Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県 Kagoshima-ken) is the southernmost prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Here you can find the majestic cedar forests of Yakushima, active volcanoes such as Sakurajima, abundant hot springs, samurai history, and rich nature.
Kagoshima prefecture lie at the south end of Kyushu, which is the southernmost of the four main islands in Japan. The prefecture consists of two peninsulas, which were separate domains before 1871 called Satsuma (薩摩) to the west and Osumi (大隅) to the east, as well as the island chains stretching southward towards Okinawa.
The Satsuma Peninsula
- 1 Kagoshima City — The capital and biggest city in the prefecture, with a relaxed atmosphere, and great views of and access to a very active volcano, Sakurajima.
- 2 Chiran — Home to the Chiran Peace Museum, a place to learn the moving stories of the often very young WWII kamikaze pilots. Also a location of many samurai houses.
- 3 Ibusuki — A very peaceful area for relaxing; the place to try Japan's famous "sand baths". Near Mt. Kaimon, the iconic oceanside mountain, where the more active traveler can climb and be rewarded with great views at the peak.
- 4 Izumi — Location of samurai houses open to the public, and winter home to great flocks of the vulnerable, and quite large white-naped species of crane.
- 5 Kirishima (Kagoshima) — City that is home to Kokubu Castle, a castle ruin.
- 1 Kirishima-Yaku National Park — A national park in Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefectures on the island of Kyūshū
- 2 Mount Kirishima — A range of mountains with active volcanoes, crater-lakes, and year-round views that are sometimes otherworldly. A source of some of the earliest myths of Japan. Hot springs are plentiful.
- 6 Satsumasendai — Home to Kagoshima Immaculate Heart University, which has a small population of foreign students.
The Osumi Peninsula
- 3 Sakurajima volcano — Hot springs, and an active volcano that spews ash over the surrounding areas.
- 7 Kanoya — Bay-side home to a well-known rose garden.
- 8 Cape Sata — The southernmost point on Kyushu.
In addition to the mainland, Kagoshima includes a spray of subtropical islands open to travelers looking for island adventures, extending south to and culturally strongly influenced by Okinawa. The northernmost group is the Ōsumi Islands (大隅諸島 Ōsumi Shotō):
- 4 Kuchinoerabu — Active volcanoes, hot springs and fishing.
- 5 Mishima Islands — Three small but very volcanic islands a short hop from Kagoshima City.
- 9 Tanegashima — Home to Japan's largest spaceport.
- 10 Yakushima — Looming subtropical island with ageless giant cedar forests, its own unique variety of deer and monkeys, and some of the tallest mountain peaks in the Kyushu area.
These are followed by the much larger but still sparsely populated Amami Islands (奄美諸島 Amami Shotō):
- 7 Amami Oshima — The largest island in both area and population.
- 8 Kikai — Culturally a blend of Okinawan, Amami, and Kagoshima traditions.
- 9 Tokunoshima — Listed as a natural world heritage site by UNESCO.
- 10 Okinoerabujima — Small island home to hundreds of caves and impressive coasts.
- 11 Yoron — A tiny and quiet beach paradise.
Kagoshima was known as Satsuma (薩摩) until 1871. It was one of the strongest Japanese provinces, at its height ruling an empire whose effective domain extended from Okinawa in the south to northern Kyushu. Fiercely reactionary, the city of Kagoshima was bombarded by English warships in 1863 in retaliation for the murder of an English trader, an event still known among the Japanese as the Satsuma-England War (薩英戦争 Satsu-Ei sensō).
While at first supportive of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and a key contributor to the military defeat of the Shogunate's forces, Satsuma soon balked at the new government's attempts to roll back the privileges of the samurai. By 1877, the province had done a U-turn and was now at the forefront of the Satsuma Rebellion (西南戦争 Seinan-sensō), somewhat reluctantly spearheaded by Saigō Takamori (西郷隆盛), a near-mythical figure whose story was (very loosely) adapted for the Last Samurai movie. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rebels failed to take Kumamoto's castle and were soon hunted down, Saigō dying in the final Battle of Shiroyama in Kagoshima.
With the rebellion over, Satsuma's port was converted into an Imperial naval stronghold that gave birth to Japanese admiral Tōgō Heihachirō.
Sub-tropical Kagoshima is the rainiest part of Japan, experiencing not one but two rainy seasons that stretch nearly uninterrupted from May to July. Parts of Yakushima get nearly 9000 mm — that's nine meters — of rain yearly, or about seven times more than Tokyo!
Hot on the heels of the rainy season come typhoons, peaking in August and September. The shoulder season that follows is one of the best times to visit, as is spring, with cherry blossoms flowering in late March. Winter can be surprisingly cold, with average temperatures on the coast around 7° and snow in the mountains.
The Kagoshiman dialect of Japanese, called Kagoshima-ben (鹿児島弁) or Satsuma-ben (薩摩弁), is famously incomprehensible to other Japanese. A local legend claims that this is intentional, so spies from elsewhere couldn't understand it, and this was even put to the test: while the American army employed Navajo codetalkers during World War II, the Japanese navy recruited fast-talking Kagoshima-ben speakers! These days, though, virtually all locals speak standard Japanese as well.
