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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Nippon Honsen Line (Part 2)

We resume our two-day trip on the JR Nippo Main Line. At the end of the first day, we check into Traveller Sanso in Kirishima Onsenkyo, from where we can see the Sakurajima volcano.

We resume our two-day trip on the JR Nippo Main Line. At the end of the first day, we check into Traveller Sanso in Kirishima Onsenkyo, from where we can see the Sakurajima volcano. The famous samurai Sakamoto Ryoma visited this hot spring resort with his wife based on the recommendation of “the last samurai” Saigo Takamori. Traveller Sanso is surrounded by mountains. It was built in 1917 as a hot spring travel-lodge-style hotel. It has two types of open-air baths and an indoor bath. After relaxing in the free private bath, we enjoy a delicious meal of beef, sashimi, Osumi stew with a salty miso broth and herring tempura.

The next morning, we are served fried mackerel and fish cakes, among other things, for breakfast. We decide to catch the 11.05am train from Kirishima Jingu Station, which gives us enough time to visit some of the area’s recommended spots. A staff at the hotel suggests we visit the Kirishima Shrine. We are driven to the Moyori bus stop from where we take a toll-free bus to the shrine. The bus ride to the shrine, which stands in a forest of cedar trees, takes 15 minutes.

We speak to someone from the shrine who tells us it was built in the 6th century in honour of ancient Japanese god Ninigi-no-Mikoto. The grandson of sun goddess Amaterasu, he was sent to earth from heaven by the deity and is believed to be one of the “founders” of Japan. The shrine was originally built at the summit of Takachiho no Mine, but was destroyed by fire during to a volcanic eruption and rebuilt here. Its current location is about 500 years old and the shrine was reconstructed in the Edo Period under the direction of the feudal lord of Satsuma. There is a cedar tree at the shrine which is more than 800 years old. What makes this tree special is that if you go to the back to the tree, you’ll notice that it slants to the left and the shape resembles a priest praying. The tree is referred to as the Kirishima Cedar and its elegant beauty has earned it the title of Kyushu's ancestral cedar.

We return to Kirishima Jingu Station by bus and take train to Kajiki, three stops ahead. On the train, a passenger tells us to try the famous Kajiki manju, which is like sake manju. We arrive at Kajiki Station after about 20 minutes and our next train leaves at 1.20pm, around two hours later. We ask a taxi driver to suggest a good restaurant for lunch and we are told to go to Ichimatsu Toraya Sushi near Kajiki Port. So we make our way there first and order the herring set meal which includes Kagoshima's famous silver-stripe round herring sushi. The restaurant was founded in 1957 and the herring sushi has been on its menu since then. The herring is flavoured with salt and tea being before made into pressed sushi. It is then wrapped in dried kelp that is sliced. We also order the nigiri set meal, which includes items such as red snapper caught near Kagoshima Port.

After our meal, we go to Okada Manju near Kajiki Station. The store has been around since 1923. Kajiki manju has been made in this area since the Edo period. There are seven major local shops selling it and the manju at Okada Manju is made with flour and malted rice, and filled with red bean paste. It is baked for about half an hour in a charcoal fire. Until the late 1960s, the shop sold its version of Kajiki manju to passengers when trains stopped at the station for a few minutes.

We then take the train to Ryugamizu Station, five stops ahead. We arrive at 1.35pm and have two hours till our next train leaves. We go to a gas station to ask about popular spots in the area. We find out that the best place to view Sakurajima is from the station platform itself. 

So we return to Ryugamizu Station to enjoy the beautiful view of Sakurajima from the platform. We wait an hour at the station before catching the train to our goal, Kagoshima-Chuo Station, which is two stops ahead. We reach the station after 10 minutes. A student at the station recommends we visit the Saigo Caves. It is the site of the Battle of Shiroyama, the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigo Takamori. The Satsuma army had fought for control of southern Kyushu for several months before eventually returning to Kagoshima. They used the caves at Shiroyama to fight their final battle. So we take the City View bus, which goes to popular sights around Kagoshima. After 15 minutes, we reach the battle site. A 10-minute walk from the caves is the place where Saigo Takamori died. We end our two-day trip along the JR Nippo Main Line by heading to the top of the “Shiroyama” hill to catch a glimpse of Sakurajima.

1) Check out an 800-year-old tree at Kirishima Shrine which is known as Kyushu’s ancestral cedar
2) One of the best spots to see Sakurajima is from the train platform of Ryugamizu Station


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