Tag Archives: Kagoshima

Volcanic activity near Kagoshima, Japan

In Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, the volcanic activity of the archipelago is obvious and nowhere more so than near Kagoshima towards its southernmost tip. Incidentally the area around Kagoshima is called the Satsuma Peninsula which we found endlessly amusing even before we found out it actually is famous for citrus fruits. The Komikan tangerine is a variety indiginous to the area and tastes a bit like a cross between an orange and a lime – very yummy!

One of the reasons we visited Kagoshima was the fish market tour, but we were also keen to see the volcanic activity and how it affects the day-to-day life of the residents.


Just 4km across the bay from Kagoshima is the very active Mt Sakurajima (cherry blossom island). It streams smoke almost constantly and erupts more than 1000 times a year although mostly just small quantities of ash. The falling ash is a fact of life for local residents and bags of it are cleaned up from the streets. Seeing the volcano billowing on the day that we visited was pretty awe inspiring and every so often we would turn to each other to say ‘Wow!’

20140619-135311-49991692.jpgBags of ash awaiting collection on a street corner in Kagoshima

We took the cruise ferry, which departs once a day from Kagoshima, and takes 50 minutes instead of the 15 minutes of the direct ferry. It skirted the lava fields around the south-west part of the volcano before arriving at the port.

20140619-135523-50123323.jpgSakurajima billowing smoke, seen from the cruise ferry

At the port we hopped onto the ‘island view’ bus to head up to the Yunohira Observatory, the closest access point to the crater. At 373m above sea level it’s just over a third of the way up. After we’d taken some photos of the volcano and admired the view of Kagoshima, there didn’t seem to be much more to do there and we still had 45 minutes to wait before the next bus. Then we noticed that the information leaflet said there were seven heart shaped stones hidden around. It seemed like a reasonable way to pass the time but even after a thorough search including the car park we only managed to find four, perhaps the rest were covered in ash!

20140619-140115-50475158.jpgUs at Yunohira Observatory

20140619-140831-50911093.jpgYunohira Observatory (clockwise from top): View across the bay to Kagoshima, aerial view of the three craters in the visitor centre, one of the heart shaped stones once we’d cleared the ash away

Back on the bus, we descended from the observatory to Karasujima Viewpoint where we read that it used to be an island 500m away from the volcano until the 1914 eruption. This is the most recent big eruption of Sakurajima and it not only buried this small islet under 20m of lava but also filled the strait between the volcano and the mainland, and destroyed three villages. Reading this we were shocked that Sakurajima still has a population of 5000 people but I suppose the economic lure of tourism, fertile fields and ash that can be mined is hard to resist. The tourism leaflet says that the population ‘live in harmony with the volcano’ but I’m not convinced that anyone has fully explained that to Sakurajima…

20140619-141616-51376083.jpgFrom Karasujima we walked the 3km trail back to the port town to end the day with a soak of our feet in the public foot bath

Ibusuki Sand Baths

An interesting effect of the volcanic activity can be experienced in Ibusuki, an hour south of Kagoshima by train, where steam bubbles up through the sand heating it to spa temperatures. We like a good hot bath and so we were keen to try the hot sand. First we wandered along the deserted seafront and ate our packed lunch sitting on the seawall and gazing out to sea before making our way back to Sunamushi Kaikan Saraku (Natural Sand Bath) and paying the entry fee.

20140612-115025-42625167.jpgDeserted sea front at Ibusuki

Ibusuki Sand BathsRows of spa goers buried in sand at Sunamushi Kaikan Saraku

In the changing rooms we put on the provided yukata (imagine a kind of cotton dressing gown) and made our way to the beach where we lay down in a hollow and the staff began to shovel hot sand over us, something like you might have done to your dad on the beach as a kid. It was a relaxing experience and not actually as hot as we’d expected. The recommended time to stay covered for the full blood cleansing benefits is 10 minutes but we both managed at least 15 minutes.

Julie getting covered in sandStaff shovelling sand over Julie

Taking a sand bathBuried up to our necks! You wrap a small towel around your head to protect your head and neck from the heat

Andrew getting out of the sandAndrew escaping from under the sand

After wriggling our way out we made our way back up to the onsen building to rinse the sand out of all the places it had worked its way into. The sand bath was a fun and unique experience and left our skin feeling thoroughly cleansed.

Japanese markets

Markets are some of our favourite places to visit. For a start we love food and it’s always interesting to see the exotic (to us) ingredients available to local cooks, and they are usually interesting and colourful places to photograph too. We’ve found Japanese markets to be just as interesting as the ones we visited in Riga, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Bangladesh, and three very different markets from the first half of our stay in Japan really stand out.

Omicho Market, Kanazawa

The Omicho market in Kanazawa really feels like a locals market. It is comprised of stalls mainly offering fresh ingredients and is arranged in a series of covered corridors. There were lots of restaurants around the fringes and on the second floor, we ate at a couple of them during the few days that we stayed in Kanazawa.

20140526-120419-43459436.jpgA quiet corner of Omicho Market

20140526-120532-43532044.jpgAll kinds of fish feature heavily from live oysters to dried squid, and especially big red crabs, this fine specimen is priced at just under £30!

