The island of Kyushu is blessed with abundant nature and beautiful scenery. There are Shinkansen and highway connections to wherever people live on the island, and the numerous smaller outlying islands make Kyushu a great place for a leisurely trip. With the spring flowers beginning to bloom and sprouts popping up, the editors of Fukuoka Now have come up with a trip for our international readers that showcases many of Kyushu’s unique features.
On our tour, you will visit the beautiful but not well known Koshikijima islands, hike and cycle on a volcano, camp next to a volcanic lake (Lake Imuta), tour a sweet potato shochu distillery, pick up some local specialty goods, and finish with a ride on a sightseeing train where you can enjoy a meal as you watch the sunset over the sea. However, if you have the time to spare, you should take a whole week to enjoy this course at a more leisurely pace. You won’t regret taking extra time to relax on the islands. Have a great trip!!
Koshikijima Islands: Located 45km west of Kagoshima
The island chain consists of three major inhabited islands: Kamikoshiki, Nakakoshiki, Shimokoshiki, and several small uninhabited islands. Last August, the Koshiki Ohashi Bridge (1,533m) linking Shimokoshiki and Nakakoshiki opened, effectively connecting all of the islands and making this little island chain a great destination for driving and touring. Just over an hour on the bullet train from Hakata Station will put you at Sendai Station, the second to last stop on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line’s southern end. Here you will board a shuttle bus to the ferry port.
The ocean, islands, and blue skies— this is all you need for vacation mode to kick in. If you call in advance, staff from the rental car company will pick you up at the port. If you opt for a rental car, you can have lunch at a popular sushi restaurant on the island. There is a flourishing aquaculture industry on the islands with farms for fish like bluefin tuna and flounder. The lean akami cuts and the fatty toro cuts from the tuna make for great sashimi and sushi. These are augmented by delectable seasonal selections like sea bream and amberjack.
Once you’re full, it’s time to take a leisurely drive down to Shimokoshiki over the recently completed Koshiki Ohashi Bridge.
Here are a few spots you’ll want to stop at on the way.
Nagamenohama Beach Overlook
The outlook affords a panoramic view of the 4km-long beach. You can also take the footpath (300m one way) down the hillside and take a walk on the beach.
Mt. Torinosu Overlook
Located just off the Koshiki Ohashi Bridge’s southern end, this overlook provides the dazzling bridge’s best view. If you take the stairs down from the overlook, you’ll arrive on a small rocky beach where you can get an up-close look at the jagged cliffs.
Located on the southern end of Nakakoshiki, this overlook provides views of the Koshiki Ohashi Bridge and Shimokoshiki island.
On this trip, we stayed at Niclass Koshikijima, a new inn that was just completed last November. Located right on the beach and just a 10-minute walk from Sato Port, the inn has rooms with fully-equipped kitchenettes, so you can enjoy a relaxing condo-like experience. Not to mention, you can listen to the sound of the waves as you soak in your private outdoor bathtub!
If your stay includes a Monday or a Friday morning, you can wake up early to watch tofu being made at the nearby Yamashita Shoten. (And how can you beat fresh tofu for breakfast?) The neighborhood around Yamashita Shoten is also great for a stroll. Leisurely take in the remains of old samurai residences and other island-esque architecture nearby.
One thing you won’t want to miss when you visit Koshikijima is the Cliff and Unusual Rock Cruise. The Kanoko sightseeing boat is equipped with two high-speed diesel engines with a maximum output of 800 horsepower, measures 23 m in length, and has a capacity of 28 passengers. On this breathtaking one-hour tour, you will see the roughly 80 million-year-old strata that formed the massive and unusual rock formations, including Koshiki Daimyojin, which is revered as a Shinto deity. You can get a completely different view of all the places you have visited by car from the boat.
To get back to the mainland, you will take the high-speed ferry to Sendai Port. Choose a hotel near the train station and car rental shops so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running the next day. For dinner, enjoy dishes made with kurobuta (“black pork”)—a Kagoshima specialty! (Pick your restaurant according to what you’re in the mood for, whether it be a pork cutlet, hot pot, or shabu-shabu).
On the second day, you will check out early in the morning, rent a car, and head towards a beautiful mountain village. After driving for about 30 minutes, you will arrive at Iriki Fumoto Buke Yashikigun, one of the three major samurai residences in Kagoshima Prefecture.
