Are you wondering what to see in Kagoshima in 1 day?
Then you’ve come to the right place. I did a Kagoshima day trip from Fukuoka and am excited to share the best things to do in the southernmost city on Kyushu Island.
Make the most of your time there with my tried and tested 1-day Kagoshima itinerary. This article also includes how to get to Kagoshima, how to get around, what to eat and solo travel tips.
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- MORNING: Sengan-en
- AFTERNOON: Sakurajima; Downtown area
- EVENING: Shochu tasting
BEST WAY TO GET AROUND: Kagoshima City Bus or tram. Ferry to Sakurajima.
BEST MONTHS TO VISIT KAGOSHIMA: Kagoshima can be visited most months of the year. Avoid the summer months as these are hotter and wetter and coincide with the peak of Japan’s typhoon season (August and September).
What is Kagoshima Known For?
So why visit Kagoshima?
The so-called “Naples of the Orient” has been voted Japan’s friendliest city and is responsible for the birth of the Industrial Revolution in 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 last civil war. Information boards at key locations across central Kagoshima will be your historical guide.
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.
How Long Should You Spend in Kagoshima?
I spent a day in Kagoshima on a day trip from Fukuoka. This was enough time to visit Sengan-en and Sakurajima without feeling rushed.
If you spend two days in Kagoshima (or more), you will be able to take in the city’s main attractions in a more leisurely manner, as well as 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 likely 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 you are visiting Kagoshima on a day trip.
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 locations in the city centre, including Kagoshima Chuo Station.
How to get to Kagoshima by bus
Bus routes to 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 tourist loop buses. You will need to catch a ferry to reach Sakurajima.
Kagoshima’s two tram lines provide a quick and convenient service from its train station to the downtown area.
Kagoshima’s loop buses
The City View Bus and the Machimeguri Bus operate similar routes, connecting Kagoshima Chuo Station with Senganen Garden and the ferry terminal serving Sakurajima.
Kagoshima City View Bus
I used the Kagoshima City View buses. A one-day pass is available, offering 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 only marginally 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 leaves Kagoshima Chuo Station every 30 minutes and the entire loop takes 80 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!
Machi Meguri Bus
The Machi Meguri Bus is a more frequent and affordable option. However, this one-day pass does not include city trams or regular buses.
The Cute Pass
If I was visiting Kagoshima again, I would opt for the Cute Pass. This is valid on trams, regular buses, the City View Bus, the Sakurajima Ferry the Sakurajima Island View Bus.
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 free map and to buy your City Bus pass.
MORNING: DIVE INTO KAGOSHIMA’S SAMURAI PAST AT SENGAN-EN
The first stop on your Kagoshima itinerary is Sengan-en. You can get here by taking the City View Bus or Machi Meguri Bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station to Sengan-en Mae bus stop.
Sengan-en is home to a traditional Japanese-style landscape garden and is the former residence of the Shimadzu family, who ruled Kagoshima until the 19th century. It was built in 1658 and draws heavily on the principle of borrowed scenery, incorporating background elements of a smoking Sakurajima and Kinko Bay as part of the gardens.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site but not for the reason that you might think.
Sengan-en is also the site of Japan’s oldest remaining stone factory. This was built in 1865 and was at the forefront of the Japanese Industrial Revolution.
During the Edo period, the Shimadzu clan owned a number of residences. Thirteen shrines from these residences were moved to Sengan-en and collected into a single shrine – the Oniwa Shrine – in 1918.
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.
TIPS FOR VISITING SENGAN-EN
- As Senga-en covers 12 acres, it is ambitious to try to cover it all in one day. My advice is to pick up a leaflet at the entrance and follow the red route on the map. Signs around the site will also guide you.
- For sweeping views and a serene ambience, stop for a cup of sencha and a traditional Japanese sweet at the Senga-en Matcha Café.
EARLY AFTERNOON: TAKE THE FERRY TO SAKURAJIMA
Visiting Sakurajima is one of the essential things to do in Kagoshima. Ferries to Sakurajima Port leave Kagoshima every 15 – 20 minutes. The journey time is 15 minutes.
Located in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima has three peaks. The highest of these is at an elevation of 1117 meters and has a circumference of about 50 kilometres.
This volcano has spewed ash and smoke constantly since 1955 and minor eruptions take place more than 1,000 times a year. 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.
TIPS FOR VISITING SAKURAJIMA
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.
The easiest way to tour Sakurajima 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.
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 on the tram or City View Bus from Kagoshima Port.
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
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 some suggestions.
Sample Satsuma cuisine
Local culinary specialities are one of the things for which Japan is known. Make your mind up about 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 specialities 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 ground ginger and soy dipping sauce
Tonkotsu – slow-cooked pork and miso broth that is served with vegetables. A generous measure of shochu gives 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 to 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.
To reach Ibusuki, take the local JR Ibusuki Makurazaki Line from Kagoshima Chuo Station to Ibusuki Station. The journey, which is covered by the JR Pass, takes around 70 minutes.
There are quicker limited express trains (50 minutes) between Kagoshima and Ibusuki but these are far less frequent.
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 in your 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. It is best visited on an overnight stay.
To get there, take the high-speed jetfoil boat from Kagoshima Port to the tiny ports of Miyanoura and Anbo. The journey time is between two and three hours
Although there is a local bus service, it is limited and cannot reach the narrow road of the western part of the island. A rental car is your best bet for getting around Yakushima.
Where to Stay in Kagoshima
Although you can see Kagoshima’s main attractions in one day, staying overnight will allow you to visit the places further out of town and give you more opportunities to sample its culinary specialities.
There are some affordable and centrally-located accommodation choices for solo travellers to Kagoshima.
This bright and airy apartment has great reviews and benefits from a washing machine and tumble dryer.
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Mid-range Kagoshima hotels
Directly connected to JR Kagoshima Chuo Shinkansen Station, JR Kyushu Hotel Kagoshima offers modern guest rooms and a coin-operated launderette.
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This 3-star chain hotel has a coin-operated launderette and onsen onsite.
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Is Kagoshima Safe for Solo Travellers?
Safety as a solo traveller is a particular concern for 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.
If you are a female solo traveller, Japan is one of the best countries in the world to travel alone.
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?
Whilst Kagoshima is unlikely to feature on a first-time Japan itinerary – the delights of Tokyo, Kyoto and the like cannot be ignored – this doesn’t make the city any less compelling.
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.
Thank you for reading my Kagoshima day trip itinerary
I hope that you have a wonderful day in Kagoshima.
If you are spending more time on Kyushu island, take a look at my suggestions for the best things to do in Fukuoka.
For advice on putting together your Japan itinerary, take a look at my guides on how to spend a day in Himeji, two days in Kanazawa and all you need to know for a perfect Osaka day trip. I also have a bumper Kyoto guide.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at email@example.com or follow her on social media.