Ibusuki & Kagoshima Travel Plan: Heavenly Hot Springs, Beautiful Scenery, and Delicious Cuisine Await!
Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu is known for its vast natural scenery and peaceful, charming townscapes. It’s the perfect place for people who want to appreciate the beauty of nature, take a dip in a relaxing hot spring, or escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. In this article, we will present lively tourist spots, local secrets, and delicious food available in Ibusuki, a popular hot spring resort town in Kagoshima Prefecture. We’ll also discuss some exciting shopping destinations in the center of the city of Kagoshima. With this travel course, you’ll be able to find the best food, shops, and hot springs to relax the body and mind during your next holiday to Japan.
Jan 24 2020
About Kagoshima’s Hot Springs
Many places around Kyushu are blessed with bountiful hot springs thanks to the presence of active volcanoes in the area. Among them is Kagoshima, Kyushu’s southernmost prefecture, boasting over 100 hot spring areas fed from 2,700 sources, the second most in the entire country, which supply Kagoshima with over 225 million liters of hot water a day. This has made Kagoshima a leading hot spring destination in the country. Of particular interest are the world-famous sand-steamed baths in Kagoshima’s Ibusuki, the only place of its kind in the world, which attracts many tourists who want to cover themselves in hot sand heated by pure geothermal energy.
About Kagoshima Airport
Kagoshima Airport is located in the city of Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture. The first thing most people arriving there via domestic flights want to do is head on over next to the bus terminal and relax at the free Oyattosaa footbath, which means “That’s enough for today” in the Kagoshima dialect. Those just finishing up a long flight and those preparing for one make frequent use of the footbath to relax their aching bodies or to start off their travels on the right foot. So, why not join them?
Plane enthusiasts will also want to check out the third floor of the domestic terminal where the observation deck is located. Besides enjoying the sounds of departing and arriving planes, you can also enjoy the view of Mount Kirishima on clear days.
Kagoshima-Chuo Station in the center of Kagoshima City can be reached from Kagoshima Airport via the Nangoku Kotsu Airport Shuttle (pictured below) or the Kagoshima Kotsu Limousine Bus. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs 1,300 yen/one way.
Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako Limited Express
Ibusuki, located in the south of Kagoshima Prefecture, is a city with a long history as well as the setting of the famous Japanese legend about Urashima Taro, a fisherman who was given the gift of eternal youth but lost it in a fit of disobedience. Click here to read the legend in English.
To get there, get on the Ibusuki Makurazaki Line at Kagoshima-Chuo Station and you’ll arrive at your destination in about an hour. But if you want to travel in style, reserve a seat on the Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako limited sightseeing express, which travels between Ibusuki and Kagoshima only 3 times a day (6 counting return trips)!
Before departing Kagoshima for Ibusuki, take a good look at the limited express. You’ll notice that it’s distinctly half-black and half-white. Also, if you look at the back of the train, you’ll notice smoke puffing from the car, just like the smoke that came out of the forbidden jeweled box (“tamatebako” in Japanese) that Urashima Taro opened! The interior of Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako is also nothing like what you’ll see on a regular train. The seats along the windows are decorated in an ocean pattern and offer amazing ocean views of the Kagoshima Bay the entire way to Ibusuki. Sofa seats with attached bookshelves are also available, offering travelers a chance to relax and enjoy some books during the train ride. You won’t find experiences like these on any other train.
During the hour-long train ride, you can enjoy the view outside the window, take pictures with a commemorative plate, or buy special goods that you can only get on the express. The most popular item for sale on the Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako is the Ibutama Pudding. Made from fresh eggs, milk, and black sesame, the two-tone dessert is similar in color to the black-and-white train. It tastes unbelievably creamy, so it’s no surprise that the express often sells out of it before it reaches its destination, so if you get the chance, be sure to buy some.
Other things for sale on the train include the Ibusuki Onsen Soda, a mildly sweet drink made from the clear, natural spring waters of Tosenkyo Gorge, as well as the Kameron Pan bread with plenty of sweet potato paste. There's also the Ibutama Strap, a strap in the shape of the Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako express, as well as the Ibusuki Fava Bean Cookies and the assorted Ibutama Sweets that comes with Eicha shortbread and Ei tea from Kagoshima, perfect for sharing with your family or friends, or as gifts.
