm via airport bus. Lots of business types aboard, all probably wondering what this scruffy gaijin was doing there. Kagoshima airport is around 35km away from the city itself, and as I was arriving late decided to pick a hotel close to the airport. Also, as it turned out, close to a volcano that just started erupting – Shinmoedake, only 25km away. Luckily the prevailing wind was blowing any ash away from us.

Hotel Kyocera-Mae was very plush. A tall oval cylinder with a massive central atrium running the height of the building, with a glass walled wedding chapel at it’s base – obviously a popular spot for ceremonies. The wedding store there also had some very interesting ideas for bridal outfits…

Friday 13th


Now that’s what I call a breakfast – especially when the hotel only cost £58. Hopped a taxi to Hayato station for the Limited Express run into Kagoshima, back on the rails again. We are further north now, but it’s still 26degC. But not quite so humid thank goodness. The train passes people harvesting rice from newly drained paddies, it’s always interesting to see so many paddies and allotments dotted among residential areas.

First sight of Sakurajima

As is common, the line hugs the coast, skirting the mountains that take up much of the interior. The occasional tunnel punctuates the scenes across the bay towards Sakurajima wreathed in cloud – or is it smoke?

Pulled into Kagoshima and hopped a taxi to the North Port. This is where I could get a ferry across to the volcano – and luckily for me it wasn’t smoke but clouds, the volcano is still very active, and regularly drops drifts of black ash on the neighbouring city if the wind is right.

Sakurajima Ferry Line brought me across to the island in just 15 minutes, they run all day, every day, every quarter of an hour. And they have a cute manga (cartoon) mascot – in Japan? Who’da thunk it! They also have a ferry tricked out like a Lousiana paddle steamer with fake smokestacks – sadly I didn’t get to ride that one.
Set off on a 6km walk around part of the coast, huge tumbled pieces of lava everywhere and black, gritty sand underfoot. The design of the lampposts was cute – in addition to being volcanic, Sakurajima is also known for huge radishes, Guinness record holders!
While strolling I met a couple of the 4 legged inhabitants – they were very interested in me until they realised I didn’t have any food for them. Carried on to an observation point – originally a gun battery location used to bombard the British fleet in 1863, during the Anglo-Satsuma war. The circumstances of Japan ending its isolation in 1852 when the American fleet arrived, and then the ending of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period in 1868 (when the old order of the shoguns was toppled, and the Emperor restored to the throne) makes fascinating reading.

Hopped the sightseeing bus to the highest point on its route, at an observation building – Yunohira Observatory. Great views up to where ash and rock is mined for processing, and down to the bay and Kagoshima beyond. In the third photo below, you can see what looks like a concrete river channel – these are to divert lahars and boiling mud flows from future volcanic activity away from buildings. Bus back, and walked to the Tsukiyomi shrine. The info graphic shows how black lava dust coats everything – it also shows that the area I hiked around (shaded in pink) only came into existence during the last large eruption in 1914.

After arriving back on the ferry, I went next door to the Kagoshima aquarium. A very impressive building, with a huge tank on the second floor populated by many locally found sea creatures – plus a couple of divers cleaning up. Smaller tanks on other floors contained examples of both seawater and freshwater fish found around there, plus some pretty weird looking crustaceans. And I found Nemo!
One interesting thing about the signage: very little English (not surprising), but the Latin names for all the exhibited creatures was given.


Located the hotel, and found a local craft beer bar called Dolphin Industry which did excellent Kobe beef hamburgers and Japanese craft beers. One was brewed very locally indeed – just a short walk up the road – at Shiroyama Brewery. A Saison style beer, flavoured with Yuzu peel (a Japanese citrus often used in dips, marinades etc). Then two guys came in for food, and the bar owner introduced them as the head brewer and his co-worker at the brewery! Couple of Brits arrived and we got chatting, turns out they are travelling around and working as English teachers, placements at multiple sites. They thought I should do the same – a very, very tempting thought…

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