Kagoshima, a city on the southern coast of Kyushu, Japan, is known for two things – its absolutely picturesque bay, and the nearby active volcano Sakurajima. Given that I (Merge) had been seeing beautiful bays all this month on my journey on the MS Westerdam, what I really wanted to visit during my one day here was the active volcano.
Sakurajima smokes constantly, and minor eruptions often take place multiple times per day. Located in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima is also the name of the island, and it is the area’s most prominent geographic feature, having an elevation of 1117 meters and a circumference of about 50 kilometers. But it isn’t really an island anymore either. I mean it was. Until a powerful eruption in 1914 resulted in a massive lava flow from created the current land connection to the Osumi Peninsula in the east. Despite this, getting to the “island” by a ferry from Kagoshima Port to the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal is still the easiest way to visit. Which is what I did.
The ferry ride itself only took about 15 minutes, and while the views of the volcano as we made our way over to Sakurajima were spectacular, it (much to my disappointment) stayed quiet.
Once on the island, there is a very convenient Island View bus that runs a circle route around Sakurajima, stopping at all the key tourist sites. A one-day pass on the bus is a very reasonable JPY 500 (less than USD 4) so I got one right away and got exploring. My first stop was the International Volcano Sabo Center, a museum that focuses on the volcanic activity at Sakurajima, as well as debris flow and erosion control projects. Unfortunately, the displays are all in Japanese, but I was able to use my Google Translate app to get the general gist of the how the ongoing volcanic activity can cause mudslides and information about Sakurajima’s past eruptions. Interestingly, not only does the Centre monitor volcanic activity and landslides, but it also doubles as an evacuation site in the event of a disaster.
As I came out of the Center to make my way to my next stop – the Yunonohira Observatory – Sakurajima awoke, and to my delight, sent up smoke signals.
By the time I got to the Yunonohira Observatory, it was still hiccupping up smoke, so I got a much better view at the higher elevation. Because the volcano is constantly active, there is always a fine layer of ash everywhere. I noticed that my hands were covered with black dust just from touching the stair railings. I also managed to get some on my face!
The main floor of the observatory has a museum with several explanations in English. One display that I found very interesting was about how all children in Sakurajima wear yellow helmets when walking to school or outside their school. The reason: when eruptions occur, lapilli (volcanic ejecta) of a few millimeters to several centimeters can fall and cause significant injury. So all children wear helmets as a matter of routine.
The one remaining place I wanted to visit on Sakurajima was the Yogan Nagisa Park Foot Bath (or Spa as they sometimes refer to it). This is a free-of-charge, 100-metre-long foot hot spring, supplied by natural hot spring water from 1,000 metres underground. After a day of walking around, it felt wonderful to strip off my shoes and socks and put my feet in the footbath. When they meant hot water, they really meant hot! It took a few minutes of trying to finally immerse my feet completely. It was a spectacular feeling – the Sakurajima volcano in front of me, and Kagoshima Bay behind, I felt like I was experiencing the energy of nature!
Feet rejuvenated, I made my way back to the Sakurajima Ferry Termina for the 15-minute trip back to Kagoshima Port. As I boarded the MS Westerdam to our next port of call, the local high school band and rhythmic gym team gave us a wonderful send off as we sailed out of Kagoshima Harbour.