Make the most of your time in Japan’s friendliest city with these unmissable things to do in Kagoshima in one day.
Sunny Kagoshima, the southernmost city on Kyushu Island, has many claims to fame.
The so-called “Naples of the Orient” has been voted Japan’s friendliest city, is responsible for the birth of the industrial revolution and the introduction of guns to Japan. It is also home to Kyushu’s oldest and largest shopping mall and is the centre of Japanese sweet potato (shochu) cultivation. In less amiable times, Kagoshima was the setting for the final battle of the Satsuma rebellion, Japan’s final civil war.
But Kagoshima is better known for Sakurajima, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan, and Sengan-en, the sprawling traditional gardens and house of the Shimadzu clan.
To help you make the most of your time in this sub-tropical city, here is my one-day Kagoshima itinerary which takes in both of these must-see sights. This article also includes how to get to Kagoshima, how to get around, solo travel tips and suggested reading.
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A Short History of Kagoshima
Kagoshima has a proud and fascinating history. Information boards at key locations across central Kagoshima will be your historical guide.
Capital of the feudal Satsuma domain, Kagoshima was ruled by the powerful Shimadzu clan for a staggering 700 years, from the Kamakura period (1158 – 1333) until the end of the Edo period in 1868. To this day, Kagoshima is also referred to as Satsuma.
The late 19th century heralded the Meiji Restoration and although the Shimadzu family lost their status as feudal lords of Satsuma, they were granted the title Prince Shimadzu under the new Peerage Law of 1884.
Kagoshima’s best-known samurai, was Saigo Takamori, of whose image there are many manga and pictorial representations. The so-called “Last Samurai”, played a pivotal role in the Meiji Restoration, and is the embodiment of the conflict of the traditional ways over modernisation.
Best Time to Visit Kagoshima
Due to its sub-tropical climate, Kagoshima has warmer weather on average than the rest of Japan, and can be visited year-round.
Visit Kagoshima in Spring (April and May) for temperate weather and to welcome the cherry blossom.
I visited Kagoshima in March when sightseeing conditions were perfect and prices moderate and the cherry blossom had started to bloom.
The summer months are hotter and wetter and coincide with the peak of Japan’s typhoon season (August and September). However, as few of these typhoons make it as far as Japan’s main islands – Okinawa bears the brunt of these – there is no need to avoid travel during these months.
Autumn is prime onsen season in Kagoshima and is also when the foliage is a kaleidoscope of dazzling colours. November is considered to be the best time to view the autumn colours. As with sakura, the timing is a bit of a gamble, but you can check out the fall foliage forecasts here.
How Long Should You Spend in Kagoshima?
I visited Kagoshima as a day trip from Fukuoka, and one day was enough time to visit Sengan-en and Sakurajima without it feeling rushed.
Ideally, you should plan on spending at least two days in Kagoshima, which will allow you take in the city’s main attractions in a more leisurely manner, as well travel a little further afield. I have included a few suggestions for extending your Kagoshima itinerary towards the end of this article.
How To Get To Kagoshima
Kagoshima can be reached by air, rail or road. If you are spending just one day in Kagoshima, travelling by train is your best option.
How to get to Kagoshima by train
The Sakura shinkansen (bullet train) travels to Kagoshima-Chuo station from Fukuoka (Hakata station) in around 90 minutes. From Kumamoto, the journey time is around 45 minutes.
The slightly faster Mizuho shinkansen also runs along this line. However, Mizuho bullet trains are not included in the Japan Rail Pass.
Regular JR trains also serve this route. However, as this is a very long journey involving multiple changes of train, I don’t recommend this as an option if visiting Kagoshima on a day trip.
It is considerably cheaper to buy your JR Pass before leaving home.
How to get to Kagoshima by air
Kagoshima has an airport, a 40-60 minute bus ride north of the city centre, which handles domestic flights and selected international flights, including those from Seoul, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The airport bus from Kagoshima Airport serves a number of location in the city centre, including Kagoshima Chuo Station. The one-way fare is 1,300 yen (2021 price).
How to get to Kagoshima by bus
Bus routes on Kyushu are limited and journey times are considerable. For example: the bus journey between Kagoshima and Fukuoka takes four hours (six hours for the overnight journey).
From most destinations, you are better off taking the train if you are visiting Kagoshima for the day.
How To Get Around Kagoshima
If you are in Kagoshima for one day, your best options for getting around are its trams and its two loop buses that are geared towards tourists.
To reach Sakurajima, you will need to catch a ferry.
Kagoshima’s two tram lines provide a quick and convenient service from its train station to the downtown area. The flat fare is 170 yen (2021 price).
Kagoshima’s loop buses
The City View Bus and the Machimeguri Busoperate similar routes, connecting Kagoshima Chuo Station with Senganen Garden and the ferry terminal serving Sakurajima.
City View Bus
The City View buses run every 30 minutes and cost 190 yen per ride (2021 price). A one-day pass is available for 600 yen and offers unlimited use of the City View Bus, regular bus and city trams on one calendar day.
