Local Train Adventure in Kyushu (Part 1)
Places visited this week include a sake brewery located in a gold mine, Kagoshima Prefecture's oldest hot spring and an unmanned station offering breathtaking views of the East China Sea.
Our next two-day train journey takes place in Kyushu. We will travel from Kagoshima-Chuo Station to Kumamoto Station, covering 50 stops and a total distance of 198km. We will first ride on the JR Kagoshima Main Line and then transfer to the Hisatsu Orange Railway Line. At each station, we will spin a roulette wheel, which will determine which station we will go to next. A list of famous places and specialities has been created in advance by the local tourism office, railway companies and local magazines. If we are unable to find one of the entries on the list at a particular stop, we will still spin the wheel, but this time, we will have to travel backwards on the line. If we meet the goal of reaching Kumamoto Station by 6pm on the second day, we will be rewarded with a meal of Kumamoto specialities.
Our starting point is Kagoshima-Chuo Station, where we spin the roulette wheel before taking the 8.30am train. We get a three on the wheel, which means we get to advance to Satsuma-Matsumoto Station, three stations after Kagoshima-Chuo. This area produces tea and we are keen to visit the tea fields. However, a resident tells us they are located in the mountains, far from the station.
We then drop by a store which sells pork and chicken. The owner tells us that raw chicken meat is actually Kagoshima's speciality and the shop’s chewy raw chicken is shipped all over Japan. In Kagoshima, people eat raw chicken meat with sweet soy sauce. Our next stop is a shop that sells the popular Chacha Manju, which is filled with lots of locally produced tea leaves. Both raw chicken meat and Chacha Manju are included in our list of specialities, so we can proceed to the next station. This time, we get an eight on the roulette wheel, so we take the 9.45am train to Kumanojo Station, eight stops from Satsuma-Matsumoto.
The train traverses Satsuma Peninsula, advances towards the East China Sea and reaches Kumanojo at 10.20am. We ask a taxi driver at the station about recommended spots and he suggests Satsuma Kinzangura, a sake brewery. It is 15 minutes away by car and he agrees to drop us there. Its main attraction is a trolley tour of its warehouse for brewing shochu. The tour lasts nearly an hour, during which we are taken underground. Satsuma Kinzangura is said to be the world’s only sake brewery located inside a gold mine.
Most of the gold produced in Japan is mined in Kagoshima Prefecture. In the past, about 7,000 people worked in this mine. Mining brought wealth to the Satsuma Domain during the Edo period and served as the driving force for the Meiji Restoration. During the Taisho period, this mine was the top producer of gold. We notice pots for brewing shochu and meet a worker who is pouring unrefined sake in a pot and mixing it. We find out that he arrives at work by trolley at around 8.30am and continues working until 3.30pm, all by himself.
The temperature in the mine remains at 19 degrees Celsius throughout the year. This is believed to produce smooth shochu. We get to sample the factory’s speciality, Kinzan Koji Jikomi, which is made with Kinzangura's original recipe. It has a sweet fruity flavour. Satsuma Kinzangura is on our list of famous places. We get a four on the roulette, so we must proceed to Satsuma Taki Station. This time, we have to alight at Sendai Station first and transfer to the Hisatsu Orange Railway Line. The 120km line starts from the Sendai Plain and runs along the coastline. At 1.35pm, we catch the cute Kumamon-themed train and reach Satsuma Taki at around 1.50pm. We plan to catch the 3.35pm train later. The hot spring here has been chosen as one of the 100 best hot springs in Japan. Discovered during the Kamakura period, it is the oldest hot spring in Kagoshima which was even visited by famous samurai Saigo Takamori. It is situated in the mountains, so we have to take a taxi there. We take a dip in the public bath which has alkaline spring water.
We have missed our train and the next one is an hour later at around 4.40pm. In the meantime, we walk to the ocean and see a heart-shaped rock, which is said to bring good luck to those who manage to find it. The hot spring town is an entry in our list, so we get to move forward. This time, we get a three on the roulette wheel. We take the train to Ushinohama, three stops away from Satsuma Taki Station. The unmanned station on a cliff faces the East China Sea and is considered one of the most scenic spots in Kagoshima Prefecture. A local suggests we go to Ushinohama Beach, which boasts a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the East China Sea.
The beach is on our list of famous places, so we can advance along the line. We spin the roulette wheel and get a five, which means our next stop is Nishi-Izumi Station. We want to find a place to stay and grab a taxi and ask for recommendations. The driver’s recommendation, Hotel King, is fully booked so we request him to take us to an area with several hotels. We finally manage to get rooms at Toyoko Inn. For dinner, we have Yakiniku, a Japanese-style barbecue, featuring grilled meats such as high-grade Japanese black beef.
1) Satsuma Kinzangura, a sake brewery located inside a gold mine, is a must-see attraction near Kumanojo Station
2) Satsuma Taki Station is one of the most scenic spots in Kagoshima Prefecture