Visit Dazaifu City and Tenmangu Shrine near Fukuoka!

As the nights in Japan grow longer and the air has a feel of chilliness, the season of oden, crabs, and New Year traditions approach. 

However, just because you may need a scarf and a pair of gloves, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great time. One beloved pastime of the Japanese people is going to view the autumn (fall) colours. There are a ton of places all over Japan you can do this, but if you’re talking about the prefecture of Fukuoka, many people will tell you to visit Dazaifu. You can get to Dazaifu via bus, train, coach, or by car. The train takes less than an hour if you head from the center of Fukuoka city (e.g. Hakata). 

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Why visit Dazaifu?

Dazaifu is home to Fukuoka’s most famous temple known as the Tenmangu Shrine. It is said to have over a thousand plum trees that in spring turn a beautiful pink colour (considerably more so than Sakura trees). It’s also got a great little (and very old town) that is full of tourist shops and places to explore that had the same vibe as Kyoto or Kamakura. At the temple grounds, they also hold events and festivals. When we went, there was a flower festival and a performer. There’s a Japanese garden, a nice little train to walk, and even a theme park all right next to the temple!

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So if you’re ever in Fukuoka, make sure to check this place out!

 

Family Fun in Fukuoka: What to see and where to go!

If you’re planning to spend a bit of time in Kyushu, chances are you’ll end up visiting Fukuoka city at some point! Tenjin and Hakata are great places to go shopping and to find some delicious places to eat – but where should you go for a family day out? Keep reading to find out! 

 

There are 2 main places you’ll want to visit in Fukuoka city, and since they are fairly close to each other, you can easily visit both in a single day. 

Ohori Park

Ohori Park is probably Fukuoka’s number 1 tourist spot. It is a large park that has a large pond in the middle. For 600 yen ($6) you can ride around the lake in a boat for 30 minutes. For those who lack confidence in arm stamina, swan boats are 1000 yen ($10/30min) and for 1600 yen ($16/30) you can ride a family-sized swan boat.

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Half the pond is filled with huge carp and is fishing prohibited, while in the other half you’re allowed to fish to your heart’s content. 

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There is also a Japanese-style garden you can check out, as well as the remains of Fukuoka castle. While there isn’t much left of the castle apart from some huge walls, there are some great views to be seen. Located in the park there is also a cafe and a children’s play area.

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Fukuoka Tower and Beach

Not too far from the park is Fukuoka tower (you can see the tower in the distance, but those with young children may be better catching a train or a bus). For a somewhat expensive price (we gave it a miss) you can go to the top of the tower to see stunning views of Fukuoka from high up above. There is also a small department store around here, but the main attraction is definitely the beach. 

Click here to visit the English website for Fukuoka tower.

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Towards the beach is a big fancy church and a few restaurants and shops. While the beach doesn’t have the beautiful white sands you may be hoping for, it is probably the most accessible beach if you’re staying in the city. 

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Cruising The Magical Islands of Kagoshima in a Yacht

On the 16th of July, Japan had it’s national holiday known as ‘Umi no Hi’ (Day of the Sea). It was on this day, that I was given a chance to cruise around some of Kagoshima’s islands that lie just off the coast in a yacht.  Summer was in full swing, with temperatures hitting 35 degrees in the afternoon, so we woke up early to beat the sun.

We had hoped we’d spot a few of the dolphins that often roam around the area, but didn’t have much luck (although we did see a baby hammerhead shark). Because the sea here in Kagoshima is a giant peninsula, the sea is calm and full of life.

 

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Kagoshima’s islands, An Uninhabited Paradise!

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For more articles on Kagoshima and travel in Japan, make sure to check out our travel section here!

Our Nara Trip: From Osaka to Nagoya

Due to unpredictable weather conditions, our trip through Japan’s Honshu didn’t go perfectly – but that doesn’t mean it won’t serve as an idea for anyone else looking to make a similar trip to some of Japan’s most amazing cities. Here is a guide to how we went from Osaka to Nagoya.

 

Day 1: Osaka

Kansai International Airport is a great gateway to Japan. It could even work out easier than flying to Tokyo (it did for me). A one hour flight from Manchester to Amsterdam, a quick changeover, followed by an 11-hour flight directly to Osaka all at a competitive price.  

Setting off at 11 am UK time, and arriving in Japan at 8 am meant I was in for an extremely long day, but I figured I’d be able to power through it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any sleep on the plane, and my wife’s flight was delayed due to a typhoon that was heading through Kyushu to South Korea.

