South West Kagoshima Drive 南西鹿児島
Kiire michi no eki 喜入
Our first shachuhaku night in a long time and we choose a very cold and windy one.
Driving down on the west coast of Kagoshima prefecture, we stop for lunch at Izumi. Here, car rocking in the strong wind, we watch tsuru (common and hooded cranes) banking as they come in to land. We planed to visit Fukiagehama to see the longest dunes in Japan but the gale means it is not the right weather for sand. So we just try to find the place for the night.
Our first choice of michi no eki, Kinpo Konohanakan, proves to be very open and exposed to the gale that is blowing across the flat fields from the sea. The toilet is very basic so we abandon all thought of staying here and set off across the southern tip of Kyushu to the eastern side hoping to find something a little more sheltered and welcoming.
We wind up at Kiire on the eastern side just south of Kagoshima city. This is less gale swept, but the toilet is just as primitive. It also offers a very fine view of the largest oil storage depot in Japan. On the plus side there is an onsen of the bring your own soap variety. It will have to do.
＊Yawata Onsen ; 390 yen / adult
Chiran, Samurai town 知覧
Nevertheless, we sleep warm and comfortable and, in the morning, leaving the gate ball tournament in full swing in the field below, head for Chiran.
This is an old Samurai town, and the remnants are protected as a national/local treasure. The remains consist of a couple of parallel streets; all that is left of the original town grid. The main impression is of straight streets with old stone walls and high hedges. These hide 7 famous gardens. What remains is well maintained and there were people trimming hedges and raking leaves to keep the place pristine. Once beyond the main drag and you find many places have collapsed into disrepair or are now vacant lots.
Chiran is also famous for Tokkota. The airport at Chiran was a Kamikaze base for the battle of Okinawa in the closing stages of WW2.
Noma Peninsular 野間半島
Leaving Chiran, we make for the Noma Peninsular. Here we follow the coast road (R.226) and are rewarded with some fine sea views. We stop at various viewing points along the coastline toward Makurazaki.
The sky is overcast and ragged, the fast-moving clouds breaking to allow patches of sunlight to shine through on the dark, grey sea, the rugged islets and rocks.
Hinokami Park & Bandokorobana Park 火之神公園、番所鼻公園
Our first stop is Hinokami park. This park provides a free campsite by the water and a clear view of an impressive pinnacle of rock (Tategami-iwa). The campsite was surprisingly busy for a bitterly cold weekend in December.
The next stop, after a short drive, is at Itatetsuwamonoushi （射楯兵主神社）or Kamafuta（釜蓋）shrine as it is known, down at the waters edge. Here you can put a wooden nabe (pot) lid on your head and take a picture. The shrine used to be frequented by warriors understandably eager to win, but now sports and showbiz people seeking success visit. Apparently, if you can walk from the tori to the shrine balancing the pot lid on your head your wishes come true. Having scant interest in this activity we left soon after arrival.
On then to another park, this one Bandokorobana park. It has a circular path around outcrops of black rock. You can only complete the circuit at low tide. We had to abandon the idea as the sea was slopping over the path in places.
Nevertheless, we were able to enjoy the view of Kaimondake （開聞岳）across the bay. Kaimondake is a striking conical mountain rising out of the sea and Bandokorobana is one of the best places to view it from. The unsettled weather gifting us a rainbow to add to the enchantment.
Healthy Land Onsen
On the other side of Kaimondake is Tamatebako onsen, possibly our one of favourite onsen in the whole of Japan and we have been to Nyuto onsen in the snow. We take a look, but decide it is too busy judging by the number of cars in the car park so, instead, go to the nearby Healthy Land onsen. This place we had always assumed to be rather up market given the impressive drive and ornamental palms, but we were quite wrong. On entering, we find it is very cheap (only 320yen). It is clearly a place popular with locals who all bring their own soap etc. as these are not provided. It turns out to be a large, pleasant run of the mill onsen with no frills at all.
From the onsen it is a short drive in the dark to Yamakawa-ko michi no eki. An almost full moon appearing through the still ragged clouds, illuminating Takeyama, the strange massifs that tower over the landscape here.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.