Day 3: January 20
In the morning, we took a bus to Sangen-en/Sangen Garden. The bus I wanted to take didn’t actually seem to exist (maybe I got the wrong information online) but I did find another bus. Sangen-en is another landscape garden which has stunning views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay.
One of the cutest things I saw for the first time was the little straw huts that the Japanese use to cover plants in the winter! I found them so adorable!!!
We also witnessed this cute scene where the man in the pond (staff) was trying to catch a fish, and the other visitors were cheering him on. Everyone was very pleased when he succeeded in catching the fish.
We then took the bus to the Kagoshima ferry terminal that would take us to Sakurajima. I mentioned in the last post that I was really excited to come to Kagoshima in order to visit this active volcano and Yakushima, an island close to Kagoshima. These were major destinations I planned around for our visit to Kyushu. The ferry ride between Kagoshima and Sakurajima is only around 15 minutes, so it’s really close (and the reason why the town gets a lot of ash when the volcano erupts). After arriving at Sakurajima, there wasn’t much around so we walked up the hill to a cafeteria for a simple and quick lunch.
I love that they are keeping track of Sakurajima’s eruption frequency on this board. As you can see, it had been quiet thus far in January and T were personally quite disappointed that there were no eruptions during our time in Kagoshima. In fact, it erupted over a thousand times the previous year, and after we left, Sakurajima did erupt!
We walked the Nagisa Lava Trail (around 3km), then took a bus from the end of the trail to Yunohira Observation Point. The Nagisa Lava Trail starts near the ferry terminal, and winds through the lava zone created from the giant 1914 eruption, showing all the vegetation regrowth since then. The Yunohira Observation is the closest observation point to the crater (2.5km away) and also the tallest at 350m.
We took the bus back to the ferry terminal and returned to Kagoshima. I also purchased our ferry tickets to travel to and from Yakushima, where we would be going tomorrow.
We walked around Kagoshima, stopping at a shochu store to buy (shochu) souvenirs, and many conbini since it was a bit early to have dinner but I had no other plans.
For dinner, we had ramen at Tontoro Ramen, which was apparently one of the best ramen restaurants in Kagoshima.
Day 4: January 21
We took a very early taxi to the Kagoshima ferry terminal. It was just easier with our luggage and the time of day to take a taxi. Our ferry departed for Yakushima at 7:45am and took two hours. When we arrived at Yakushima Miyanoura terminal, we picked up our rental car. For this rental car, I would be driving! Yakushima is very hard to navigate without a car, and especially so in winter when public transport is more limited. The island is manageable to drive around though – only 135km.
Yakushima is a subtropical island covered in cedar trees and known to have Japan’s oldest trees. It is famous for raining “35 days a month” and its ancient cedar trees, especially Jomonsugi, which is estimated to be 2000 to 7500 years old and the is the main attraction of Yakushima. Visiting Jomonsugi is like a pilgrimage to the Japanese, and in peak season, the trail to Jomonsugi is so congested that there’s barely any gaps between hikers. The roundtrip hike takes around ten hours (or more depending where you start) but because of the reduced access and shorter daylight hours during winter, it was not a good idea to attempt this hike. However we are hoping to return to Yakushima in the future to do the Jomonsugi pilgrimage!
My plans for Yakushima were fairly relaxed since it would be weather dependent. In true form, it poured the whole first day so we drove around one side of the island to the various sites marked out on maps.
How adorable was our car? It was tiny but comfortable and very easy to drive. The road speeds were slow enough that it didn’t matter that we were in a small car.
Much of the island was pretty deserted and we almost never saw tourists, even at tourist destinations. Even the town area where shops and hotels were located was really quiet. I guess winter is really not a popular time to visit Yakushima. We couldn’t even find a restaurant or anything for a long stretch, so we stopped at a supermarket. It thankfully had a bathroom (which I desperately also needed). We bought some food from the supermarket, warmed it up in their microwave and ate a very late lunch in the car.
We were driving down the western coast, which is definitely the quietest side of of the island (buses don’t even serve that side). The roads were, for long stretches, just single lane mountain roads for BOTH directions but we could go an hour or two without seeing a single car driving in the opposite direction. I guess that was one good thing about visiting during the super low season. Occasionally we would have to stop as there were animals in our way. We stopped at four waterfalls, including Okonotaki/Oko Waterfall, which is considered one of 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Japan loves a good list.
It worked out well that we just drove around the western side and stopped at the waterfalls, since it rained so hard all day. It would have been miserable to do any walks or hikes. We drove to our hotel, Yakushima Green Hotel, on the eastern side of the island (where all the hotels are) and checked in. The hotel had large rooms but was a bit old. Overall it was fine though.
We drove to have dinner at Izakaya Jijiya, which serves modern and fusion izakaya food. I hadn’t had trouble with parking the whole day because we hadn’t really been on residential roads, and most tourist destinations had parking areas. Unfortunately I could not figure out where to park nearby! We actually had to go ask at the restaurant, and they informed us of a parking area across the road where we could park for free. We enjoyed a nice dinner after a pretty tiring day. I was definitely sick of the rain though!