Now extra tired from waiting around the airport, coupled with the fact it was raining – we decided to cancel our day out to Universal Studios Japan. USJ is quite expensive but has lots of fun rides and quite a large Harry Potter-themed area you can explore and hang out at.

Instead, we headed straight to our hotel. We decided to stay at the RIHGA hotel – not the cheapest option, but thanks to an Expedia discount from when I booked my flight, it wasn’t too expensive. The extra cost paid off, as the room was great and had everything we needed. USB chargers, adapters for most countries, heated mirrors, and the best thing – a completely free shuttle bus that you can catch from the hotel to Osaka train station and vice-versa.

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Day 2: Nara

We caught the free shuttle bus to Osaka train station, and from there, we caught the train to Shin-Osaka (around 4 minutes). Here, we booked our bullet train ticket that was a great price, but I’ll talk about that later.

From Shin-Osaka, we made our way to Nara. After 45-minutes, we arrived and went to drop our bags off at the Smile Hotel. The Smile Hotel was around a 1-minute walk from Nara train station (you can basically see it). At only 4200 yen, this hotel is a bargain for anyone wanting to stay in Nara.

We were pretty hungry now, so we went into a quaint little shop that did tempura and kaisendon. The prices were great, and the taste was amazing. By the number of signed celebrity photos in the shop, it must be fairly well-known (you’ll see the shop just before a melon-pan bakery on the right when walking from the station to Nara park).

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Nara park is amazing and the deer are insanely cute. You can buy a pack of rice crackers (sembei) for 150-yen, which you feed to the many deer that roam around. The deer may just be the most polite deer in the world because they will actually bow to you!

We then went to Todaiji temple – it costs to get it, but it’s definitely worth it if you’ve not experienced it before. The temple building and gate are probably the largest wooden structures I’ve ever seen. Inside the temple, are huge Buddha statues. If you’ve ever seen the anime Gantz, you may even feel intimidated.

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Next, we decided to go further up the hill into Nara park. We stumbled upon a cool little temple that was free to enter. Going to the second floor has an amazing view of Nara city. Further up, we found a large field that left to the summit of the hill. It was 150-yen entry, but if you’re not too tired by now, it’s a great (but steep) walk that rewards you with what I imagine is Nara’s greatest view. Of course, there are plenty of deer here, too.

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As you can see, Nara is great – just be careful of wild boars!

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Day 3: Kyoto

The next day, heavy rainfall and delays were possible, so we head straight to Kyoto. Little did we know this rainfall would lead to over 100 deaths and cause huge damage around the country. We’d been to Kyoto before, so we decided to stay close to the train station. There was still plenty to do though! There is a 12-floor department store called Isetan above the train station with a nice little viewpoint at the top. On floor 8 is a Studio Ghibli shop, and on floor 10 is a large number of restaurants. There’s also a great ramen section, that has 10 different ramen stores all next to each other, each specializing in a ramen from a different part of the country.

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We headed back to the train station, which was flooded with stranded commuters and travelers. It would have been complete chaos, if not for the impressive number of train station attendants that were desperately trying to cope with the country’s worst rainfall ever recorded.

Lucky for us, we were heading away from the rain, so our bullet train was only delayed by 35 minutes. Those heading towards Hiroshima had little chance of going anywhere any time soon. The bullet train we booked was the Kodama, which can only be booked a day in advance and at a few areas (such as Shin-Osaka). The Kodoma may be the best value shinkansen in Japan. It stops at every stop, but still makes great progress – and booking in advance allows you to receive a free drink at a train station kiosk (including beer). We wanted to ride the super-fast train as much as for the experience than as a method of transport, so we were quite surprised when we realized it only cost us 4300-yen from Kyoto to Nagoya. I wonder if our train being the number “666” had anything to do with our bad luck so far?

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Click here for more information on the Kodama bullet train. 

Day 4: Nagoya

From the train station, we went straight to our quite terrible but quite cheap hotel (4200), and had an early night.

We were lucky enough to avoid the rain in the morning hours as we headed to Nagoya Castle. Just before the entrance to the castle, was a small but free Noh museum, which is worth checking out if you have the time. 

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Entrance to the castle is 500-yen, but it’s well worth it (even if entrance into the actual castle was closed off like it was for us). Inside the castle grounds, there is a beautifully recreated, full-size palace. You can feel the amount of time, hard work, and effort that has gone into creating it. To enter, you need to take your shoes off and put your rucksacks around your front (instead of your bag), no flash photography is allowed. We even saw a couple of staff workers carefully going around the wooden walls with a small paintbrush, wiping away dust.

