Since last Friday was my last day with a Japan Rail Pass, I decided to take full advantage of JR by taking the bullet train to its terminus at Kagoshima. I was a little concerned as a guidebook mentioned that the Japanese spoken there was difficult to understand even for native speakers, let alone visitors. Thus, I was shocked after walking off the train to see a ‘Kagoshima Travel Guide’ brochure in a rack at the station containing itinerary ideas, bus and tram information, and maps – all in perfect English! I wasn’t expecting a so-called ‘incomprehensible’ place to be the one with the most helpful information.
Kagoshima, the home of legendary samurai Saigo Takamori (the city won’t let you forget it), is definitely a good destination for history lovers since many of the sites are close together and are connected by a special tourist loop bus. I thought the Museum of the Meiji Restoration was well done, but if animatronics give you nightmares, you would be happier if you skipped the theater shows. It did do a good job explaining how such a remote place, through disciplined educational systems and its interactions with the outside world, was able to persuade an isolationist shogunate to step down in favor of an outward looking monarchy. I enjoyed walking in places that Saigo himself had walked, too. I’m not sure he would have described the flowers smelling like Twizzlers, but fragrance from those plants was powerful and delicious-smelling.
After you have enjoyed your fill of history, you can take a ferry to Sakurajima, the active volcano that looms over all the city. If you start early enough, you can hike to a beautiful overlook, but I was content walking to the nearby park to sit at one of the open-air, naturally heated, and free footbaths. The beer festival at the train station was a nice surprise and a good way to help celebrate one of my last days in Japan. My only advice is to skip the ‘cool’ Tenmonkan district – it’s just a shopping arcade just like every other shopping arcade in Japan!