There aren’t many seats on the Ibusuki-no-Tamatebako limited express, so it tends to fill up quickly. Thankfully, you can reserve a seat on it up to a month prior, so don’t wait until the last moment—make your reservation as early as possible!
Located on the southern edge of Kagoshima Prefecture, the city of Ibusuki is famous for its sand-steamed baths which attract scores of tourists each year. Ibusuki is a place of great nature, beautiful scenery, temples and shrines, and many historic locations. The area’s highlights include the Kaimondake Volcano, also known as Satsuma Fuji because of its resemblance to Mt. Fuji; the deserted Chiringashima island that can only be accessed during low tide; and the Kamafuta Shrine where it’s said that if you manage to walk from the shrine gate to the offering box while balancing a pot lid on your head, your wishes will come true.
Now then, let’s look at some of Ibusuki’s best tourist spots. Public transport options like tour buses or trains are easily available, so let’s explore Ibusuki to our hearts’ content!
Healthy Land: Immerse Yourself in Ibusuki’s Vast Nature
Tamatebako Hot Spring
Healthy Land is a hot spring facility composed of the famous outdoor "Tamatebako Hot Spring", the Sayuri sand-steamed baths, the Chinetsu no Sato restaurant, and the indoor Onsen Hoyoukan hot spring. What really makes this place special, though, is that it allows you to take relaxing baths while enjoying beautiful views of the Kaimondake Volcano and Kagoshima Bay. Those views alone are worth a visit to Healthy Land!
At the Tamatebako Hot Spring, you can let the hot waters heal your mind and body as you enjoy the gentle sea breeze or admire the beautiful mountains or ocean views in the distance. The open-air baths are divided into two areas: the Japanese-style area, which offers views of the Kaimondake Volcano, and the Western-style area where guests can enjoy views of the vast Kagoshima Bay. On clear days, guests should also be able to admire the many islands in the area, including the World Heritage Site of Yakushima. Tamatebako Hot Spring is a calm, quiet area where you can relax and forget your worries for a little while.
Sayuri Sand-Steamed Hot Spring
Sayuri, located close to the Tamatebako Hot Spring, is Ibusuki’s famous sand-steamed bath facility that alleviates stress by immersing guests in heavy sand warmed by geothermal heat. The sand also has a detoxifying effect on the body. There are in fact many sand-steamed hot springs in Ibusuki, but not many combine the experience with beautiful natural scenery like Sayuri. At this hot spring, you’ll be able to lie down in the sand and enjoy the cool sea breeze on your face while gazing at spectacular ocean scenery. The occasional droplets coming from the ocean will feel amazing on your hot skin. It’s the type of comfort that’s hard to put into words. 15 minutes in a Sayuri bath will just fly by!
* Note: The sand-steamed bath is composed of hot and cool sand, with temperatures reaching 40 – 50 degrees, which is why we suggest limiting your stay to about 10 – 15 minutes. Staying for longer periods may result in low-temperature burns, so please be careful.
To reach Healthy Land, please get on the bus at Ibusuki Station and get off at the Healthy Land Iriguchi stop or the Yamagawa Suna-mushi Onsen Iriguchi stop. After that, it’s just a short walk to the facility. We recommend that you get off at Healthy Land Iriguchi and take the shuttle bus to Sayuri, where you can bury yourself in the hot sand and relax for a bit. After you clean yourself off, get on the shuttle bus again, arrive at the Tamatebako Hot Spring, and enjoy a hot bath. If the Tamatebako Hot Spring is closed, take the bus instead from the station to the Yamagawa Suna-mushi Onsen Iriguchi stop, after which it’s just a 10-minute walk to Sayuri.
