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Devi's Japan Travels Part 2: Kagoshima & Sakurajima

Hi there and welcome to the second blog of my travels!

This time I will write about my experiences in Kagoshima and Sakurajima. To be honest, our plan was to drive from the south towards the north to get a full cherry blossom experience, as the end of march sakura-season should have started. The keyword here is should. Because there were absolutely NO sakura blooming nowhere yet. So my brilliant idea was to start south (where the weather is warmer and sakura should bloom earlier) and go northwards to experience it fully. My dear friend Rick, who also happened to be in Japan at the same time (well, I kind of recommended this period), started out in Tokyo and went southwards. I was thinking oh no! Will he get the full experience then?? Little did I know, the winter this year was especially cold so most places bloomed very late this year.. Except for Tokyo, because it is a big city (more warmth) sakura season started there already. So I didn't need to worry about Rick but rather us, poor poor us for coming to Japan too early! Honestly I knew we would have no sakura in the beginning, and the main reason we came so early is that I wanted to visit my good friend's wedding. Will we even see fully bloomed sakura? In order to find out that answer you should tune in for the rest of my travel blogs heh heh.. (insert shameless self promotion).

Arrival in Kagoshima

After arriving in Kagoshima we parked our car at the hotel, Kagoshima Plaza Hotel Tenmongan, it was quite inexpensive (usually parking is also expensive in Japan) settled in our rooms and of course the first thing we did was: eat. What else? So Kagoshima is famous for its 'kurobuta', or black pig, so we wanted to get the full experience of that. We ended up in a 'yakiniku' (BBQ) restaurant in the Tenmongan district.

Needles to say, this was a very good choice. This restaurant was recommended by the hotel receptionist who gave us a map of the surrounding neighbourhood with a legenda of where to find what. So the little black pigs drawn on the map gave us a direction where to get kurobuta. We om'ed and nom'ed on various parts of meat, but my favourite is still butabara, or pork belly. I also recommend the cheek and harami (meat cut from the diaphragm). I really enjoyed the agedashi tofu, a crisp fried tofu served in a 'soup', or sauce kind of broth (see above picture). It's one of my favourite side dishes, it is warming and the taste of fluffy tofu inside a crispy skin is amazing together with the sauce. 

After eating I noticed some older men sitting with younger women, it seemed like she was a hostess or something. Going outside and walking around Tenmongan, we saw more and more hostesses and also louche clubs with scantily dressed ladies and pictures with women with their faces censored, indicating more louche clubs. That's when I realized we were in the 'bad' neighbourhood of Kagoshima, the red light district you could say. I didn't really mind, as there were a lot of nice bars and restaurants as well. Also it was kind of funny to see how these younger men try to get older men on the street into their hostess clubs. 

Sexy Pirates Club 'One Peace', I thought this reference to the anime was kind of hilarious. All I could think was Master Roshi's 'pichipichi gyaru'.

Chuuzan Park and Sakurajima

The next morning we asked at the reception if there were any sakura blooming yet. The manager of the reception was actually a really nice man that took the time to explain to us where to go, not only for sakura but also nice onsen (hot springs) or other places we should visit. That's what I really liked about this hotel, the personal touch to it was quite nice, making our stay also pleasant. He talked about Chuuzan district, so we put it in our navigation and started driving. Our navigation sometimes takes us through the most bizarre streets and alleyways, I often had my google maps next to it (offline maps as I had no internet outside) so I could navigate with both. That's why I got the nickname (actually just gave myself the nickname..) of Navidevi. So Navidevi got us in the right direction after we went into a narrow street, where a taxidriver backed up into our car!! Luckily we had no damage, and the poor old taxidriver was an elder man (which you see a lot in Japan) who apologised a lot. 

As you can see the street was really narrow. He even helped us get on the busy road you see in front of our car.

Arriving in Chuuzan we realized it's just a neighbourhood, a district name for a residential area. So we looked at the trees (we actually really did this) if there was anything blooming anyway. We didn't see much, and I looked on google maps if there was anything around worthy to check out. So I Navidevi'd us to a park in the neighbourhood. It was pretty secluded but once we arrived we really liked it! And behold, sakura blooming!!

At least we got to see some sakura, the weather was nice, and the park was also very nice with some hills and a mountain in the back. A variety of trees, not all blooming of course as they have different blooming periods. After enjoying the park for a while we drove to the ferry port, took a ferry to Sakurajima. It took about 15 minutes by ferry and the cost wasn't that high even though we were by car. 

