Kagoshima offers travelers a treasure trove of sights, activities and delicious foods. Upon my arrival at JR Kyushu's Kagoshima-Chūō Station, I headed directly for the tourism office to arm myself with maps and other helpful information about the area. I was overwhelmed with options, and I only had one day to explore this southernmost city of Kyushu.
Wandering outside of the station, I happened upon the bus terminal and stumbled into a JR Kyushu Bus Tour that was leaving just a few minutes after I arrived. Figuring it was fate, I paid my fare and hopped on the bus with my fellow tourists. Guided tours are not for everybody as they only provide a cursory brush over the main tourist sites. For more insider knowledge, it would be advisable to take public transportation and seek out a local host. Additionally, City View buses are another effortless way to navigate the sites.
The JR Kyushu Bus Tour provided me with a knowledgeable guide, coach bus with driver and at least ten other tour companions. The tour was conducted entirely in Japanese and while I did not understand all the history-related terminology, I was able to glean some insight about the prefecture and practice my language skills.
Our tour kicked off promptly and we drove straight for the scenic Shiroyama Observatory, passing the Saigo Takamori statue along the way. The observatory point is where many tourists gather to take pictures of Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Bay and the symbol of Kagoshima: Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes. Yet, it was a cloudy, overcast day so we were only able to get partial views of the volcano.
Moving onward, we took the coach bus to gorgeous Sengan-en Gardens. Starting with an introductory walking tour of the grounds, we learned some of the history and key points of this scenic site. Everyone on the tour got to taste the Kagoshima speciality: janbo mochi (rice cakes with sweet sauce) in the regional miso-flavor available only at Sangan-en Gardens. While at the gardens I was sure to visit the Cat Shrine (Nekogami Jinja), which is one of the rarest such shrines in Japan. After some time wandering the grounds, we all had to board the bus and head to our next destination. Of course, I was the last one to board as I was caught up in the beauty of the gardens.
The tour included a ride on the ferry to Sakurajima Island. The ferry runs 24-hours and is only a 15-minute journey, which makes for an enjoyable trip filled with photo opportunities of both Kagoshima and Sakurajima shores. Once on the island we experienced the Yunohira Observatory, located at an altitude of 373m. This offered a prime view of Sakurajima Island and its volcanic landscape. Sakurajima has many enjoyable activities, one of the most popular being the Yogan Nagisa Park Foot Spa, where you can treat your tired feet to a minature onsen (hot springs).
After about four hours of touring the sites, I felt that I had made the most of my day in Kagoshima. Had I been fortunate enough to have more time in the prefecture I would have opted for a solo adventure, but the JR Kyushu Bus Tour was perfect for my introductory session in the area.
JR Kyushu Bus Tours depart from stops eight and nine at the JR Kagoshima-Chūō bus terminal.