Chiringashima: The Beautiful Deserted Island That Will Take Your Breath Away
Chiringashima is an uninhabited island in Kagoshima Bay found east of Ibusuki. Every year from March to October during low tide, an 800-meter-long sandbar appears for up to 4 hours at a time, allowing people to reach the island from the mainland. This “connection” keeps appearing again and again, which gave Chiringashima the nicknames “the Isle of Marriage” and “the Isle of Love.” It has appeared in shows such as a famous Japanese drama called "Atsuhime".
While walking the sandbar, you will notice that it’s lined with many beautiful seashells of all shapes and sizes. Try searching among them for Mokuhachi Aoigai shells, which you can only find in this area. When you find two white ones, put them together to form the shape of a heart! The truth is that these shells belong to an extinct species, so every shell that you find here is actually a thousand-year-old fossil.
All those who complete the walk to Chiringashima can buy a certificate commemorating their achievement for just 100 yen. There are footpaths and observation decks for tourists on the island, including the southern observation deck where you will also find Chirin’s Bell, said to bring good fortune to those who ring it. Also, the view from this platform is so beautiful, it will surely take your breath away. It’s one of the best parts of the whole island.
However, while walking to and back from Chiringashima, it’s important to stay mindful of the tide and access to the sandbar. If you don’t start walking at least 40 minutes before the sandbar is set to disappear, the tides might make the walkway too narrow to navigate. The times that the sandbar appears can be found on the official Ibusuki tourism site, so please check it out before you head on there.
Kamafuta Shrine (Itate-tsuwamono-nushi Shrine): A Peculiar Place Where People Worship with Pot Lids on Their Heads
The Itate-tsuwamono-nushi Shrine, also known as Kamafuta (“pot lid” in English) Shrine is where people come to pray for good luck and victory. It’s a popular power spot attracting many sports players and entertainers from all over Japan, who all pray in a very interesting way.
At Kamafuta, you first put a pot lid on your head and walk from the shrine gate to the offering box. If the lid falls off, you need to start the walk again. If you can balance it all the way, it’s said that everything you wish for will come true. There are more peculiar ways for praying at the shrine that have enchanted scores of people, like the practice of trying to throw a clay lid inside a pot resting atop of a rock.
If you’re ever in Ibusuki, why not check out this unique shrine and pray for a little good luck?
Nishi-Oyama Station: Send A Letter from the Yellow Postbox of Happiness at the Southernmost Spot in Kagoshima
Nishi-Oyama Station on the Ibusuki Makurazaki Line is both Kagoshima’s southernmost spot and the southernmost JR station. Surrounded by nature, this little station faces the active Kaimondake Volcano, also known as the Satsuma Fuji.
Every year, from December to February, an area outside the station turns yellow with rapeseed blossoms, turning it into one of the most beautiful and peaceful scenery you’ll ever see. Outside the station, you’ll also find the Yellow Postbox of Happiness, said to bring happiness to everyone who posts a letter there. If you’re ever at Nishi-Oyama, stop by and send a letter to someone you care about.
Nishi-Oyama is an unmanned station, but you can buy a commemorative Nishi-Oyama ticket at either Ibusuki Station or Yamagawa Station. Also, only seven round-trip trains stop at Nishi-Oyama per day, so please be mindful of the schedule if you’re planning on visiting.
Kagami-ike: A Hidden Mirror Pond at the Foot of Kaimondake
The one lake you don’t want to miss out on while visiting Ibusuki is Lake Ikeda, the largest lake in all of Kyushu. However, there is a body of water more enchanting than Ikeda, and it’s located between it and the Kaimondake Volcano. It’s the small Kagami-ike Pond, which formed around 5,700 years ago when water pooled into a crater from a volcanic eruption.
Today, Kagami-ike is a peaceful pond roughly 140m in diameter. It really lives up to its name, seeing as “kagami” is Japanese for “mirror”, and its waters reflect all the surroundings like a beautiful mirror, including the majestic Kaimondake Volcano whose upside-down visage looks so lovely on the pond’s surface. The reflection changes depending on the time and season, making the pond a heaven for shutterbugs.