Sakurajima is a volcano island which became kind of like a peninsula because of the many eruptions 'creating' more land around it. 

On the ferry to Sakurajima, splendid view of the volcano

After arriving in Sakurajima we went to a Lawson's konbini to get some snacks and relax in the sun for a second. Afterwards we drove to the Yunohira observatory and had a very nice view of the area as well as the volcano.

We decided to go to this Jinja, or Shinto shrine, in the mountains which was a bit secluded. There were a lot of little weird steep roads leading to it so we had an interesting 'adventure'. We ended up in the coastal area and then went back up, leading to some interesting views. I can only imagine what little amount of tourists have taken these roads..

Coastal area of sakurajima with a view of Kagoshima

Little roads climbing up the volcano.
Who am I... Where am I... 'Lost' in the mountains

We saw a lot of mikan farms, mikan are fruits originally introduced via China. A mix between orange and mandarin I would say..

Entrance to the Shinto shrine in the middle of nowhere

Arriving at the entrance of the Shinto shrine, I kind of had a feeling not many people came here. It was sort of a path, not even very defined one I must add, in the woods. I hurt my ankle climbing up. 

The Shinto shrine wasn't anything spectacular either, messing up my ankle just for that didn't really seem worth it, but we did get to see a lot of roads, mikan farms, etc. The (mostly elder) farmers saw us and were quite surprised, I can imagine they were thinking what on earth these foreigners are doing all the way up here, it was quite amusing. We saw a lot of mikan on the side of the road half eaten wondering what happened. Then we saw (enormous) crows steal the mikan from the trees. The fact crows are smart has been proven again for me.

Mikan trees with wrapped mikan creates very nice sights

After our mountain adventures it was time to do some real sightseeing and touristy stuff. We went to several landmarks, such as the Kurokami buried torii gate (shinto gate), which apparently used to be 3 meters high but got buried after the eruption in 1914.

To imagine this was a very high gate is very strange, it got almost totally filled! The power of nature is instilled in you after seeing landmarks like these and the next one of the volcano, with one part apparently always smoking (on the left side):

 One part of the volcano is always smoking, strange but wonderful sight.

We drove around the whole island and got every landmark on the road. Some are a bit more land-inwards such as the Yunohira observatory, having a car makes it really easy to see everything in one day. 
 The Lava road observatory where you can see some volcanic rock formations.

View of the volcano from the Lava road
One yen coins put in this volcanic rock as a kind of offering I am guessing makes one shiny rock. 5 yen coins are more famous for offering.

We didn't need more time to see most of the landmarks. On the way to our final stop we saw some lanterns in the shape of daikon, like a Japanese radish, which Sakurajima is also famous for. Because of the volcanic ashes the ground is quite fertile and the daikon become incredibly large in this area. I thought it was a nice touch to have the laterns in daikon shape.

Our final stop at Sakurajima was one where we could relax: the Nagisa footbaths. But fiiiirst, have some mikan ice cream! And shop for cute kurobuta mascots and other things. We got two fridge magnets with kurobuta, filled with little rock/sand of Sakurajima.

Ahh, finally arrived in Nagisa park. The pictures say it all, very serene, in a nice park with nice views over the sea as well as the volcano. Put your feet in the hot water after a day of walking and sight-seeing and relax. 

We were here until dark, then took the ferry back home. The night view were also nice, lights in Kagoshima on the front, and the shadow of the impressive mountain in the back.

Back in Kagoshima we asked (again) for a recommendation of the famous tonkotsu ramen (pork noodle dish), we can't go without eating this wonderful dish. They told us the best place to eat them, and it was a very local and quaint place to eat ramen. Boy, was this ramen good! The kurobuta was tender and melted right on your tongue. This ramen is just perfect. Most of the locals just came in, shoved a meal in and went again. We stayed a bit longer and really enjoyed our meal. It was a very good way of ending this adventurous day.

 Om nom nom, what more can I say

This local place is called Tontoro, we enjoyed it a lot.

Another day, another kurobuta. We walked around the Tenmongan disctrict and a bit outside of it, we saw a lot of nice bars so we had a drink at this bar that had a nice atmosphere. We decided to go to bed early because the next day we had 5 hours of driving ahead. Onwards, to Oita!

~Written by Devi~

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