Kagoshima-ben stands out with unusual tonal accent and word stress, by distinguishing between ji じ, di ぢ, zu ず and du づ, and above all with an extensive array of local vocabulary. A few samples for flavor:
|Ojattamonse||Irasshaimase||Come on in|
|Aigato sagemoshita||Arigatō gozaimashita||Thank you|
|Oga gudda nagagonnatta.||Ore no kutsu ga nakunatta.||My shoes have disappeared.|
|Sogun sunkuzire arasenka?||Soko no sumikko ni arun ja nai ka?||Aren't they in that corner?|
|Assudoshi to nonkeita.||Tomodachi to nomi ni itta.||I went drinking with my friends.|
|Wai no yuccho kotsu wa icchon wakaran.||Omae no itte iru koto wa zenzen wakarimasen.||I don't understand what you're saying.|
Kagoshima's airport (KOJ IATA), about two hours by air from Tokyo, is well-connected to the rest of Japan and has links to Seoul and Shanghai. There are also direct flights to Amami Oshima from Tokyo-Haneda and Osaka-Itami. Also check New Tanegashima Airport (TNE IATA).
Kagoshima is the southern terminus of the Kyushu Shinkansen line. A bullet train service connects Kagoshima with Shin-Osaka in 3 hours and 45 minutes launched. With this leg of the bullet train route, northernmost mainland Japan and the southernmost point of Kyushu are effectively connected, although to travel the entire distance you would reportedly have to change trains at Tokyo station.
Virtually all ferries heading south towards the Amami Islands or Okinawa call in at Kagoshima. The main operators are A-Line Ferry, aka Maru-A (マルエー) and Marix Line, both of which run between Kagoshima and Naha (Okinawa) on alternating days. The full trip all the way from Naha takes about 24 hours and costs ¥14,200 in 2nd class — not much of a savings over a plane ticket.
Kagoshima is an agricultural area, known for numerous products:
- Black pork (黒豚 kurobuta) is from a variant of Berkshire hogs, and is the most highly prized pork in Japan. It is named for the color of the hogs, not the meat.
- Potatoes (芋 imo), particularly sweet potatoes (サツマイモ satsumaimo), are used in a variety of dishes and snacks, as well as in making shochu. Purple sweet-potato ice cream is available in various shops.
- Black beef (黒牛 kuroushi) is the well marbled local beef.
- Tropical fruits, grown both on the main Kyushu island and neighboring smaller islands, are available inexpensively at fruit markets around town.
- Brown sugar (黒糖 kokutō or 黒砂糖 kurozatō, both meaning "black sugar") made from sugarcane is a well known product of Kagoshima's southern islands. It is frequently used in candy, confectionery and can even be distilled into shochu.
- Local fish and shellfish are also common.
Special dishes in Kagoshima cuisine include:
- Chicken sashimi (鳥さし torisashi). Sliced raw chicken, served with a garlic and soy dip on the side. It tastes exactly like you'd expect raw chicken to taste like. In addition to the meat, liver, hearts and other parts are also eaten raw. The chicken used for this are specially bred, slaughtered and stored, reducing but not eliminating the odds of contracting salmonella or other nasties. If completely raw chicken is a step too far, try tori no tataki (鶏のタタキ), which has been lightly seared on the outside but is still raw and pink on the inside.
- Tonkotsu (豚骨). This is a pork stew where the meat is marinated in shochu and slow cooked; the bones turn into gelatin and are eaten as part of the dish. Not to be confused with tonkatsu, the fried pork cutlet!
- Satsuma-age (さつま揚げ). This is a kind of fried fish cake. Different shapes have different flavors, e.g. the large rectangular ones have carrot in the middle, the small round ones have sweet-potato flavor, and so on.
- Kibinago (きびなご). A kind of small fish, similar in size to a sardine. The fillets are served raw, with a white miso sauce for dipping.
Kagoshima's specialty is imojōchū (芋焼酎), a strong liquor distilled from sweet potatoes (薩摩芋 satsuma-imo). Manufactured here for over 500 years, it's infamous for its peculiar smell (often likened to gasoline and other unpleasant things), but recent varieties have reduced it to bearable levels, revealing a complex, almondy taste and the humble workman's plonk has been transformed into a high-class tipple now enjoyed in Tokyo's fancy bars. The local custom is to drink shochu mixed with hot water, called oyuwari (お湯割り), but first-timers will probably want to start off drinking it with cold water, mizuwari (水割り), or ice instead.
Kagoshima, like most of Japan, is remarkably safe place with kind people. Of course this is no excuse to forget common sense, so take regular precautions with your valuables and yourself.
With active volcanoes, particularly with the recent activity of Shinmoe volcano in the Kirishima area, it's a good idea to double check with locals before attempting a hike. Similarly, make sure to check about tropical storms or typhoons when making a trip to the southern islands. However, if there is danger, officials should have areas closed off in the case of volcanoes, and ferry travel canceled in the case of storms.