This retro-style bus is an excellent way to navigate Kagoshima and costs little more per ride than the less useful city buses. Enter by the central door and pay the driver as you exit or flash your one-day pass (make sure that you have scratched off the date of travel).
The City View Bus service runs from 8.30 am from Kagoshima Chuo Station; the last bus of the day returns to the train station at 6.50 pm. Buses run every 30 minutes.
Many of its 19 stops are associated with Kagoshima’s often bloody history. Recorded commentaries in English are available but some drivers provide their own commentary, which is far more entertaining!
The Machimeguri Bus is a more frequent and more affordable option, costing 170 yen per ride or 500 yen for unlimited use on one calendar day (2021 prices). However, this one-day pass does not include city trams or regular buses.
If you are travelling around Kagoshima on a pay-as-you-go basis, a convenient payment method for the city’s trams and buses is SUGOCA, the prepaid IC (interchargeable) card for Kyushu.
Best Things To Do in Kagoshima in One Day
1-Day Kagoshima Itinerary
Discover the best things to do in Kagoshima in one day with this tried and tested itinerary. Before setting off, stop at the tourist information office at Kagoshima-Chuo station for helpful information, a great free map and to buy your one-day pass.
MORNING: DIVE INTO KAGOSHIMA’S SAMURAI PAST AT SENGAN-EN
The first stop on your Kagoshima itinerary is Sengan-en.
Sengan-en is not only home to a traditional Japanese-style landscape garden and the former residence of the Shimadzu family, who ruled Kagoshima until the 19th century, but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this is not for the reason that you might think.
For Sengan-en is also the site of Japan’s oldest remaining stone factory. Built in 1865, this was at the forefront of the Japanese Industrial Revolution.
As the 19th Century unfolded, Western powers began making the presence felt in Asia. In response, Shimadzu Naria-Kira, the 28th feudal lord of the Satsuma clan, launched the Shuseikan project in 1851.
Part of the aim of this project was to make Japan strong and wealthy through industrial modernisation, and the rich heritage of this drive is preserved at Sengan-en.
That said, most people visit Sengan-en for its sprawling gardens with their unsurpassed view of a smoking Sakurajima.
Sengan-en was built in 1658 by the 19th head of the Shimadzu family, Mitsihisa. It draws heavily on the principle of borrowed scenery, and incorporates background elements of Sakurajima and Kinko Bay as part of the gardens.
During the Edo period, the Shimadzu clan owned a number of residences and 13 shrines from these residences were moved to Sengan-en and collected into a single shrine – the Oniwa Shrine – in 1918. Whether you are seeking marital bliss or certain victory, it’s here that you really can pray for all of your wishes to come true.
I was also taken with the Cat Shrine, built to mark the enshrinement of the two cats who survived an expedition to Korea taken by Yoshihiro, the 17th head of the Shimadzu family. The story goes that he was able to accurately tell the time of day during battle by looking at the eyes of his seven cats.
EARLY AFTERNOON: TAKE THE FERRY TO SAKURAJIMA
Visiting Sakurajima is one of the essential things to do in Kagoshima.
Take the cheerful fuschia ferry from Kagoshima port to Sakurajima to have a ringside view of one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
The volcano has spewed ash and smoke constantly since 1955, and minor eruptions take place more than a 1000 times a year. Located in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima has three peaks, the highest of which is at an elevation of 1117 meters, and has a circumference of about 50 kilometers.
Prior to a powerful eruption in 1914, Sakurajima used to be an island in the bay but the lava flow from that event created a land connection to the Osumi Peninsula.
Sakurajima is best explored by car, but that may not be practical if you are only in Kagoshima for one day and are a solo traveller. Happily, driving is not the only option for touring Sakurajima.
As bikes are available for rental and there’s a sightseeing bus, you will still manage to see a decent amount in a day. From the bus stops, you can also take short hikes to observation points to get the best views.
How to visit Sakurajima
Ferries to Sakurajima Port leave Kagoshima every 15 – 20 minutes. The journey time is 15 minutes and a single ticket costs 200 yen (discounted to 160 yen with the City View Bus one-day pass). The ferry journey is included in the Welcome Cute Pass.
The easiest way to tour Sakurajima, one of the best things to do in Kagoshima, is to use the circular Sakurajima Island View sightseeing bus.
The bus departs from Sakurajima Port every 30 minutes and takes 55 minutes to complete the loop. The last bus leaves the port at 4.30 pm
There are 12 stops but the bus only stops at all of these once an hour. Check the Sakurajima Island View timetable for further information.
A single ticket costs 120 – 440 yen depending on distance travelled. A day ticket costs 500 yen. However, it may be more cost effective to buy a Welcome Cute Pass.
If you are short on time, I recommend making one stop at the Yunohira Observatory, the closest stop to the volcano. The bus makes a ten-minute photo stop here.
LATE AFTERNOON: KAGOSHIMA’S DOWNTOWN AREA
The final stop on your Kagoshima itinerary is the city’s downtown area. Just jump off the tram or City View Bus on your way back to the train station.
