While Kagoshima city is the capital city of the prefecture, it still gave me a small-town, peaceful, quiet sort of feel. There's a fish market by the port which is very close to the city center; just about a 10 minute drive by car. It's nothing like Tsukiji Fish Market of Tokyo of course, but it has its small town charms.
We decided to check out a sashimi restaurant located at the fish market called Shinko Shokudo which opens really early at 5am (!) till 3pm. Of course, we had to have the sashimi platter.
The fish was so lean subtly rich in taste; you knew it had to have been fish off the boat.
The restaurant was really crowded and teemed with locals, including elderly people who ordered non-fish dishes such as tempura and deep fried mackerel. I know we shouldn't be staring at everyone else's food but when I saw those huge fried mackerel go by.... I knew I wanted to try it out the next day. Especially since even the Japanese grandpas and grandmas were eating them! But that's a story for the next post heh.
By the Kagoshima Port. It was really quiet but there were some people sitting on the breakwaters fishing. The weather was mild and perfect for lounging. I could imagine just bringing a book, hot thermos flask, blanket to sit on and wrap myself in and that would be the ingredients for a perfect afternoon by the sea. :D
(Taken with iPhone)
Best part about climbing onto the breakwater? The incredible unfettered view of Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes! You could literally see the plumes emerging from the peak. There's the option of taking a ferry to Sakurajima to explore the island but then you wouldn't get to enjoy the view. So here's a less expensive alternative.
After our breakfast, we headed off to Ibusuki, about a 2 hour drive from Kagoshima to try out its famed hot black sand baths (known as Sunamushi Onsen).
I'd seen this video/report by Bee Rowlatt and thought it looked incredibly fun. Definitely check it out to get an overview of what to expect. But I think years of living in 100% humidity Singapore has warped my sweat glands into being ultra efficient at only pouring out sweat when the temperature is really high. I actually found it pretty tolerable. There is a definite feeling resembling that of a baby elephant resting on your belly but after awhile you start to enjoy the soft pressure exerted by the mounds of black sand heaped on top of you. And there's the clock right in front so that you don't overbake yourself. Because then the attendants run off somewhere else leaving you to your own devices. But it's no sweat. ;) After 15 minutes or so you just have to muster up as much strength as you can, give a little roar, and break free from the black sand cocoon.
We actually managed to get pretty good photos of ourselves (though of course, they are a little too embarrassing so they ain't going up here) taken by our nice Japanese shovel attendant using my film camera. I was really impressed! After all, most random passersby have difficulties focusing even with a regular digital point and shoot. But this guy really got down into a photographer's pose and focused his shots well. Either he does this way too many times for tourists or he really is some part time freelance photographer.
Then after that you get to go for a dip in the indoor onsen facilities. They have a number of small pools to choose from.
Beware the smallest pool of water. I saw an old Japanese lady steeped in the water up to her chest, sitting very calmly on the seated area in the pool. I thought, oh, must be a nice lukewarm pool, so I promptly stepped in without a second thought. IT WAS THE COLDEST THING EVERRRRR. And there she was UP TO HER CHEST, almost in a meditative state. After about 1 min, she proceeded to sit in the sauna room for another few minutes. I decided to follow her lead. Basically what she did was soak for about a minute in the cold pool, pop into the sauna for another few minutes then hop back into the cold pool....about 10 times. Not easy at all. I tried but would always give up and move on to the cold pool from the sauna a lot faster than she did. But it definitely helps because you can endure the heat from the sauna a lot better after freezing your ass off. I think this cycle of hot and cold is supposed to help to increase the elasticity of your skin and maintain its youthfulness. At least, that's what a Korean tour guide told me years ago because that's what the Korean women do as well. Give it a go!
Ibusuki is a reaaaally tiny city and it's main business is probably catering to the tourists who use the hot sand baths. I would recommend taking a day trip there because the drive from Kagoshima takes you along the coast and is really beautiful and relaxing.