Tamatebako Onsen and Kirishima  玉手箱温泉、霧島

Takachihogawara

December

Tamatebako Onsen  玉手箱温泉

Woke in Yamakawa-ko michi no eki. This is an unspectacular place down in the fish docks, but it is quiet, the toilets are surprisingly reasonable and there is an izakaya next door. More importantly, it is only 12 to 15 minutes’ drive from Tamatebako onsen. This is probably the reason there were 6 to 8 other shachuhaku vehicles in the place on a cold December night.

We make straight for the onsen and arrive just as it is opening at 9:30 am. There is only one other person in the bath as I enjoy the morning sun over the sea, the bleak massifs of Takeyama towering to the left and the sharp breeze causing the steam to dance in all directions. Every so often a few drops of rain add to the agitation of the steaming surface of the water that appears to blend into the sea.

From the other side, (today is an odd number so women’s side), there is a view of Kaimondake across the water. I have been to this onsen 4 times now but, by chance, never on an even numbered day so have yet to see Kaimondake from the bath. Tamatebako is, I think, an amazing place one of the best onsen in Japan and, as I said, I have been to Nyuto onsen in the snow. They are not really comparable but both excellent in their unique ways.

After the bath, we head north towards Kagoshima city on the coast road. We gain a fine view of Sakurajima ,spewing vapor and ash, across the water.

Tamatebako onsen ; 510 yen / adult

Wake Shrine, Inukai and Maruo Falls 和気神社、犬飼滝、丸尾滝

To avoid Kagoshima city, we take the Kyushu expressway towards Kirishima and end up at Inukai waterfall. Before taking a look at the fall we visit Wake shrine. This shrine, we discover, boasts the largest votive picture in Japan. The huge picture is of a wild boar and some gentleman of religious significance. Ignoring this we enter the shrine proper, but the only item of interest is an apparently albino wild boar in a cage. This might have been more enthralling had the creature not been half buried in straw and snoring deeply. It appears that Sakamoto Ryoma and his new bride visited this shrine on their honeymoon. Was there then a pig?

Wake Shrine

Wake Shrine

From the shrine, we drop down 300 metres of steps, through dense woodland, to the Inukai waterfall. This proves to be a regular waterfall.

Suckers for punishment, our next destination is another waterfall, Maruo waterfall in Kirishima spa. This one is more interesting as the falls are over a lava formation. The columns of, probably, basalt are clearly visible and it is interesting to note how the still soft columns bent before solidifying as they collided with the older, colder rocks. The water, which is apparently warm, is full of minerals and has coloured the rockface. This one is worth a look.

Maruo waterfall

Maruo waterfall

Takachihogawara 高千穂河原

One more place is on our itinerary for the day, the ruins of the original Kirishima shrine – Takachihogawara. We had planned to hike here but it is too cold (3 degrees in the car park) and too late in the day.

Takachiho

Takachihogawara

We walk up to the shrine ruins and view the volcano behind it. In this weather and time of day it seems a very bleak spot but there are good views of the reddish volcano and other mountains is the other direction. The countryside, being open, a good hiking spot I suspect. Both this shrine and an earlier one even higher up were destroyed by eruptions.

From this site we drive to Kirishima michi no eki for the night. However, we decide against it. It is in an exposed position very cold and the toilet not acceptable. So, we set off for Yuparu Nojiri michi no eki. We have stayed here a couple of times before. We did not expect the small hill behind it to be arrayed with an elaborate display of Christmas lights. A large number of people had come to view this spectacle and the car park was almost full. For me, the full moon rising over the mountains, behind all the people taking snapshots of the decorations, was a more worthwhile sight.

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