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Kirishima National Park August 14, 2011

Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , ,

Kirishima is a pretty area of parkland about 40 mins drive north of Kagoshima in Kyushu. It’s part of the ‘Kirishima-Yaku’ National park that includes the island of Yakushima and forms one of the biggest national parks in Japan. It’s also considered “one of the finest volcanic hikes in Japan”, at least according to my Lonely Planet guide, and was used as a location for the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (thank you Wikipedia).

Given that I’d travelled to Kyushu specifically to see volcanoes and hike through pretty woods, this was pretty much a no-brainer to visit. However, getting there is a bit of a pain in the ass. Buses and trains do exist but they aren’t exactly frequent so getting to and from the park, yet alone around the park itself, is a bit of a headache. We therefore decided to rent a car – a prospect that was initially terrifying as it was a) my first time driving in Japan, and b) required me to test my language skills beyond the rudimentary ‘where is the toilet’. Fortunately, we made a new friend at breakfast in our hostel, who, fortunately was both a) going the same way, and b) Japanese. Big thanks to her for being such a fun travel companion and a good sport with her bumbling gaijin companions! And as it turns out driving in Japan is a pleasant experience and renting relatively easy to do. We ended up renting two more cars over the course of our holiday, and I’d highly recommend it, particularly for getting to any out-of-the-way places.

Our little rental car

Anyway, I did most of the driving and though we got a little lost (even with the satnav) trying to get out of Kagoshima, getting to Kirishima turned out to be a relaxing and relatively short drive out. As with any place, the first thing you see is the train station, so why break that tradition even if we’re in a car? The station itself is nothing special, but it does have the first of many free ashiyu (natural foot baths) outside, where a number of taxi drivers were lamenting the slowness of business.

Kirishima-jingu station bridge

Foot spa

The first place we properly visited was Kirishima-jingu – remarkably the one and only shrine I visited on my whole trip (that’s got to be a first). After walking through the touristy shopping street to the main entrance, it’s actually a beautiful place, sitting serenely within the park’s woods and with a decent view of the surrounding area from its hilltop.

Kirishima-jingu torii


The shrine itself was, unfortunately, undergoing some maintenance, so there wasn’t that much for us to see of the building. But I did partake in the usual shrine bell ringing, wish making and fortune casting.


After a bento lunch while soaking in another ashiyu near the parking lot, we set off to tackle a hike proper. As we’d seen from Kagoshima, a couple of the active volcanoes had actually erupted so were out-of-bounds to the public. This meant we couldn’t visit the famed Takachiho-no-mine, which is sacred in Japan’s mythology. According to Japan Guide:

It was here that Ninigi no Mikoto, grandson of the Sun Goddess, is said to have descended to Earth to establish the lineage of Japanese Emperors and rule over the land. His spear, the same one used earlier to create the islands of Japan, was thrown into the summit of Mount Takachiho-no-mine, marking the spot where Ninigi no Mikoto descended from heaven. The sword remains there to this day.

I would have liked to have seen that, but sadly it was not to be. Instead, we headed north to Ebino Kogen, a series of volcanic lakes surrounded by mountains and famed for its panoramic views.

If you can only do one hike on your trip to Kirishima, then Ebino Kogen is well worth choosing. For one thing, the drive is lovely, with stunning views and lovely waterfalls like this along the way.


At Ebino Kogen itself there’s a decent selection of hiking circuits, of varying length, and even if you overestimate your time available (as I did) you can still do a brilliant hike up to the peak of Shiratori-san and back in two hours. On the way, you’ll see brilliant panoramas like this and this, as well as some wild deer. From the top of one of those peaks, our Japanese companion said, the Japanese caught their first glimpse of Korea!

I wish we’d had at least another day to explore Kirishima, but you can get a decent feel for the place in a day trip (particularly with a car). You can stay overnight in the area, but it’s a tad more expensive and the ease of access from Kagoshima means there’s no real reason unless you’re planning to do one of the really long hikes and don’t want the hour’s drive. In any case, it’s a spectacularly lovely place and well worth a visit.

More pics from Kirishima in my Flickr set.


1. Japan trip 2011 « Canned Memory - August 14, 2011

[…] either side of our three-day excursion to Yakushima and with a a little side trip to the nearby Kirishima National Park. I have mind to write separate posts on those two, slightly epic, undertakings, so will save my […]

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