There are also a couple of shows performed each day that you can watch once you’re inside the castle grounds. One show features ninja, swords, and dancing, while the other features samurai.

After we were satisfied with our time at the castle, we headed back to the train station and ate lunch at one of the many restaurants on the 12th floor. We then made our way to Nagoya airport, to catch our flight to Kagoshima. The rain continued to prevail, and the death toll around Japan continued to rise. We were warned that our plane may return to Nagoya airport if the captain decided the conditions were unfit to land – luckily, we arrived safely in Kagoshima. Our trip from Osaka to Nagoya could have gone better, but it could be perfect for you! 

Kagoshima City Attractions: Top 5 Spots!

You’ve decided to head all the way down to Kyushu’s most southern prefecture? That’s pretty cool, but what should you actually do in Kagoshima city? Here is a list of the five best places you should definitely check out.

 

Amu Plaza

Amu Plaza is a large department store centered bang in the middle of the city. The plaza itself is connected directly to the main train station, so chances are if you’re going to Kagoshima – you’ll pass by here. Inside the plaza, you’ll find several floors of your typical shops – including a Pokemon shop and a Snoopy shop. Towards the upper floors, you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants, an arcade, a cinema, and even a Ferris wheel. On the bottom floor, you’ll also find a great food market where can enjoy hundreds of tasty treats.

 

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Tenmonkan Shopping District

The majority of the Tenmonkan shopping district is roofed – so you don’t have to worry about the weather. Here, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of shops – including an anime shop and a Don Quijote. Close by are Kagoshima’s main drinking streets, full with restaurants and Japanese-style drinking establishments.

 

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Iso Beach

If the weather is nice, how about spending a day at the beach where you can gaze at the beautiful Sakurajima from afar? In the summer season, it’s a great place to swim and relax. A short walk from the beach is the Sengen-en, a place you can visit (for a small fee) to see beautiful Japanese gardens and folk homes.

 

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Dolphin Port and Kagoshima Aquarium

If you’re looking for a standard day out with the kids, try visiting Kagoshima’s aquarium. The aquarium has a great dolphin show and has one of the largest litre aquarium tanks in the world. A short walk from the aquarium is Dolphin Port, a nice park that has a few restaurants and shops that you can explore (Dolphin Port will be closed down next year).

 

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Sakurajima

You can’t go to Kagoshima city without a visit to the amazing volcanic island known as Mt. Sakurajima. Walk up the volcano, go to the beach, or even go fishing – Sakurajima has plenty to do. So much to do in fact that it warrants its own article. Click here for a detailed list of everything you can do on Sakurajima!

 

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                                                                                                      (Photo was taken from Iso Beach)

100% Free Odaiba Attractions: My Top 5 Spots!

Odaiba is without a doubt one of the most interesting places you can go and enjoy in Tokyo with a low budget (although there’s plenty of options to spend your cash if you want to).

 

While living in Tokyo, Odaiba was one of my regular weekend spots to relax and have fun. This is a list of the 5 free Odaiba attractions I personally enjoyed!

 

(1) Walk along Rainbow bridge

Rainbow bridge has access from both sides (one side you ride an elevator to the top). The 88-meter tall bridge does get windy, but when you set your eyes upon the amazing Tokyo views – you really couldn’t care less. This free activity can save you money if you take the walk instead of riding the slightly expensive monorail to Odaiba.

 

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(2) Enjoy the beach

What makes Odaiba special is its beachfront. Enjoy the beach, take some sports or swimming equipment with you and bask in the dazzling sun. You could take a picnic with you and have a walk onto the mini man-made island that is covered in grass and trees (we did).

 

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(3) Go to the retro arcade

You might think an arcade sounds expensive, but it’s worth a visit just to have a look around. On the 4th floor of Odaiba’s ‘Decks’, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Retro shops selling Japanese souvenirs, anime and manga memorabilia, and a lot of other strange things too. Not only that but there are many traditional fare games and arcade games to enjoy too. There’s even a haunted house, which boasts been voted the second scariest horror ride in Japan (personally, I didn’t find it that scary, though).

 

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(4) See the giant Gundamn

You really don’t have to be an anime fan to have interested in seeing a huge 20-metre model of a mecha (giant robot). As expected of one of Odaiba’s main attractions, this giant is almost always towering over a flock of tourists trying to capture an awesome snap with it.

 

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(5) Go to Venus Fort shopping centre

It’s hard to find something to do in a shopping centre without actually spending money, right? Not at Venus Fort!

VenusFort is a shopping mall designed to resemble a medieval European village. The Sky Feature Program displays a fantastical sky expanding overhead, creating a magical atmosphere where time flows unlike anything in the outside world.