Ontamaran-don: Kagoshima’s and Ibusuki’s Beloved Dish
The Ontamaran-don was born in Ibusuki around 2009. Its ingredients differ from place to place, but it essentially consists of rice topped with anything from seafood to Berkshire pig pork, boiled fish, or Satsuma chicken. There are as many versions of the dish as there are restaurants, but they are all topped with a slow-boiled egg, which adds another dimension of flavor to this already rich feast. (“Ontamaran” is actually a pun on “ontama,” which means “slow-boiled egg,” and “tamaranai,” meaning “can’t get enough.”) They say that while staying in Ibusuki, you can have an Ontamaran-don every day and never get bored of it, and we’re inclined to agree. With this dish, the variety never ends!
Sightseeing in Kagoshima City
After returning to the center of Kagoshima from Ibusuki, it’d be a good idea to make a sightseeing plan for the city. Here are the main tourist spots in Kagoshima:
We recommend that you use the Kagoshima City View sightseeing bus that will take you around all the main tourist spots in the city. If you buy a 1-day bus pass (600 yen/Adults, 300 yen/Children), you’ll also be able to use the regular bus lines and streetcars.
Visitors who’d like to visit Sakurajima Island should use the Sakurajima Island View sightseeing bus. A combined Cute pass (1-day: 1,200 yen/Adults, 600 yen/Children; 2-day: 1,800 yen/Adults, 900 yen/Children) gives you access to the Kagoshima City View bus, regular bus lines, streetcars, and the Sakurajima ferry. Additionally, if you buy the above 1-day bus pass or the combined Cute pass, you’ll receive discounts on entrance fees to Ibusuki’s tourist spots.
Shiroyama Observation Deck: Offers Panoramic Views of Kagoshima City and the Famous Sakurajima Island
The Shiroyama Observation Deck is one of many picturesque locations offering amazing views of the Sakurajima volcano. It’s easily accessible via the Kagoshima City View bus, which runs every 30 minutes. And since it’s located fairly close to the city, it can also be reached by taxi or even by foot. On clear days, the view from the deck is simply amazing. But the evening scenery when the setting sun paints everything orange is equally moving.
Tenmonkan Street: Kagoshima’s Biggest Shopping District
Tenmonkan Street is the busiest shopping arcade in Kagoshima City. With plenty of shops, restaurants, and hotels all close together, the area is the ultimate stop for all your Kagoshima shopping and dining needs. The arcade is protected by a domed roof, so it can be enjoyed even on rainy days.
The most famous product in all of Tenmonkan must be Tenmonkan Mujaki’s Shirokuma, a delicious treat of snow-white shaved iced topped with condensed milk and fresh and dried fruit. The arcade also offers easy access to popular tourist spots like Sakurajima or the Kagoshima City Aquarium.
Kagoshima-Chuo Station Terminal: The Gateway to Kagoshima
Kagoshima-Chuo Station, also called “Chuo Station” by the locals, is an important terminal serving the shinkansen line and regular trains on the Kagoshima Main Line and the Ibusuki Makurazaki Line. Within the station complex, you’ll find the popular Miyage Yokocho and the Gourmet Yokocho areas specializing in souvenirs and local dishes. It’s there that you’ll find Kagoshima specialties like Karukan (a doughy Japanese dessert with a rich yam filling), sweets made in collaboration with Shirokuma, or Chiran tea. At Gourmet Yokocho, you’ll also find Berkshire pig pork or Kagoshima ramen.
We’d also like to recommend the Amu Plaza Kagoshima shopping mall directly adjacent to Kagoshima-Chuo Station. The impressive complex contains trendy fashion stores, bookstores, variety shops, supermarkets, souvenir stores, restaurants, and even a Ferris wheel on the roof. Right across from it, you’ll find the equally popular Aeon Mall, which helps make the entire area into a convenient, one-stop shopping destination. To buy some authentic Kagoshima goods, there is no better place than Kagoshima-Chuo Station!
As you can see, Kagoshima has plenty of amazing tourist attractions. Why not forget your worries and heal your body and soul by planning a vacation filled with hot springs and shopping through Ibusuki and Kagoshima today?
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.