Tenmonkan in the downtown area is awash with restaurants, some of which specialise in Kagoshima cuisine, plus shops and boutiques.
One of the city’s best known shrines, Terukuni Shrine, is a 10-minute walk. Next to the Terukuni Shrine is the Kagoshima Prefectural Museum, the city’s natural history museum.
St. Xavier’s Catholic Cathedral is also close by.
EVENING: DRINK THE LOCAL TIPPLE
Finally, I recommend that you end your day with a glass of the local fire water: shochu. Distilled from many kinds of ingredients including Japanese sweet potatoes, barley, rice, and buckwheat, it is best enjoyed straight (my preference) or with a water chaser.
If You Have More Than One Day in Kagoshima…
But what are the other things to do in Kagoshima if you have two or three days there?
I recommend taking more time to explore Sakurajima, perhaps going on a hike, and adding a few more tourist attractions to your Kagoshima itinerary.
Here are a few suggestions.
Sample Satsuma cuisine
Make you mind up whether the Kagoshima ramen is tastier than that served in Fukuoka. Furusato Food Village, a collection of food stalls located in an alley a stone’s throw from Kagoshima-Chuo Station is the place to go.
Here are a few of the local specialties to try:
Kuroushi Beef – this tender pan-fried black beef was the one Kagoshima speciality that was able to try before heading back to Fukuoka
Satsumaage – these deep-fried fish cakes are one of the most famous dishes of Kagoshima.
Kibinago – small herring fish served raw as sashimi with vinegar soybean paste
Torisashi – chicken sashimi served with a ground ginger and soy dipping sauce
Tonkotsu – slow-cooked pork and miso broth that is served with vegetables. A generous measure of shochu give Kagoshima’s Tonkotsu a slightly sweet flavour.
Take in the view from Shiroyama Observatory
One of the best views of Kagoshima against the backdrop of a smoking Sakurajima is from Shiroyama Observatory at the top of Mount Shiroyama. A walking trail winds its way the mountain and around Shiroyama Park, which marks the spot where the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion took place in 1887.
Shiroyama Observatory is served by the City View Bus (Terunki Shrine stop).
Check out the Artwork at the Kagoshima City Museum of Art
The small Kagoshima City Museum of Art is home to a collection of Western-style works by artists from Kagoshima Prefecture. There is also a small collection of paintings by Western artists, including Monet, Renoir, and Picasso, Warhol, as well Satsuma pottery and cut glass.
Take the City View Bus to Statue of Saigo Takamori stop.
Immerse yourself in local history and culture at the Kagoshima City Museum of Meiji Restoration
Kagoshima City Museum of Meiji Restoration is a small museum dedicated to the city’s role in the Meiji Restoration, with a focus on local heroes such as Saigo Takamori (1828-1877) and Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878).
Although most of the information is in Japanese, there is some English content and there is good use of dioramas and video displays.
The museum is across the river from Kagoshima-Chuo station.
Bury yourself in the sand in Ibusuki on the Satsuma Peninsula
One of the easiest day trips from Kagoshima is Ibusuki, an onsen (hot spring) town on the Satsuma Peninsula.
Bury yourself in the town’s naturally heated sand at the Saraku Sand Bath Hall, a large hot spring facility located about a kilometre from Ibusuki Station.
For an entrance fee of 1,100 yen, you can enjoy the sand bath for 10 to 20 minutes, wash off the sand and then use the hot spring baths.
Hike amongst the cedar trees of Yakushima Island
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Yakushima Island, a subtropical island off the coast of Kyushu, is home to some of the oldest trees on the planet.
Jomon-sugi, Japan’s oldest giant cedar tree, is thought to be between 3,000 to 7,000 years old. Most people visit the island to hike through the forest and see the ancient cedar trees, known as yakusugi (a combination of Yakushima and sugi, the Japanese word for cedar).
The extremely wet climate is responsible for Yakushima’s means crystal-clear rivers, spectacular waterfalls and lush foliage. This also means that you should not leave your waterproof back in the hotel.
Sea turtles lay their eggs between May and July at Nagata Inaka-hama on the island’s northwest coast. Some of Yakushima’s best onsen are right on the beach.
This is an ambitious day trip from Kagoshima and, if you have enough time, best visited on an overnight stay.
Is Kagoshima Safe for Solo Travellers?
Safety as a solo traveller is a particular concern of women travelling alone.
Japan is one of the safest solo travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is a country that takes pride in its safety, uniformity and order, and has a very low crime rate.
Whilst you shouldn’t be complacent, you don’t have to be concerned about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries. If you use your common sense, watch your belongings, drink alcohol in moderation and share your itinerary with someone back home, your trip to Kagoshima should be trouble-free.
Is Kagoshima Worth Visiting?
Kagoshima has it all: a rich and proud Samurai cultural legacy, a sensational Japanese garden, a smouldering volcano, first-class cuisine and onsens on its doorstep. Its relative lack of tourists only adds to its appeal.
Whether you spend one day, two days or a week there, I hope that this itinerary will help you explore the best things to do in Kagoshima.