Apparently the best way to see Kyuushuu is to drive – and yes, that probably would have been the easiest way around. But neither Eleanor or I have an international drivers license, so that was out of the question. Regardless, we managed to navigate the public transport in each area quite easily and it really wasn’t all the difficult. Until we arrived in Miyazaki (宮崎).
The view from the Shinkansen (新幹線)
Miyazaki definitely had a small town vibe and we soon came to realise this meant less frequent trains (and by less frequent, I mean one every two hours or so). I knew from what I had read about Miyazaki that I wanted to go to Aoshima (青島) – a small island off the coast. However, the next train was a while away so we decided to head to Miyazaki Shrine (宮崎神社) first.
Around Miyazaki Shrine (宮崎神社)
The lush green forested area around the shrine was so peaceful and quiet. They were setting up the shrine for the upcoming new year’s celebrations, but still there was hardly anyone around. Just the odd おばあさんhaving a rest on her daily walk to the shrine. We also stumbled upon an outdoor museum which had replicas and actual houses from past eras, which was interesting to see.
We then made our way back to the station, only to discover the train was more than 40 minutes away. So we went for a little wander then headed back to the station, only to wait another 20 minutes or so for the train. We met a delightful man from the local area who wanted to try out his English with us, and ended up repeatedly asking us if we were ‘angry’ that the train was late!
Finally we made our way to Aoshima (青島), on the most adorable one carriage train. It was a puzzle trying to figure out how to pay for the train, but after a half an hour journey or so we made it the Aoshima station.
The lovely lazy trains in 宮崎. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo
We passed a botanical garden on the way to the island decided to have a look, and it was the most beautifully manicured and well cared for garden I have seen in a while (and that is saying a lot of Japan where everything is looked after so well). We stopped for little snack of mango ice-cream and a mango smoothie, made using fruit grown in the garden. Delicious!
At the botanical garden on Aoshima
Then we made our way down to the island. The shallow water around the island has a rock formation called Oni no Sentakuita (鬼の洗濯板), or devil’s washboard, which may appear to be man made but it completely natural.
Aoshima. One of my favourite places I have visited in Japan.
Aoshima is only 1.5km in circumference so we decided to circle around the island. This was a lovely walk as most of the visitors turned around after visiting the shrine (which is basically the only thing on the island). We then wanted to visit another shrine which was a bus ride away, but we could not figure out where the bus stop was (and there was no one around to ask!) So we just called it a day and headed back to the main city.
The next day we made our way to our last stop in Kyuushuu – Kagoshima, which is the southernmost major city on the island. I knew that visiting Sakurajima and Yakujima (islands off the coast of the city) were on the top of my ‘to see’ list. So on the first day we headed to Sakurajima, just a short ferry ride away.
Sakurajima is one of the most active volcanoes in Japan – with more than a hundred or so eruptions the past year. As we walked to the port from the station, the view of the island was absolutely amazing. I have never seen anything like that before in my life.
On the way to Sakurajima (桜島)
We made our way around the island (though I found out it is not actually an island because a massive eruption in 1914 caused the lava flow to connect with the mainland) using a tourist bus, stopping along the way at various few points and the information centre/museum. It’s crazy to think that a sizable population actually lives on this volcano – with at least three schools (where the primary school kids have to wear helmets all year around in the playground and to and from school!).
Unlike any other place I’ve been or seen in the world. One of a kind.
We stopped for a late lunch on the island of mandarin infused udon and had a look at the giant radishes which are famously grown here (something to with the mineral composition of the soil makes the radishes grow beyond their normal size).
That night, back in Kagoshima city, we headed to an area of the town packed with little izakayas selling the local specialties – black pork and some sort of chicken. We were lucky enough to be asked to sit with some lovely visitors from Hong Kong who helped us out with deciphering the menu and what to order. We also decided to try the local specialty liquor – a spirit distilled from sweet potatoes. Super strong, with a 12.5% alcohol content.
A late lunch on Sakurajima – Mikan (みかん) infused Udon (absolutely delicious!) and having the local specialty alcohol – sweet potato Shochu (焼酎)
Once we arrived at Kagoshima station the first day, we headed straight to the information desk so they could help us plan our next two days here. It was then we realised this may be slightly harder than we thought. What I love about travelling is going with the flow (while have a very rough idea of things to do, but nothing completely concrete and figuring out on the way). However, we only then found out how hard it would be (and how far!!!) to get to Yakushima. Turns out Yakushima can be accessed by flight, high speed jet boat or ferry. The most economical way is the ferry (which runs once a day and takes FOUR HOURS each way). Our only option was the jet boat (unless we wanted to fork out a ridiculous amount to fly). Though it was slightly outside what we had budgeted for the day, we thought why not go with it who knew when we would ever be back here.
So to make the most out of the day we caught a ridiculously early bus (with the most lovely bus driver who dropped us right at the port – when I think his bus didn’t exactly go there!) to make the first jet boat out. The rules were pretty strict on the boat, and it almost felt like a flight, with seat belts and assigned seats.
On the high speed jet boat to Yakushima (屋久島)
Once we arrived we headed to the information centre only to see that it was closed for the new year (it was the 29th of December). So it was not looking good – with no way of getting around the island and no idea where the bus stop was. So we were directed towards a random hiking centre where they tried to find us the best way to access the Cedar forests (which is what Yakushima is reknowned for). However, there were limited public buses around this time but we luckily were 10 minutes out from catching a bus to Shiratani Unsuikyo (白谷雲水峡）, a nature park containing some of the ancient cedars that we had wanted to see. It was good enough and the most amazing experience ever.
We had to plan our day down to minute as one missing piece would mean that we would not be able to get back to Kagoshima that night. So we planned which hiking trail to take based on the last bus we could catch back to the port to make it on the jet boat we had booked. So, we ended hiking around for around 4 hours and it was magical. The forests were so lush and green and appeared to be fairly untouched. We also lucked out with the weather, with beautiful sunny skies and generally mild temperatures (Yakushima is known for heavy rainfall and freezing weather).
The greenery that is Yakushima. Wow.
I could not resist some cheesy shots at the ferry port and at the end of our hike.
Luckily all went to plan and we caught the right bus and made it back to the port in time to catch the long 3 and a bit hour jet boat back to the mainland.
I am so glad that I got the chance to go to Kyuushuu. The people were so friendly and helpful. The scenery and natural beauty was breathtaking and I hope this will be one of many trips down south.