SOUTHERN KYUSHU – KAGOSHIMA AND MIYAZAKI (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 39)
In 2008, an historic figure is drawing the attention of many Japanese. The person is Princess Atsu (1836-1883), wife of the 13th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Iesada. This year, the popular annual drama series of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) features this lady and Japan in an era of great transition.
Princess Atsu, a daughter of a branch family of Shimazu was adopted by Shimazu Nariakira, a domain lord of the Satsuma clan. The main reason that Nariakira selected her was her brightness. The Shimazu clan in the Edo period (1603-1867) was well known for its innovative and visionary policy even though it was located in the southernmost region of the mainland of Japan. Shimazu Nariakira tried to get control over the issue of the successor of the Tokugawa shogun and he committed her to a secret mission. He sent Princess Atsu to Edo as a wife of the shogun. This is the reason why the innocent and bright girl who loved the splendid view of Mt. Sakurajima and played on the calm shores of Kinko Bay was given high position and responsibility as a wife of the shogun, the Japan’s paramount political leader. Afterward she exerted a large influence on Japanese affairs at the end of the Edo period. By learning about her life, we not only learn the historical fact that Japan faced dramatic changes in that era, but also learn about the culture and natural environment of Satsuma and the energetic way of living of Satsuma people.
This spring, visit Satsuma, the place full of sunlight, and the home of Princess Atsu.
The Features of Southern Kyushu
Kyushu Island is located in the southwest of Japan. Japan’s third largest island consists of two regions, namely, Northern Kyushu and Southern Kyushu. Southern Kyushu is divided into Kagoshima Prefecture and Miyazaki Prefecture. The region including Kagoshima and southern Miyazaki was called “Satsuma” from the Muromachi period (1392-1573) to the Edo period (1603-1867). The region was ruled by the Shimazu domain lords, and it had its own distinctive culture. It has many regions which are settings for legends or tales of the Kumaso and Hayato tribes of ancient warriors. Mountainous areas have many villages which preserve legends of fleeing Heike warriors. The Heike were the losers in the climatic power struggle between the Miyamoto and Heike clans in the late 12th century.
From Fukuoka City, it takes 2 hours and 11 minutes using the JR Kagoshima Line and the Kyushu Bullet Train, which was launched in 2004. Kagoshima is a major city in Southern Kyushu and it grew as a castle town of the Satsuma clan. Due to its location close to the Chinese continent, the city became a main entry point for importing Chinese culture and later European culture. In 1549, the missionary Francisco de Xavier (1506-1552) arrived in the city, where he conducted Christian missionary activities for the first time in Japan. In the middle of the 19th century, the clan implemented research and development by adopting European industrial technology. The clan started Japan’s modern industrialization by building plants such as a reverberator and a blast furnace. The innovative clan also produced Saigo Takamori (1828-1877) and Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878) who played key roles in the drama surrounding the Meiji Restoration (1868).
The symbol of Kagoshima is Mt. Sakurajima. This active volcano can be viewed from every place in the city. Local foods such as black-haired poke, Satsuma beef, and Kagoshima ramen are popular among tourists. Popular tourist spots are accessible by “Kagoshima City View” touring buses. A “Kagogshima City View one-day pass” is available at local transportation and tourist information offices.
The garden, which is also called “Iso-teien,” was built as a villa of the Satsuma’s 19th feudal lord, Shimazu Mitsuhisa (1616-1695) in 1658. Designed in “borrowed-landscape” style, it presents a spacious garden with views of Mt. Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay rather than that of artificial hills and ponds. A residence in the garden offers an exhibition of items reproducing the lifestyle of the Shimazu family when the garden was built. Enjoy strolling in the wonderful garden and try “jambo-mochi” rice cakes, the specialty of the garden’s rest house.
Originally, this facility was built as a Western-style factory by the 28th Satsuma feudal lord, Shimazu Nariakira (1809-1858). In modern times, it was converted to a museum presenting the history of Shimazu Family who promoted industrialization of the clan’s domain. The museum owns approximately 10,000 items such as historical documents, paintings, calligraphy, suits of armor owned by heads of the family, art works such as Satsuma glass and Satsuma pottery, and a replica of the reverberator mentioned above. The facility is adjacent to the Sengan-en.
The volcano is located on the peninsula jutting out into Kagoshima Bay. The peninsula stretches about 12 kilometers from north to south and is 10 kilometers from west to east. The peninsula was formed by an active volcano, “Ontake,” which has been continually erupting down to the present day. The mountain is accessible (when safe) by Sakurajima Ferry from Kagoshima City. The Sakurajima Visitor Center on the peninsula offers information on the history of this active volcano.
The park is located on a 107-meter-high hill in the center of Kagoshima City. It overlooks Kagoshima City, Mt. Sakurajima, and Kagoshima Bay. The park also presents a beautiful night view.
This is Kagoshima’s largest amusement area. All kinds of shops and restaurants can be found here.
Kaimon, Ibusuki City
Ibusuki City presents the visitor with mild weather and beautiful tropical flowers such as hibiscus and bourgainvaillea. The city is also well known as one of the most popular hot spring resorts in Kyushu. Its main attractions are sand steam baths and its tropical-like scenery. JR Ibusuki Station is about 50 minutes from JR Kagoshima Chuo Station by JR Express Train.
Natural Sand Bath
Surigahama Beach in Ibusuki Hot Spring Resort is well known as Japan’s only natural sand bath. Visitors lie in the beach sand which is warmed by natural hot springs. Covered with warm sand, they get completely relaxed and enjoy the view from the beach. A public spa facility, “Suna-mushi Kaikan Saraku,” facing Kinko Bay offers hot water baths.