Although the shopping centre is entirely inside, you’d soon be fooled when you see the magical skies and buildings that have been designed. The fun doesn’t stop there though, there is also a free car museum that is sure to peak your interest – it includes an iconic DeLorean from Back to the Future.

 

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Let me know what you thought of the free Odaiba attractions! Is there anything you would add to the list? 

 

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7 Things to do at Sakurajima Island

 

If you’re near the city of Kagoshima, it would be a shame not visit the mighty volcanic island, Sakurajima. The mountain can be seen from all over the city of Kagoshima and erupts on a daily basis – but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit it! For more information on Sakurajima itself, you can click here

In this post though, we’ll be looking at the top 7 things to do at Sakurajima (experienced by me)!

 

(1) Ride Bicycles Around The Island

It’s unlikely and rather inconvenient to have your own transport on the island, so one of the best ways to see the island is to rent a bicycle. As soon as you get off the ferry, you’ll see a few old and dainty shops – one of which rents bicycles for a few 100 yen per hour. If you’re really feeling up for it, you could even ride around the whole island.

Location: Near the ferry terminal.

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(2) Visit Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate

Due to Sakurajima’s daily ash eruptions, ash can gather a fair bit. In 1914, there was such a large eruption that there was enough ash to almost completely bury a 3-meter shrine gate! This is all you can see of the gate now, but it’s still interesting enough for a visit. 

Location: East part of the island.

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(3) Visit The Lookout Point

If you’re on Mt. Sakurajima, then you should probably check out the lookout point which is halfway up the volcano. Here, you can experience amazing views from all angles as well as visit the souvenir shop and cafe.

Location: A long walk or short bus ride from the ferry terminal up the mountain.

(4) Enjoy The Beach

Sakurajima is a volcanic island, so it doesn’t have the brilliant sandy beaches like you might imagine – rather it’s very rocky. Fortunately, though, there is a small man-made beach where you can enjoy the sea and the sun.

Location: Near the ferry terminal.

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(5) Go Fishing

You can’t go far in Kagoshima without seeing fish. Whether it’s fish from the rivers, koi from the castle moat, or the fish from the sea – they are pretty much everywhere. So why not rent out some rods and bait to see what you can catch?

Location: Also near the ferry terminal.

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(6) Sakurajima Nature Dinosaur Park

Looking for something the children will enjoy? Why not visit the dinosaur park that has huge models of dinosaurs? Some of them also double as playground equipment such as slides – so it’s sure to be a bit of fun for the kids.

Location: Head left from the ferry terminal

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(7) Free Foot Onsen (Hot Spring)

While traveling is a boatload of fun (see what I did there?), it is also physically draining. That’s why you should consider taking your shoes and socks off and spending a little time in the free foot onsen to recuperate.

Location: Near the ferry terminal.

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Mt. Sakurajima is only a small island with a tiny population in a prefecture that isn’t particularly known for foreign tourists – but this little list should leave you with plenty of things to do at Sakurajima. 

 

Note: The ferry to the island is only around 220 yen! How cheap!

Kagoshima Meibutsu (Local Specialities): Top 5 Foods!

Thinking of visiting Kagoshima? Make sure to try out these Kagoshima meibutsu!

 

 

(1) Satsuma Age (薩摩揚げ)

Satsuma-age is a fried fishcake from Kagoshima, Japan. The paste is made from fish and seasoned with salt, sugar, and other spices and moulded into various shapes.

While Kagoshima prefecture is famous for Satsuma Age, it was originally brought from Okinawa in 1864 when the two areas were hostile.

These days, however, the fishcake can be seen all over Japan. There’s a good chance you will have seen them in instant soba noodles.

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(2) Shirokuma “Polar Bear Shaved Ice”(シロクマ)

Kagoshima is Japan’s most southernly prefecture bar Okinawa, so you can imagine has it has quite a warm climate. What better to keep cool than Kagoshima’s famous shirokuma shaved ice. The icy dessert is served with fruit and sweets sprinkled on.

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(3) Silver-stripe herring sashimi (きびなごの刺身)

Sashimi is raw fish that is often eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. Kagoshima is known for doing this with silver-stripe herring, a small white fish. Raw fish may put some of you off, but you really should try it before deciding.

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(4) Chicken Sashi (鳥刺し)

You’re not mistaken, this really is raw chicken. You’ve always been told to be careful when handling raw chicken, let alone trying to eat it, right? But in Kagoshima, people do.

Of course, the chicken will have been specially taken care of to reduce salmonella to the lowest amount possible – but would you risk it?

