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Friday, April 18, 2014

Japan Day 7: Kagoshima, Sakurajima

We woke up early, checked out of the Shimabara Station Hotel and walked to the nearby Shimabara Train Station. Inside we bought a train ticket to the Shimabaragaiko Station, which is just a short walk away from the ferry terminal. The employee at the train station was especially nice, asked if we wanted to go with the ferry and later came to us with a map, to show us the way from the Shimabaragaiko Station to the ferry terminal. We already knew the way, because we came from there two days ago, but we pretended we didn't, because he was so enthusiastic and happy to help. The Japanese people were basically extremely open and willing to help. That was good for us, because when you don't speak the language it's important that people are patient and willing to take their time with you until you understand and are understood.

 

We had looked at the train departures online already before we started the whole journey. Soon the little train arrived and we left a few minutes before 8 a.m. and went for about 10 minutes until we reached Shimabaragaiko Station and walked to the nearby ferry terminal. Inside we bought a ticket for the Kyusho Ferry to Kumamoto Ferry Terminal and just followed some Japanese women who looked like they also would take the ferry, to find the ferry entrance. We got seats inside again, bought coffee and breakfast and also some kind of show program: There were a lot of seagulls following the ferry and they wanted to be fed, which proved to be a nice photo opportunity!



After about an hour we reached the ferry terminal in Kumamoto. We just wanted to reach our next destination Kagoshima early and didn't want to wait for the next bus, so we granted us some luxury and took a cab after checking the bus timetable and went directly to the Kagoshima Train Station, which cost about 24 Euro. From there we could use our 7-day-Japan Rail Pass, which we had timed to start that day, after we had used the days before a five-day Northern Kyushu Area Pass. There were many trains to Kagoshima-Chuo Station and we just took the next Shinkansen. Inside, I ordered lunch, served in a cute little Shinkansen, which I wanted to bring as a present to the Philippines, while my friend disappeared into the smoking room.


After about 40 minutes we reached Kagoshima Chuo Station, the main train station in Kagoshima and the last stop for the Shinkansen. We would spend two nights in Kagoshima and chose it as our base because, you can easily take side trips from there to nearby attractions, its convenient Shinkansen connection and because it has a spectacular attraction: a volcano island just in front of it. Again we had booked a hotel just a short walk away from the train station, but it was too early to check in, so we just stored our luggage at the train station and went to the tourist information also inside the train station to buy a day pass for local transportation, which cost about 4 Euro. We also inquired about a bus timetable for Chiran and Ibusuki, where we wanted to go the next day. They were very helpful and we got timetables for the next day as well for the tourist bus in Kagoshima. The busses, that have also English announcements, run two courses: the "Waterfront Course", which goes to the harbor first, and the "Shiroyama and Iso Course", which goes to other attractions first. We opted for the "Waterfront Course" and went directly into a blue bus just in front of the train station and exited at the Kagoshima Aquarium/Sakurajima Pier Stop, which took about 15 minutes. The ferry to Sakurajima leaves about every ten minutes, so we didn't have to wait, just walked onto the ferry (you pay, when you exit) and after about 15 minutes already had reached Sakurajima Island.


Unfortunately, the active Sakurajima volcano had disappeared into the clouds so we could not really see it. But there were a lot of other attractions on the island. We first came to a temple and walked from the ferry terminal to the Nagisa Park Foot Bath, which had really hot water and is beautifully located near the sea (and also free!). We relaxed there a bit and enjoyed the different water temperatures at different spots.



Next we followed the Nagisa Lava Trail, which has its entrance just at the foot bath. It was warm and so we walked mostly along the coast for about 3 kilometers through interesting lava formations, before we reached the Karasujima Observation Point. We still couldn't see the whole volcano, but decided to take the Sakurajima Island View Bus anyway, which departs at the ferry terminal and stops at many attractions in the island including the Karasujima Observation Point, where we were. 



It didn't take long for an Island View Bus to arrive and so we bought a day ticket inside the bus for about 4 Euro and went on for a short stop at the Akamizu View Park.The bus then continued upon the mountain to the Yunohira Observatory, the closest to the volcano. The volcano was still in the clouds, but there was a great view of the surroundings anyway. 


From the Yunohira Observatory we took the Island View Bus back to the ferry terminal. We had thought about walking to the Dinosaur Park, but then we wouldn't have any time left to see something in Kagoshima. Back at the ferry terminal in Kagoshima we walked to the nearby Kagoshima Aquarium. The Aquarium reminded us a bit of the one we saw on our trip through Portugal in  Lisbon. It is a modern facility and we saw a lot of water life, including a whale shark. That just made us more excited, as we planned to snorkel with whale sharks later in the journey, when we would go to the Philippines, to Donsol.


Unfortunately, it was too late to see other attractions in Kagoshima. We really would have liked to go the Museum of the Meiji Restoration, which looks lavish online and also originally had planned to stop at the Senganen (Iso Garden). Especially as all attractions are easily reached by the very convenient Tourist Bus. So we took a Tourist Bus back to the Kagoshima Chuo Train Station and decided to buy our dinner, before taking our luggage from the lockers. Just next to the train station is a huge shopping center, the Amu Plaza Shopping Mall, which has actually a ferris wheel at the top of it. In the basement we found a supermarket and they had a great concept. It was 1 gram for 1 Yen (100 Yen equal about 70 cents) and for that you could choose from a variety of cooked, fried and baked food and mix it as you please. It was my favorite supermarket so far! In the basement of the mall they also have an ATM that accepts Mastercard - that has to be said, as many ATMs in Japan don't.



After shopping we walked to the train station, took our luggage and continued to our nearby hotel, the Silk Inn Kagoshima. Like many hotels in Japan, they don't accept Mastercard, so we had to pay in cash. The hotel itself is modern, big and has a nice Onsen. The room was fine too.



After finishing our dinner we went outside to take another look at the station area by night and contemplated about going on the big wheel, but decided against it. There were also some crazy gaming arcade on one floor. We didn't stay that long and back at the hotel relaxed in the ridiculously hot Onsen, before we went to sleep.


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