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Kagoshima City Port on the water.
Kagoshima City Port on the water.

Kagoshima Japan – Visit the City of the Last Samurai!

Tokyo TerryTokyo Terry
Published Time
Posted on May 31, 2024

Kagoshima Prefecture is on Japan’s Kyushu Island, and Kagoshima City is its capital! It is the home of many historical figures who played essential roles in the founding of modern Japan. Today, we’ll look at the history of this seaside city and some of its attractions!

What is the history of Kagoshima?

Kagoshima was formerly known as the Satsuma Domain, one of Japan’s strongest areas during the Edo period (1603-1868). For 400 years, the Shimazu clan governed it from Kagoshima Castle. This family name is well-known in the region. The daimyo of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira, was fascinated with the outside world. He eventually introduced Western-style science and technology to the local region, education system, and military.

Kagoshima Castle.
This castle was home to the powerful Shimazu Clan. Image via Shutterstock

Saigo Takamori is another famous figure in the area’s history. In 1868, this samurai descendant helped create the Meiji government, which led to the modernization of Japan. He then returned to Kagoshima and opened private schools for young samurai.

When the new government tried to force his schools to close, he led rebel forces into battle against them. The result was the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, the last major battle in Japan involving samurai. This is how the city gained its nickname – “City of the Last Samurai.” The movie The Last Samurai is based on this historical event! He and his faithful soldiers died in battle. His last stand and death marked the end of the rebellion. But his name and memory are still respected in the region!

What is the “City of the Last Samurai”?

There is an eight-meter bronze statue of Saigo Takamori in Kagoshima Central Park, only three minutes from Asahidori Station. It is located at the foot of Mount Shiroyama, where Saigo Takamori fought his final battle. Teru Ando, a local Kagoshima City sculptor, created the likeness—the same artist who designed the Hachiko statue in Shibuya! 

A statue of Saigo Takamori in Kagoshima City.
Saigo Takamori was one of the last samurai. Image via Shutterstock

The Meiji Museum of Restoration is only a 20-minute walk from the statue. Here, you can learn more about the families that helped modernize Japan. Realistic robots act out past events in the museum’s Ishin Taikan Hall! This small museum, next to the Kotsuki River, is only five minutes from Kagoshima Chuo station.

After Japan opened to the world, Kagoshima became an important city and regularly hosted foreign officials. Guests stayed at the State Guest House, located on the grounds of the Shimazu family estate. The carefully preserved quarters contain an inner garden with a unique octagon-shaped pond. But the central residence garden, Sengan-en (or Isoteien), is the most popular attraction in the city. Both are open to the public! 

What is Sengan-en?

Sengan-en is a traditional Edo-era garden constructed in 1658 by the Shimazu family. It is famous for its view of Sakurajima and the surrounding bay. The 12-acre park contains ponds, streams, plants, and trees, creating beautiful scenery in any season. The Konan Bamboo Grove was created in 1736 from just two Chinese moso bamboo plants. All bamboo in Japan of this type can be traced back to this grove! 

A diorama of samurai in a Sengan-en Flower Garden.
This is a beautiful flower garden in the middle of the city. Image via Shutterstock

Kagoshima Castle is only a short stroll from the closest station, Shiyakusho-Mae. It was built in the Edo period by Satsuma’s first daimyo, Matsudaira Iehisa. It was destroyed by fire in the 1800s, so only the stone wall and moat remain. But its main Otemon Gate was rebuilt, so it can still be appreciated in its original glory!

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Famous Foods in Kagoshima

The best place to sample Kagoshima cuisine is “Gourmet Street” (Gurume-dori), a few blocks from Temmonkandori Station. Both sides of this narrow downtown street are lined with restaurants specializing in local food! This coastal city lies at the southernmost tip of Kyushu. The region’s food has a unique flavor similar to Okinawa dishes; pork is especially popular! 

A plate of broiled Kagoshima black pork.
Kagoshima black pork has a sweet and rich flavor. Image via Shutterstock

Kurobuta (“black pork”) comes from pigs raised on a diet of Satsuma-Imo sweet potatoes. These Berkshire pigs were brought to the area hundreds of years ago and have been bred here ever since! The pig’s skin is dark black, where the dish gets its name. People also eat chicken sashimi, but it’s only prepared by specialist chefs!

The meat is soft, flavorful, and contains less oil than pigs raised on other foods. It is commonly eaten as thin slices in a shabu shabu pot or simmered to make tonkotsu stew. Sweet potato alcohol (shochu) is an essential ingredient in tonkutsu.

A platter of Kagoshima chicken sashimi.
Kagoshima chicken sashimi is served fresh! Image via Shutterstock

Shochu made in this region is known as Satsuma-imo shochu. The drink is extremely popular in Kyushu and is available in almost every traditional pub (izakaya). If you prefer non-alcoholic drinks, Kagoshima produces more green tea than any other prefecture after Shizuoka. Green tea has been grown in the city since the 1300s! 

Mount Sakurajima

At over 1000 meters (3280 feet) high, the volcano Mount Sakurajima is visible from almost any point in the city. Its location only four kilometers (13 feet) away makes it the city’s most striking feature. The volcano is still active and has small eruptions daily, sometimes dusting the town with ash. From Kagoshima Station, you can walk to Gionnosu Park to get a clear view of the constantly smoking mountain. Or you can visit the nearby Hamacho Embankment, where the mountain spreads across most of the horizon!

Mount Sakurajima in the twilight.
Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. Image via Shutterstock

For some people, this still isn’t close enough! Ferries regularly leave the port’s terminal to carry visitors to the volcano. From Sakurajima Port, guests can take bus tours and venture within two kilometers (6.6 feet) of the crater. And even more amazing than scheduled trips to an active volcano are the residents who live on its slopes year-round!

How do I get to Kagoshima?

Kagoshima is only four and a half hours from Osaka by train. But the most direct way to get there from Tokyo is a seven-hour trip on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. After switching trains at Shin-Osaka Station, the Tokaido-Sanyo becomes the Kyushu Shinkansen until Kagoshimachu Station. From there, it’s Only a seven-minute bus ride to downtown Kagoshima City.

Kagoshima Airport.
Kagoshima is a less than two-hour flight from Tokyo. Image via Shutterstock

This may sound like an unbearable journey, but the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen only stops five times between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka Station and 12 more times after switching trains. Considering the distance covered, eating lunch in Tokyo and dinner in Kyushu is pretty amazing! Especially if you remember that driving the same distance takes more than twice as long!

If you prefer to fly, flights leave Narita for Kagoshima Airport daily. The airport limousine buses will have you downtown in about 90 minutes. This is the option of choice for most travelers from eastern Japan. The flight is only about two hours, and tickets can be cheaper than the train!

Why should I visit Kagoshima?

This remarkable city is an excellent destination for exploring the connection between Japan’s past and present. Its location at the edge of the country offers a taste of food and culture that differs from eastern Japan. Deep history, calming nature, and exciting adventure can all be had on the same day. You can celebrate your experiences later in the evening with the best Kyushu food and drinks!  

Kagoshima City near Mount Sakurajima.
Have you ever been to Kagoshima City before? Image via Shutterstock

Do you have any favorite restaurants in Kagoshima? What are the tastiest Kyushi dishes? If you know of other exciting attractions in Kagoshima or the surrounding area, please share them below! 

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