February 17, 2022
The Perfect Road Trip Through Satsuma Peninsula
Cruise around and see what Southern Kyushu has to offer
By Matt Dursum
Few places characterize Japan’s intoxicating beauty, history and charm like Kagoshima’s Satsuma Peninsula. The region’s endless beaches, towering coastal volcanoes and incredible food are best explored by a five-day road trip. With plenty to see and do, and a wide variety of comfortable inns, hotels and campgrounds to take advantage of, why not pack your beach clothes and appetites for Japanese comfort food and prepare for the ultimate road trip through Kyushu’s magical southern countryside?
Start your adventure in the subtropical paradise of Ibusuki by taking the 226 or the scenic Ibusuki Skyline from Kagoshima. Along these routes, lush, forested cliffs tower above you as you pass roadside takoyaki stands and quaint fishing villages.
Once in the city, there are plenty of beautiful areas to explore. If you feel like taking a comfortable nature walk and you can time the low tide, make your first stop Chiringashima, a small, forested island park that connects to the mainland via a narrow sand isthmus.
For more must-see natural beauty, continue south and explore the subtropical greenhouses, rose gardens and nature trails at Flower Park Kagoshima. Just around the corner from the park is the peninsula’s southernmost point, Cape Nagasakibana. Known for its unmatchable ocean vistas and a picturesque lighthouse, this is the perfect place to end the afternoon.
After building up an appetite it’s time to head into town to experience Ibusuki’s famous izakaya. A local favorite is Ukkari Hachibei, an izakaya with a great selection of local specialties and plenty of shochu — Kagoshima’s alcohol of choice that’s commonly distilled from sweet potato.
For outdoor enthusiasts the best way to start the day is by climbing the peninsula’s most famous landmark, Kaimon-dake. Encircling the 924-meter-tall volcano is a well-traversed trail with unbeatable views ending at a shinto shrine at the peak. Locals often picnic after summiting so be sure to bring some onigiri and tea to enjoy while gazing out at the panoramic ocean views.
For a memorable post-hike meal, try the famous Tousenkyo Soumen Nagashi, a popular restaurant nestled in a forested stream bed. At your table, thin noodles swish around a circular ice bath and are accompanied by sashimi and other side dishes.
Finish the perfect day by driving highway 28 to Ikedako, the peninsula’s picturesque crater lake, known for its postcard-worthy scenery, cherry blossom parks and resident sea monster known as Issie.
Begin your third day in the town of Ei by checking out the quintessential view of Mt. Kaimon at Sebira Park. After taking in the unbeatable scenery head over to Cafe Mary (カフェ マーリー) for a light breakfast and refreshments.
For a must-see view without the hike, drive through the evergreen forests and tea fields to the summit of Ono Dake, a small dome volcano in the heart of the countryside. There are numerous panoramic viewing platforms along its 466-meter peak and a lovely Shinto shrine. After immersing yourself in the scenery, continue on to Bandokorobana Park to explore the tidepools, seahorse museum and island-studded ocean views.
Once the sun begins to set, head into Makurazaki, a small city famous for its fishing industry and exquisite Katsuo dishes. After all the day’s activities it’s time to sample the city’s famous Katsuo Ramen at Daitoku Restaurant.
Start your day by savoring delicious local seafood at the Makurazaki Fish Center. From here, it’s time to take the winding 226 through Bonotsu, one of Japan’s most scenic ocean drives. The road hairpins through towering coastline, hidden coves and pristine beaches like Maruki Beach, one of the area’s best snorkeling spots.
A few kilometers to the north in Bonotsucho-Akime is the Jian-Zhan Memorial Museum, dedicated to the Chinese monk Jian-Zhan or Ganjin, recognized as one of the founders of Buddhism in Japan. Ganjin landed here in 753 AD and set off on a successful pilgrimage to bring Buddhism to the Japanese court in Kyoto.
Buddhism wasn’t the only foreign export to land here. In the 1967 film You Only Live Twice, the character James Bond, played by Sean Connery, is brought onto the shores of Akime by boat to invade the villain’s lair. At this very landing spot where 007 came ashore is the wonderful low-key inn of Ganjin Sou (民宿がんじん荘). Don’t let its dive-shack atmosphere deter you, this is the best sashimi you’ll have in your life. Teishoku meals run from ¥1,500, ¥2,000, and ¥2,500 respectively and the owners will make you feel like family. Begin the evening by driving up to Kamegaoka Hill (East China Sea Observatory) for an unbeatable sunset.
Finish up your last day by exploring Satsuma’s rich history in the towns of Kawanabe and Chiran. First, take a stroll through Iwaya Park and view its famous Buddhist carvings. The park is covered in sakura and manicured bonsai gardens along the tranquil shores of the Manose River. If there’s a perfect picnic spot in Japan, it’s here.
Just a few kilometers from the park is the town of Chiran. Here at the Chiran Samurai Residence Garden (知覧武家屋敷庭園), visitors can explore centuries old samurai manors, gardens and restaurants. After wandering through the storied streets of Chiran, drive to the Chiran Peace museum which houses one of the best collections of kamikaze artifacts from WWII.
This five-day itinerary covers most of the region’s most popular destinations and restaurants. Yet, like anywhere, there are countless other places worth experiencing here. If itineraries aren’t your thing though, we suggest filling up your gas tank and exploring all you can. It won’t disappoint.