The vibrant city of Kagoshima is the capital of the wider Kagoshima Prefecture and is one of the nicest spots to start a visit to the island of Kyushu in Japan.
The city is best known for the spectacular Sakurajima volcano which looms next to it and this is also a great place to use a base if you want to explore the neighboring islands of Okinawa.
In the town itself you will be able to visit a number of engaging museums, as well as explore graceful parks, hike the adjacent volcano, and explore the hot springs in the nearby villages.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Kagoshima…
1. Tour Shiroyama Park
Shiroyama Park is a pretty little park in Kagoshima which is famous for the Shiroyama Observatory.
Here you will find that you can see all over the city, and this is also one of the most significant historical spots in Kagoshima as this was the spot where the Satsuma Rebellion took place in 1887. There is a cave in the park called Saigo Cave which is linked to the local Kagoshima resident Saigo Takamori which fought in the rebellion and this is said to be the place where he fought to the death as part of the rebellion.
2. Take a ferry ride
If you want to check out Sakurajima Volcano in all its glory but don’t want the hike, then you can take a scenic ferry ride from Kagoshima Harbor over to the island that the volcano sits on.
There are ferries that operate daily between the two points and it only takes around 15 minutes to make the journey, but this is still one of the best ways to enjoy the amazing scenery for which Kyushu is so famous.
3. Walk around Sengan-en
Also known as Iso-teien, Sengan-en is a gorgeous section of gardens in Kagoshima which are said to date from 1658. In the days of old the gardens would have been designed by a Shimazu lord, but they are still every bit as impressive now as they would have been back then.
To get around the gardens you can go for a walk which will take you around 30 minutes, or you can also sign up for a tour of the villa that stands on the garden grounds which would also have belonged to the Shimazu family.
You can even take tea at the former home and look out over the delightfully landscaped grounds at the same time.
4. Attend Sogadon-no-Kasayaki
If you happen to be in Kagoshima in July then make sure that you don’t miss one of its premium attractions which is the Sogadon-no-Kasayaki festival.
This is also known as the Umbrella Burning Festival and it features male residents walking down to the Kotsuki-gawa River and setting fire to umbrellas.
This ritual is based on a legend which says that two brothers used umbrellas as flaming torches in the days of old which is also an engaging tale of rivalry and deceit.
5. Explore Shoko Shuseikan
Shoko Shuseikan is a museum in Kagoshima which used to be the home of the first factory in Japan which would have stood in the 1850s.
The museum is known for its antiques that relate to the famous Shimazu family in Kagoshima and you will find some 10,000 different items in the collections here which include beautiful calligraphy pieces, ceramics and glassware.
6. Visit Tsurumaru Castle
Tsurumaru Castle is known as the castle which would have been owned by the Shimazu family.
As with many castles in Japan however, Tsurumaru Castle would have been destroyed in the days of old and the only original sections that still stand are the moat and the outer wall.
Still, it is considered an important monument in the city so it is well worth a look when you are in town, and it is also the site of a small museum.
7. Trek to Sakurajima
Sakurajima is an active volcano which overlooks the town of Kagoshima and you can get to the smoldering mountain by taking a ferry across from Kagoshima Harbor.
To hike to the main lookout here takes around two hours and there are also a few other smaller lookouts on the way up which let you get a look at both the mountain and back over to the harbor and city of Kagoshima.
Bear in mind however that this is still an active volcano however so you need to check its latest status before you attempt to climb.
8. Drink the local tipple
Kagoshima is famous in Japan for its liquor which is similar to something like vodka and is known as shochu.
This tipple is made from sweet potatoes and you can get this drink, also sometimes known as imo-jochu, all over the city.
The way that this drink is usually consumed in Kagoshima is mixed with hot water, which may sound a little strange but is said to warm the liquor so that it releases is deeper flavors.
9. Travel by train
If you are in Kyushu then one of the best things that you can do is take a train journey, as this part of Japan is said to be one of the most scenic in the country.
One of the most famous railway lines here is the Hisatsu Line and you can travel to neighboring spots like Yoshimatsu and Hitoyoshi.
This allows you to take in some of the beauty of this part of Japan without having to venture too far, and you can hop along the train line and back again as part of a day trip.
10. Kayak to Sakurajima
Sakurajima is the active volcano that looks out over Kagoshima and it lies on a volcanic island across from the main harbor.
With that in mind, you can take the ferry across to the island or, if you are looking for an adventure, you can sea kayak across to Sakurajima.
It takes around an hour to paddle out in the local area and you will need to have a reasonable level of fitness and mobility to attempt it, but getting out on the water is one of the best ways to experience the towering majesty of Sakurajima.
11. Explore Reimeikan
The Reimeikan is known for its historical background on the history of the Satsuma Rebellion in Kagoshima and this is also the place to come if you want to know more about ancient Japanese arts and crafts such as sword making.
The Reimeikan is located inside Kagoshima Castle and is like a small museum, even though most of the original castle no longer stands here.
Still, it is one of the most important historical sites in town and will tell you more about how people would have lived and worked in Kagoshima in the days of old.
12. Visit the Kagoshima City Museum of Art
If you want to know more about arts and crafts in Kagoshima then you need to come to the Kagoshima City Museum of Art.
Here you will find a number of galleries that are dedicated to a variety of local Kagoshima artists as well as some antiques and painting that date back to the 16th century, including fine porcelain and woodblock print pieces.
This is also one of the best places to find works of art dedicated to Sakurajima.
13. Try the local snacks
If you visit Kagoshima during the summer months then you may want to try the local snacks and desserts which will help to keep you cool in the city.
One of the favorites of local residents is called kakigori which is a kind of dessert made from shaved ice which is then topped with a mix of sweet condensed milks, fruit, jelly and beans.
This may sound a little strange, but it is just the ticket when the city gets steamy in the summer months.
One of the most famous places that sell these desserts in Kagoshima is called Tenmonkan Mujyaki which is known for its polar bear statue located outside.
They also do a signature version of kakigori which is made to mirror the polar bear motif.
14. Cycle to Sakurajima
If you really want a work out when you visit Sakurajima then you may want to think about hiring a bike.
Many people don’t even realize that it is possible to cycle around the mountain, but there is actually a track here which stretches for some 39 kilometers.
It takes around four hours to cycle along the path but this is also one of the best ways to take in the sights around Sakurajima, including a viewpoint that looks into the crater.
15. Tour the Museum of the Meiji Restoration
If you want to know more about the history of Kagoshima then you need to head to the Museum of the Meiji Restoration.
Here you can learn all about how samurai would have lived in the days of old and even learn about how swords were made and handled.
One of the big highlights of this museum is that much of the signage is in English so that you can learn more about things such as the samurai education system and you can also learn about the Satsuma Rebellion which took place in the city.