20140525-222117-80477241.jpgJapanese vegetables – that’s fresh wasabi in the bottom left, bamboo shoots above it and the white vegetable with green leaves to the right of the lemons is called udo

20140526-120655-43615571.jpgNon-fish and vegetable stalls include cakes, desserts and flowers

20140526-120852-43732121.jpgWe enjoyed sashimi bought from the fishmonger for lunch one day – eaten standing at the side of his stall

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

This very long covered market stretches for four or five blocks through the centre of Kyoto. It was a great place to spend a rainy afternoon, unfortunately lots of other people had the same thought so we spent much of the time shuffling along in a crush of bodies. There were a lot of weird and wonderful traditional foodstuffs that we attempted to identify, with enough samples to keep things interesting and the occasional souvenir shop as well.

20140525-222302-80582882.jpgStained glass skylight over Nishiki market

20140526-122759-44879830.jpgVast arrays of pickled vegetables

20140526-122829-44909778.jpgMiso pickled vegetables (called misozuke) are made using a fermented soy bean paste

20140602-174348-63828690.jpgWe managed to score several samples of sake by looking simultaneously appreciative and indecisive :)

20140526-122956-44996665.jpgSouvenirs included beautiful ceramics, mobiles and cotton scarves

20140526-123046-45046414.jpgFood offerings ranged from fresh vegetables and fish to the intriguing sounding ‘Espresso Milk Jam’ (sadly no samples available) and packs of spices

20140526-123301-45181139.jpgThere were lots of snacks available too, these Tako-tamago looked interesting – a baby octopus with a quail’s egg in its head on a stiiiick!

Kagoshima Fish Market Tour

When we read in the Lonely Planet about the weekly early morning tour of the Kagoshima wholesale fish market I got very excited, to the point of planning our trip to make sure that we’d definitely be in town on a Saturday. The tour is run by a group of local hotels and ryokans, but it’s not necessary to be staying with one of them to join in.

We were collected from our hotel just after 7am and whisked off to the Wholesale Fish Market on the seafront where we were issued with wellies and met our guides and the rest of the group – two locals and a group from a Hong Kong TV company (without their video cameras). A market representative guided the group in Japanese, but fortunately for us Yukiko, one of the hotel managers, spoke good English and gave us a really good overview of what we were seeing.

20140530-185301-67981681.jpgBustling commercial fish market in Kagoshima

When we arrived fish was being auctioned. The smallish group of wholesalers moved around to each of the crates with the auctioneers amidst a cacophony of bells and whistles. Everything happened very fast, there was a lot of cryptic jargon (even to Japanese ears not in the know) and the bidding was done by the wholesalers quickly scribbling their price on a clapper-like pocket chalkboard which was then flipped open at the auctioneer so that only he could see it. To us, it seemed like the wholesalers got one shot at naming their price for each crate before the auctioneer moved on to the next.

20140530-185349-68029695.jpgAuction in progress, the guys with the red caps are the auctioneers

20140530-185500-68100139.jpgWellington boots are pretty much required footwear around the wet floor of the fish market

We were able to wander fairly freely, trying not to get in the way and marvelling at the huge diversity and amazing freshness of the fish. I’ve never seen eyes so bright or scales so shiny. Obviously the quantity and variety of fish each day varies. Yukiko told us that this morning’s catch was a particularly good one.

20140602-074403-27843322.jpgFlying fish are a specialty of the Kagoshima area. Their pectoral (side) fins are very long to allow them to glide over the water’s surface.

20140530-185606-68166046.jpgFish of all different shapes, sizes and colours

Next we moved into the section of the market where the wholesalers sell to trade, i.e. restaurants and fishmongers selling to the public. Here we were given a demonstration of a 40kg tuna being carved and even got to try some as sashimi – short of cutting it up on the boat, I don’t think we could get it any fresher than that!

20140530-185643-68203313.jpgTuna preparation: from whole fish to delicious sashimi in less than 10 minutes!

Some fish varieties aren’t available locally and these are imported from as far afield as Scotland, Argentina, and Chile, and kept in huge walk-in freezers at -20oC. As you might imagine, keeping so much fish fresh in Kagoshima’s warm climate takes a lot of ice. Market employees send a piece of paper up a dangling line to order whatever quantity they need and then collect it from a nearby huge chute.

20140530-185711-68231128.jpgClockwise from top left: refrigerated trucks lined up outside the fish market, collecting ice from the dispenser, the market’s shrine to the god of the sea where thanks are given for its generosity, Andrew and our guide inside the walk-in freezer

There are a couple of restaurants on site that serve meals to the employees and workers at the market, but they’re also open to the public whether you’ve been on the market tour or not. The whole group went to one of them after the tour. Andrew and I ordered the huge sashimi set which contained some slightly exotic items (a large sea snail, and sea urchin) as well as more familiar fish.

20140602-080642-29202057.jpgA sashimi feast! The snail is at the top left of the picture, the sea urchin is the orange coloured meat in the middle right. As well as this mountain of raw fish, the set meal also included rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables.

After seeing the workings of the market it was great to sample some of its delicious wares, and to talk with the hotel managers who created the fish market tour, and who continue to run it every week with the support of the Kagoshima Fish Market.