Kagoshima : The Beautiful South
At the far end of the island of Kyushu, Kagoshima is an island full of history and culture. Often compared to Naples in Italy, Kagoshima is a charming hot spring kingdom, owed to one of Japan's most active volcanoes, Sakurajima.
Beauty and danger. What would Kagoshima be without the famous Sakurajima ("cherry tree island"), one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Its last, monstrous, eruption dates back to 1914. Its sulphurous slopes are now closed to the public, but the smoking summit remains the top attraction in southern Kyushu, offering a nice boat ride and fabulous views over Kinko Bay which is its home.
From Satsuma to Kagoshima
It is perhaps from the town's nickname, "Naples of the Orient" (the Italian neighbor of Vesuvius), or maybe thanks to its mild climate, relaxed atmosphere, and palm trees, which are rare in Japan, that makes Kagoshima a popular destination. Although it may not be Kyushu's most exciting city - compared to its rivals Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Kumamoto - its sun, cuisine and identity make it more than enjoyable, for example for a stroll along the banks of Dolphin Port, or in Shiroyama Park, the lungs of Kagoshima.
An extra day, and you can travel along the Satsuma Peninsula (to the south), to Chiran's Samurai houses and Ibusuki's curious black sand, or board a ferry for Yakushima, an island with century-old cedar trees, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Kagoshima, presented by the Japanese Tourism Office
"Satsuma": the name of the old feudal stronghold of Kagoshima, echoes with memories, historical events that have shaped the local identity. In 1549, its small port witnessed the disembarkment of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, who came from Portugal to evangelize an archipelago still unknown. But it was finally Nagasaki that became the capital of Christian Japan, before the "heathen religion" was banned.
The Last Samurai
In the nineteenth century, while, under threat, Japan opened to trade with the West, lord Nariakira Shimazu, passionate about science and European culture (he notably had the first daguerreotype camera imported into Japan), had the country's first modern factory built there. The Shôko Shusei Khan then produced guns and ships, and is now a nice museum dedicated to local history, in the heart of the beautiful Iso-tei in garden.
But the Meiji revolution appalled local aristocracy and the samurai of Satsuma lead a revolt against the abolition of the warrior class. The great Saigo Takamori wanted to bring the emperor to reason, and sent his troops to storm Kumamoto Castle. They were defeated, and the famous Satsuma rebellion ended in blood and resignation.
Saigo Takamori commited suicide on Shiroyama Hill in 1877, but for the Japanese he remains a pure hearted hero who died for his convictions. Almost a collective ideal. His chubby silhouette and serious face appear on many local souvenirs.