The almost round-shaped caldera lake about 15 kilometers in circumference is located in the southeastern part of Satsuma Peninsula. This 233-meter-deep lake was produced by caving caused by the eruption of Mt. Kaimon. Jumbo eels about two meters long inhabit the lake. Local people call this rather mysterious creature “Issie,” after “Nessie” the Loch Ness monster.
This 924-meter-high volcano is known as one of Japan’s “One Hundred Beautiful Mountains.” For its smooth conic shape, it is also called “Mt. Fuji of Satsuma.” Climbers take a well-arranged spiral trail and reach the peak in about three hours. On a sunny day, the peak commands a view of Yakushima Island, well known as a world heritage site. Climbers should be well-prepared as the mountain trail has a steep rocky area.
Chiran Town has many mansions which were built as residences for high-class samurai as well as protection against outside enemies in the Edo period. The samurai residences are well preserved and retain the appearance of former times. In 1941, the Japanese government built the Chiran Army Airbase in the town. Toward the end of World War II, it was used as Japan’s southernmost base for Kamikaze special attacks in the Battle of Okinawa. It is about one hour and 20 minutes from Yamakataya Bus Center by Kagoshima Kotsu Bus.
Chiran Samurai Residences and Gardens
The samurai residences which were built about 260 years ago and their gardens are very popular tourist spots. The well-preserved gardens, seven in all, are designated a national place of scenic beauty.
Chiran “Kamikaze” and Peace Memorial Museum
The museum exhibits items and documents related to the Kamikaze special attack corps organized in the late stage of World War II. Established with the goal of appealing for the permanent peace of the world, it exhibits Kamikaze aircraft as well as mementos, photos, and personal chronicles of Kamikaze pilots.
Kirishima and Ebino Highland
The Kirishima Highland stretches over Kagoshima Prefecture and Miyazaki Prefecture. Its surrounding area has many hot springs. Steaming hot spring fountainheads can be seen here and there throughout the region. Mt. Takachiho, associated with Japanese progenitor god legends, rises up on the eastern side of the highland.
The Ebino Highland, about 1,200 meters high, is located along the border of Miyazaki and Kagoshima. It has four crater lakes. From spring to summer, wild flowers such as miyama-kirishima and nokaido bloom. Thick susuki (Japanese pampas grass) and colored leaves in autumn and the impressive scenes of snow and ice-covered trees in winter attract many visitors. Outdoor activities such as hiking and bird watching are also attractions of the area.
The shrine enshrines Niniginomikoto, a hero of ancient Japanese legend. It was built in the 6th century. The shrine was burnt down on several occasions by Mt. Kirishima’s eruptions and the current main hall was reconstructed in 1715. Towering old cedars standing thick within the precincts create a solemn atmosphere. It is said that the cedar designated “sacred tree” is more than 800 years old.
Ebino Highland Trail
The Ebino Highland has a trail which starts from the Ebino Eco Museum Center and rambles about the ponds in the region. The trail is five kilometers long and takes one hour and 30 minutes to complete.
The active volcano is 1,700 meters high. Its peak has a caldera basin 900 meters in diameter and 300 meters in depth. The peak overlooks the Kirishima Mountain range and Mt. Sakurajima in the distance. A popular climbing route starts at a point on the Ebino Highland. Climbers are advised to be well-prepared for climbing.
The annual average temperature in Miyazaki is about 18 degrees Celsius. Trees and flowers along city streets and palm trees along highways present the ambience of a tropical resort. Because of its mild weather, many sports teams and athletes from other regions and from South Korea, as well, hold winter training camp in Miyazaki. The city also offers delicious food. Juicy chicken, black-haired beef, and local fruits that thrive in mild weather are Miyazaki’s specialties. “Chicken namban,” fried chicken with sweet vinegar and tartar sauce, is one of the Miyazaki’s delicious local dishes.
Nishi-tachibana Street is the city’s largest amusement area, just a 5-minute walk from the west exit of Miyazaki Station. The city has many restaurants which serve Miyazaki’s local food. Aoshima Island about 10 kilometers from the city is a small island one kilometer in diameter. More than 200 species of plants have been identified on the island. Among them, 27 species of tropical or subtropical plants are designated as “special natural monuments.” The island also has a shrine and a botanical garden. At ebb tide, the island is accessible on foot. Odd wave-shaped rocks surrounding the island also attract sightseers.
The beach is located in the south of Miyazaki Prefecture. The beach facing the Pacific Ocean is popular for its smooth coast line and clear sea water. At several spots along the beach, tourists can enjoy watching wild monkeys and horses.
The shrine is located in a cave in the middle of a cliff in the center of the Nichinan Beach. People go down stairs along the cliff to visit the shrine. A stone close to the shrine’s main hall is called “Kameishi” (“turtle stone”). Worshippers try to throw a ceramic ball into the hole on the surface of the back of the turtle-shaped stone. Success means your wish will come true.
The island is 3.5 kilometers around. It is inhabited by about 100 wild monkeys. Many tourists visit the island to see the monkeys eating potatoes and wheat after washing these with salty sea water. The island is accessible by a boat from the beach. Carrying food onto the island is prohibited.
The cape juts out from the southernmost end of Nichinan Beach. This cape is inhabited by horses called “misaki-uma.” The horses are one of the Japanese native breeds and are designated a “national natural monument.”
Air travel is convenient to visit Kagoshima from other regions in Japan. By train, from Fukuoka, it two hours and 11 minutes by JR Kagoshima Line and Kyushu Bullet Train.
Air travel is convenient to visit Miyazaki from other regions in Japan. It takes about 13 hours from Osaka by ferry. From Fukuoka, the time is about three hours and 40 minutes by highway bus or about five hours 10 minutes via Beppu by JR Express Train.