Kagoshima’s most stirring sight, the volcanic cone of Sakurajima (桜島) grumbles away just 4km from the city centre, pouring a column of dense black ash into the air. This is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and hiking its peak has been prohibited since 1955 – adventurous sorts should know that security cameras have been installed around the mountain. However, Sakurajima remains a great place to head for an onsen: unlike most such facilities around the country, the island’s smouldering cone provides tangible proof of just how its water has been heated.
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Major eruptions of Sakurajima have been recorded from the early eighth century until as recently as 1947, though the most violent in living memory was that of 1914, during which enough lava spilled down the southeast slopes to fill the 400m-wide channel that previously separated Sakurajima from the mainland. Volcanic activity varies from year to year: there were just 18 eruptions in 2005, but this increased to an all-time record of more than two thousand eruptions in 2010 – around half-a-dozen every single day. During periods of high activity, the likely direction of the resultant ash forms part of the weather forecasts on TV – it usually heads northeast during colder months, and west (ie towards Kagoshima city centre) in the summer, when you may find yourself crunching granules of dust that were, just a few hours beforehand, several hundred metres below the surface of the earth, and considerably hotter. Sakurajima’s prime viewing point is its eastern coast at night-time – if you’re in luck, you may well see the faraway glow of molten lava.