I have actually tried this, and well, I’m not in any rush to try it again.

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(5) Pork Shabu (豚しゃぶ)

You may have heard of the Japanese cuisine known as ‘shabu-shabu’. Shabu-shabu is a Chinese-Japanese nabemono hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water. In Kagoshima, it is often done with pork instead of beef.

There are many restaurants that specialize in shabu-shabu all around Japan. While it isn’t the cheapest gourmet, it’s sure to be a great experience.

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These are arguably the top 5 Kagoshima meibutsu, but how many do you want to try?

A Visit to Ikuta Ryokuchi Park, Kawasaki

A Happy Coincidence

It was actually the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Tests) that first brought me to this beautiful Ryokuchi Park in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. Although it’s not in technically in Tokyo, it is quite close (Shinagawa station to Kawasaki station is a 28-minute ride).

At one end of the park, is Senshu University – the place my test was being held. To get there from the train station, I had a pleasant walk through this surprising natural park.

 

A Day Out For The Family

The park has a great picnic area for the kids, that has a flat field where ball games can be played. There are also several old train carriages that have been modified to allow the kids to explore them.

 

ryokuchi park, ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi park, 生田緑地

 

Further into the park, if you follow the main route to the university, you will enter a small forest full of ancient trees that tower over. If you go in autumn like when I took this pictures, you’ll be able to see the beautiful autumn colours (紅葉) of the various trees in the park.

 

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Ikuta Ryokuchi Park Has It All

Just before you arrive at Senshu University, you’ll notice a huge sculptor that kind of looks like a tooth with some children on it (that may sound like a bad description, but that’s really what I thought it looked like).

 

ryokuchi park, ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi park, 生田緑地

 

Here, you will find the entrance to the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art.

This isn’t the only museum the park has to offer, though. You can also visit the Japan Open-air Folk Museum, which is worth taking a look at even if you’re not planning on entering.

 

ryokuchi park, ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi, ikuta ryokuchi park, 生田緑地

 

The Kawasaki Municipal Science Museum (located at the picnic area with the trains) is also another great option.

 

Kawasaki Municipal Science Museum

 

And next to the university is the Kawasaki City Traditional Crafts Center – although you’d have to look into what kind of activities they have on there.

 

If museums aren’t your thing, there are a few cafes and restaurants located at the museums that you can dine at, even if you don’t fancy paying the entrance fees.

So, how about it? Do you fancy a nice day out at Ikuta Ryokuchi Park?

 

Kawasaki Municipal Science Museum

 

 

 

 

 

Mt. Sakurajima – Kagoshima Prefecture’s Stunning Volcano

Mount Sakurajima – a fierce yet awe-inspiring volcano that is separated from the city of Kagoshima by a small stretch of water. It erupts almost every day, but the people of Kagoshima pay it little heed – except to sweep away the accumulated ash around their homes.

I lived in Kagoshima for 18 months, but I never got tired of its beauty. And that’s a good thing because you really can’t go far in the city without finding a nice spot to view the volcanic mountain.

The volcano erupts on average several times a day – shooting huge ash clouds into the sky. This makes it Japan’s most active volcano. However, daily eruptions are not a bad omen for the people of Kagoshima. It’s when the volcano goes a long time without erupting that there is a potential for real danger.

 

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A Cheap Day Out

On the island itself, there are a few small towns. This means there are always at least a couple of thousand of residents on the island. Many of them undergo evacuation training each year (I’ve taken part a couple of times, too).

For around 200 yen ($2), you can ride a ferry to the island. There are a few shops, a place to rent bicycles, and event a lookout point 373 metres up the volcano. While it’s much easier to catch the bus up the steep hills that lead to the lookout, we decided to walk (our legs hurt for the next couple of days).

 

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A Deadly History

Every few years, the volcano will have a particularly large eruption that showers Kagoshima in several inches of ash all at once. One of the worst recorded eruptions was in 1914, when so much lava erupted from the volcano that the lava swallowed several small islands and connected the volcano to the main island of Kyushu. Many scientists expect another large eruption to occur within the next 30 years.

 

sakurajima, mt. sakurajima, volcano. sakurajima volcano, kagoshima, 桜島

 

Would you consider living in a city so close to a volcano? Or is the threat of a potential earthquake already too much for you to handle?

Kagoshima prefecture is located next to Kumamoto prefecture – an area that suffered a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2016.

 

FUN FACT: Because Sakurajima erupts on a daily basis, the prefecture of Kagoshima has the highest number of earthquakes each year. The vast majority are caused by the volcano and are far too small to feel.

 

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