TIP: As you head further into the countryside, restaurants will be far and few between, so you should buy lunch somewhere between Sendai Station and here.
Iriki Fumoto Buke Yashikigun
This group of samurai residences was built around Kiyoshiki Castle, which was considered the best mountain castle of the Satsuma Domain. Some well-preserved sections of the stone walls remain. The current townscape was built in the Edo period, and most of the sites of the old residences are now home to modern private houses. However, when you look into each site from the gate, you can see some remnants of the past, including the curved approach to the entrance and the old stone storehouses.
The former Masuda family residence (77 Uranomyo, Iriki-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture), which is a national tangible cultural property with a splendid thatched roof, is open for tours. Step inside and get a feel of what life was like in the early Meiji era (late 1800s).
For many, the first thing that Kagoshima brings to mind is shochu. Stop by the Kedoin Distillery, which makes sweet potato shochu, for a tour. Tours last about 15 minutes. Located in a bucolic mountain area, the Kedoin Distillery started production in 2007. It is the only shochu distillery in Japan that ferments its mash and distills its liquor in wooden barrels, and stores the end product in a cave. Kedoin’s flagship brand made with these unique processes is Nokaido. The distillery’s predecessor is a shochu distillery founded on Koshikijima in 1902 and produced shochu under the brand name of Aoshio. One of the attractions of the distillery is the beautiful nature that surrounds it.
When the distillery tour ends, it is time for lunch. Take the lunch you purchased beforehand and head to Imutaike Prefectural Natural Park. The park, which is known for its gorgeous cherry blossoms in the spring and stunning foliage in the fall, has a rental cycle service. After lunch, why not enjoy a relaxing cycle ride around Lake Imuta, a volcanic caldera lake with a circumference of about 3.3km. To the northwest of the lake, there is a marshland registered under the Ramsar Convention with several small islands composed of peat deposits scattered about. Stop by and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery up close.
It takes about one hour to hike up Mt. Imori, Mt. Atago, or any of the other mountains that surround this caldera lake. There is also a popular 6 km course with a cumulative altitude of about 650 m that connects all of the surrounding mountains. This takes about 5 hours to walk.
On the way to and from Lake Imuta, there are several roadside produce stands. We recommend stopping and asking what local fruits are in season.
Finally, the trip’s climax is a ride on the Orange Restaurant, a sightseeing train that runs between Sendai Station and Izumi Station on the Hisatsu Orange Railway. Enjoy the meal of your choice—breakfast in the morning, lunch, afternoon sweets, or dinner at sunset—on this local train that runs along the west coast of southern Kyushu. Of these, we recommend the Sunset Course, where you can enjoy the setting sun turn the inside of the train carriage orange.
You can get off along the way to take a walk on the beach or tour uniquely designed station buildings. Bask in the ever-changing colors of dusk as you enjoy a course meal supervised by a local chef. The customer service of the friendly crew only serves to heighten the vacation experience.
(Times shown are from the winter timetable. The timetable is adjusted according to the time of the setting sun.)
Souvenirs to Remind You of Your Trip
• Satsumasendai’s famous Chinko Dango, the sweet dumplings with a “surprising” name. There are various theories as to where the name (whose English translation we cannot print here!) comes from, such as the fact that in Kagoshima dialect, “chinka” means small.
• Kesen Dango: A subtly flavored dumpling made from glutinous rice, red bean paste and sugar and sandwiched between cinnamon leaves.
• Akumaki: A bean paste sweet that the locals love. This locally preserved food is made by boiling glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo skin in lye. The amber-colored glutinous rice has a chewy texture but no rice grains. It is served with a sprinkling of soybean flour and sugar or brown sugar syrup.
• Satsuma-age fish cakes: Like sweet potatoes, these fried fish cakes are said to have been transmitted to Kagoshima from China via the Ryukyu Islands. A source of local pride, they can be found not only in the fish-rich Koshikijima Islands, but everywhere throughout Kagoshima.
A refreshing island and mountain getaway.
