Japan: Kagoshima Sengan-en and Sakurajima views

We did have a little bit of a lie in this morning but once we were up, it was go-go-go to see the sites around Kagoshima for our last day here.

To facilitate this, we had a quick (cheap) breakfast at Lawson, which is similar to 7-eleven, and then purchased a full day bus pass ticket.  The pass allowed us on several site seeing routes around Kagoshima and the surrounding area.

The first place we got off at was the Shiroyama Park Observatory where we could see some great views of the city and Sakurajima (the volcano).  We stopped here to take some photos and be slightly intimidated by the teeming Chinese tour busses which for some reason circulate in droves around Kagoshima.

Nick was probably not intimidated, more annoyed as we were buffeted by the tourists around us. But we made it to our own bus and made our way on to the next location which was the Sengan-en (gardens) where we spent most of our time today.

We paid ¥1000 to enter the gardens but this was a price well worth it to see the pristinely maintained gardens.

Sengan-en was constructed in 1658 by the Shimazu Clan. At the centre of the garden stands the Iso Residence.  The interior of the residence can only be seen on a guided tour that includes tea and a snack at the end. However, as there was no English speaking guides we decided to skip this tour.  Instead, we fed the Koi in a pond.  They were ravenous little monsters and practically dived over one another to get the pellets we were feeding them.  The pellets were strictly controlled by the park admin so that the fish were not overfed.

We also found a climbing trail at the back of the gardens to two viewing areas.  Still not feeling 100%, I wasn’t very keen to do this but Nick convinced me and proved that it was worth the effort as it wasn’t a very steep or long way up, it only took us 10-15 minutes (despite being advertised as 30 minutes to the summit) and there were stunning views of the Shigure waterfall and Sakurajima from both platforms.

After this though, we decided to take a small break and try something that I have been curious about since we arrived.  Soft serve ice-cream. Now, for those of you paying attention to the photos we have posted, you will know that the ice-creams here come in all sorts of odd flavours.  The worst sounding ones we have come across are whitebait, wasabi, miso, seaweed, soy sauce… the list goes on. But this stall in the gardens souvenir shop area was selling some more palatable, but still weird sounding, flavours.

I tried a purple yam ice-cream which was 100% naturally coloured.  Very pale purple. Nick was even more adventurous than me though and tried Shochu flavoured ice-cream. Shochu is a distilled potato liquor which, when drunk, is 25-37%.  Nick’s ice-cream had a really pleasant smell and a very delicate aftertaste as well – very enjoyable! And just what we needed on a hot day after a bit of climbing!

Potato, pot-ah-to

After this cheeky break, we went on to the glass factory and showroom Satsuma Glass Kogei. Unfortunately, the factory was not open today (its only shut on Mondays and the 3rd Sunday of the month… typical) but we did get to see the showroom. There is a particular style of glasswork that is a specialty of this area and it is called satsuma kiriko cut glass.

Satsuma kiriko cut glass is characterised by its deep, vivid coloring and delicate cutting. Satsuma kiriko was developed during the Edo period.  The vivid colouring and the gradations this colouring creates are what make this glass art particularly attractive. They had some wonderful teal coloured glass which I immediately fell in love with, but the price tag and the fact that it probably wouldn’t survive the rest of our trip made me write myself a reality check. I did however buy my first honeymoon keepsake in a small pendant which contains flecks of blue glass in a black glass background.  It is a small, cute thing which I will wear often.

After this, we checked out a couple of small museums though unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos.  It was a real shame as they had some super impressive old machinery on exhibit.  Not even behind glass so it would have photographed really well! Nick was fascinated by the machines as was I. From what I could tell, they had something to do with milling and were water-powered (in a port town, this isn’t too surprising).

On our way out, we saw what is possibly the prettiest Starbucks in the world and I made Nick take a photo.

Starbucks with standards

Once back in the  main town, we got another cheap lunch in anticipation of getting a nice dinner out later. This was just a 7-eleven meal.  Nick managed to score a free green tea as well (there was a promotion running in the store where shoppers pulled a lucky-dip card and Nick managed to pull a bottle of tea.  Unfortunately, later we discovered that neither of us liked the taste.  Ah well!)

After lunch, we relaxed a little in the hotel.  We saw Sakurajima smoking a few more times in the day but nothing too extraordinary.  For reference, this is what the volcano looks like when it it REALLY stoked (taken from google):


We didn’t see anything close to this, but I kept checking! Just in case!

We decided to go to a nice sushi train for dinner called Mekkemon.  This was located in the Dolphin Port area on the harbour and was a really pleasant walk from our hotel. We did see Sakurajima smoking a little more heavily, but still nothing to worry about. We left our names on the waiting list for the restaurant and then wondered the harbour shops for a little while.  After a bit of a wait in the restaurant, we were seated and got to enjoy one of the best sushi meals we have had in Japan.

For those of you who haven’t eaten at a sushi train, the basic idea is that you can pick whatever dish catches your eye off the conveyor belt as it passes you.  Each dish is colour coded.  At this particular restaurant, the black, gold and silver checker dish is the most expensive at ¥500. From the stacked plates, you can see that Nick and I shared 13 plates between us though even the drinks count as a ‘dish’ here so it was really 11 plates.  The young couple next to us had 20 plates between them and were still going strong as we were tallying up to leave.

On the way home, I saw my first truly weird vending machine.  Crepes. In cans.  I had NO compulsion to try them.

Crepes that give me creeps

Instead, I insisted to Nick that we find some room for a region speciality dessert – shirokuma which is made from shaved ice. Shaved ice is a summer seasonal tradition in Japan. Normally, shaved ice is covered in colourful syrups like strawberry or melon, but in Kagoshima condensed milk is the topping of choice. With fruit scattered on top, it supposedly looks like the face of a polar bear, hence it is affectionately called “shirokuma” (polar bear).

We went to not just the most popular place for shirokuma, but to the place it was created, Tenmonkan Mujaki.  We had a little trouble with ordering the dessert, one of the first times the language barrier has been a bit difficult during our stay, but once we conveyed we wanted to have one of the desserts to take-away ‘now’ we managed to get our greedy hands on this monstrosity:

Totally looks like a polar bear

Now, I actually really liked it, but Nick wasn’t too impressed.  Never though, even on a good day could I finish one of these on my own.  There was a fellow who ordered one after us though, and got his order after us, who finished a whole one by himself in less time then both of us attacking this one together.  Impressive.

Happily full, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and get ready for our flight tomorrow.

Our last area in Japan – Okinawa.  Stay tuned for more updates soon!


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