Japan: The Deep South

Perhaps more than any other country I’ve visited, it was incredibly satisfying to finally touch down in Japan. A mere 3 or so hours away from Hong Kong, for locals and expats alike, visiting Japan is much like popping for a week away in Germany or Italy or Hungary. It seemed as if everyone I knew had paid a visit there at some point and raved about awesome it was.

I held off primarily because the second thing that they’d mention was it was pretty expensive and so I wanted to wait until I could save up enough money to enjoy it but, when I found a relatively cheap summer holiday flight there, I couldn’t resist.

There were a couple of cheapish flight deals to Japan and narrowing down a destination was hard work. The southern beach island of Ishigaki was cheapest but the temperamental August weather suggested a beach holiday wouldn’t be the best idea. Also, it didn’t appear to be teeming with the rich Japanese culture I desperately craved. Osaka was doable but I wanted to visit this region in spring when it was at its prime. With Tokyo looking ridiculously expensive, I eventually opted for a city that, until it came up on Skyscanner, I’d never heard of.

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The city of Kagoshima

Kagoshima is about as far south on mainland Japan as you can get. It’s the last stop on the world-renowned Japanese railway and is right at the bottom of Kyushu island, home to more famous Japanese cities such as Fukuoka and Nagasaki. What caught my eye with Kagoshima was its laid back but distinctly Japanese vibe and the fact it sat in the shadow of a gigantic active volcano, Sakurajima.

Also, the city used to be called Satsuma – what’s not to love?!

My new destination immediately made an impact. From the free hot spring in Kagoshima airport to the friendly man at the ticket counter who didn’t care in the slightest that I paid him with the equivalent of a £70 note for for a £8 airport bus journey, Japan was immediately distinctive. It was everything I expected and so much more, almost as if it was going out of its way to let me know how courteous and friendly and just plain brilliant it was.

It’s super easy to get from the airport to the city on the airport bus (which costs 1250 JPY) which very kindly lets you know when you’re approaching winding roads or motorways so you can brace yourself. I jumped off the bus in Tenmonkan district and walked about 10 minutes to one of the few hostels in Kagoshima, Green Guesthouse. It’s a nice little guesthouse with a cool rooftop partially overlooking the volcano, plus it’s super convenient for the harbour and the Sakurajima ferry.

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Tenmonkan District by night

The city of Kagoshima has such a nice, chilled vibe. It’s busy without being crowded and just felt like such a perfect tonic to my stressful return to Hong Kong which had involved so many practical, grown-up activities. Ugh. Kagoshima has lots of great little eateries (I finally got to try authentic Japanese ramen at this place and it was heavenly), a lovely harbourfront and a smattering of little parks to chill in. There’s a fab little food village near Kagoshima Chuo station called Kagomma Furusato village. It has about 25 mini restaurants set up where you can sample some great Japanese cuisine. I had a try of (Japanese dumplings) which were delicious. I was also given a free fishy something and a shot of sake by a random smiling man in there. I felt like a maverick, downing shots at 6pm. What is this… uni?

The only uncomfortable thing about this great little city was the heat. I seriously didn’t expect it to be that warm. It was in the mid-30s but with a “feels like” of 42 degrees. It was the kind of heat where you literally step outside and are instantly sticky. Considering most of Kagoshima’s activities are outdoors, I spent most of my holiday smelling absolutely horrific, though that was more of a problem for other people.

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Kagoshima isn’t just a great city to wander round, it’s got a tonne of brilliant attractions too, not least the erupting volcano on its doorstep. I’ll blog about what I got up to in my next post but, even if it didn’t have all of its cool attractions, I think I’d still love Kagoshima. It’s quirky, it’s charming and, perhaps it’s because I was finally in Japan, but I just constantly found myself with a smile on my face.

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