• 08:39 Depart Hakata Station (Travel time: 1:23 / Reserved seat; ¥9,240)
• 10:02 Arrive at Sendai Station
• 10:15 Board shuttle bus (¥150) from the No. 2 bus stop at Sendai Station
• 10:49 Arrive at Kushikino New Port
• 11:20 Depart Kushikino New Port
• 12:35 Arrive and pick up rental car
• 13:00 Lunch (How about sushi made from fresh local seafood?)
Sightseeing: Nagamenohama Beach, Koshiki Ohashi Bridge, Shimokoshiki island
• 17:00 Check-in at Niclass Koshikijima
• 06:30~7:00 Tofu workshop tour (With soy milk and tofu tasting)
• 11:00 Check-out
• 11:50~12:50 Cliff and Unusual Rock Cruise
• 13:00 Lunch
• 14:00~16:00 Walking or cycling in the Sato area
• 16:30 Depart Sato Port (high-speed ferry)
• 17:20 Arrive Sendai Port
• 18:00 Check-in (Pick a convenient hotel near Sendai Station)
• 09:00 Check-out
Rental car (Buy your lunch somewhere between Sendai and Iriki)
• 09:30~11:00 Iriki Fumoto Buke Yashikigun
• 11:30~12:00 Tour the Kedoin Distillery
• 12:10~14:50 Imutaike Prefectural Natural Park (40-minute drive to Sendai Station)
• 15:30 Return rental car (around Sendai Station)
• 16:30 Depart Sendai Station (Orange Railway Sunset Course: ¥9,000)
• 18:16 Arrive Izumi Station
• 18:31 Depart Izumi Station (Travel time:1:11 / Reserved seat: ¥8,470)
• 19:42 Arrive Hakata Station
You can take a high-speed ferry (shortest time: 40 minutes) or a regular ferry (shortest time: 75 minutes) to get to Koshikijima. Shuttle buses run from Sendai Station to the respective ports.
Jetfoil (Reservations possible)
Sendai Port Terminal (25 min. from Sendai Station by shuttle bus / ¥150)
6131-23 Kyodomari, Minato-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Fare: ¥3,440 one-way (Kushikino – various ports on Koshikijima)
Ferry (Reservations required if taking a vehicle)
Kushikino New Port (35 min. from Sendai Station by shuttle bus / ¥150)
12 Seisatsucho, Ichikikushikino City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Fare: ¥2,340 one-way (Kushikino – various ports on Koshikijima)
Staff will pick you up and drop you off at the port if you make a reservation in advance.
Rental bicycles: Koshiki Cycle
Staff will pick you up and drop you off at the port if you make a reservation in advance.
Cliff and Unusual Rock Cruise: Kanoko Sightseeing Boat
Three trips a day departing at 10:20, 11:50 and 14:00; cruise time: 1 hour
481-1 Nakakoshiki, Kamikoshiki-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
09969-2-1150 (Koshiki Koyo Kaigyo)
3312 Sato, Sato-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Reservations required: firstname.lastname@example.org
Price (with tax): ¥11,000~¥14,000 / person
Enjoy a lunch of sushi featuring bluefin tuna raised in the islands and fresh seasonal seafood (¥2,000).
786 Nakakoshiki, Kamikoshiki-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
09969-2-0023 (Reservations required)
Morning Tofu Experience at Yamashita Shoten
Tour the tofu workshop and enjoy fresh soy milk and fresh warm tofu.
54 Sato, Sato-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Open: 6:45~7:15 (Mon. and Fri. mornings only)
Reservations: 09969-3-2212 / email@example.com
Price (with tax): ¥1,000
Shochu distillery tour: Kedoin Distillery
2728-1 Imuta, Kedoin-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Tourist train: Orange Restaurant
Days of operation: Fri., Sat., Sun., Hol.
Price (with tax): ¥9,000 (Sunset Course / reservations required)
Depart Izumi Station 17:40→ Arrive Shin-Yatsushiro Station 19:07 (Apr. 1~Aug. 31, 2021)
Attraction: Imutaike Prefectural Natural Park
1999-2 Imuta, Kedoin-cho, Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture
Two rental bicycle shops (¥400/cycle) are located next to the Akuaimu Kedoin Ecological Preservation Museum inside the park.
Here’s a video of our walk around the Sato-chiku area on Kamikoshiki Island. It’s a lovely town with an area of former samurai residences, the ruins of a castle and more.