Located on the southern end of Kyushu island in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Kirishima Mountain Range is the perfect spot from which to explore the island’s natural beauty, thanks to its accessibility and proximity to incredible flowers, (active) volcanic mountains, and sulfuric hot springs. Known as “the land where gods once descended” it attracts visitors from all over the world who want to see more of Japan than just the major cities.
Whether you’re a history buff, a hiking enthusiast, or just want to relax at an onsen all day, there are plenty of places to explore in the area, which is blessed with one of the more moderate climates of anywhere in Japan. These are just a few of the many spots to enjoy, no matter what time of year you happen to be visiting. As you plan your trip, consider taking part in a walking tour so you can make the most of your time there. The area of Kirishima is also included in our 10-days itinerary exploring the highlights of Kyushu, if you are looking to combine your trip to Kirishima with other places in Kyushu.
1. Kirishima Onsen
You can’t come to Kyushu without experiencing one of the island’s famous onsen hot spring baths. Located on the slopes of the Kirishima Mountains, Kirishima Onsen consists of four villages which contain public baths, private baths, and footbaths, as well as both indoor and outdoor options, and the area is easily accessible by bus or train. You can choose to take a dip in a public bathhouse or use the facilities at a local inn, and there are baths from sulfuric springs as well as salt springs and hydrogen carbonate springs, renowned for their skin softening effects.
There are some onsen baths that have cloudy white water, some that are more moderate in temperature, and some that even have volcanic mud. You can make the most of the experience by staying at a traditional Japanese inn known as a ryokan, or enjoy the incredible mix of historic and modern facilities at the Kirishima Hotel.
2. Ebino Kogen
With a name that literally means Shrimp Highlands, Ebino Kogen is a mountainous area known for its pampas grass that in the fall takes on a pinkish hue that makes it look as though the fields are covered in shrimp. This is a great place to go hiking, with some relatively easy walking trails that allow visitors to see the unique and beautiful crater lakes. The basin is surrounded by the Mount Shiratori, Mount Karakuni, Mount Ebino and Mount Koshiki mountain peaks, which are best explored from spring to autumn, with the beautiful autumn colors painting the landscape.
A recommended hike is one of the summit of Mount Karakuni. The hike starts from the visitor center and is relatively short with just a few kilometers in distance but don’t let this fool you, the trail is quite steep. From the summit, you can look over to the Ring of Fire, which is the off-limits but very beautiful. Mount Karakuni is the highest peak in the Kirishima Mountain Range with a height of 1,700 meters and it is possible to take in views so expansive, they sometimes allow you to see all the way to South Korea – Karakuni is an alternate reading of the kanji for Korea!
Another recommended hike, when open to public, is the Kirishima Ridge Trail, that cover all the peaks of the Kirishima Mountains. The trail, which starts at Ebino Kogen and takes to Takachiho-gawara Visitor Centre, is currently not completely accessible however as many hiking trails around Mount Shinmoedake are being restored. It is a full day of hiking the volcanoes of Kirishima Mountain, but you will be rewarded with some of the best views. Make sure you think about your return transportation ahead of time as public transportation in limited in the area.
3. Kirishima-jingu Shrine
An impressive and striking red structure, the Kirishima-jingu Shrine is hundreds of years old and sits at the foot of the Kirishima Mountains. Kirishima is referred to as “the land where gods once descended”, and historically the entire Kirishima Mountain was considered sacred. Flanked by sakura that bloom in the spring, this famous power spot lies within Kirishima Kinkowan National Park and is not far from Mount Takachiho, making it a perfect start to a day-long trip around the area. This is a convenient and inexpensive way to incorporate some Japanese history and culture into your vacation!
4. Kirishima Nanohana
Kyushu is famous for its flowers, and Kirishima stands out because of its expansive fields of nanohana, or rapeseed plants (what canola oil is made from). Every year during the last week of March, visitors can take part in the Kirishima Nanohana Flower Walk, and enjoy the vast fields of golden flowers. In spring you can see ten thousands of poppy flowers coloring the landscape yellow and orange and when the summer comes to an and a meadow of million blooming cosmos flowers announces the arrival of autumn. If you can’t get enough of the local flora, the area near Mt. Hinamori is also covered in gorgeous red and white flowers, and Mt. Kirishima is home to a rare species of rose that blooms white and pink in the month of May.
5. Rokugatsudo Summer Lantern Festival
Held at various shrines in the area during the month of July (June in the old calendar), the Rokugatsudo Summer Lantern Festival involves a multitude of hand-drawn lanterns made from washi, a traditional Japanese paper. The festival is formed by a series of summer festivals held at various shrines and temples throughout the prefecture in July, each taking place on days decided by the shrines and temples themselves.The largest outpost of the festival is at Terukuni Shrine in Kagoshima City, where visitors can mill among the crowd and take in the many personalized pieces of lantern art. There are also performances and food stalls, and the streets will likely be full of people from all over as the lanterns illuminate the night sky.
6. Kirishima Open Air Museum
West of Mount Karakuni lies the Kirishima Open Air Museum, which is open every day but Monday and quite reasonably priced at under ¥500 per person. There you’ll find both indoor and outdoor works of art, including many impressive sculptures made by artists from all over the world. The outdoor plaza offers even more works of art, including some very large sculptures that integrate their surroundings to create a unique mix of natural and man-made beauty. Fans of art and nature will find plenty to take in, including some of the incredible views the region is known for, and the big outdoor pieces, some of which are very bright and colorful, are fun for kids as well, so this attraction is highly recommended for anyone visiting Kirishima.
7. Takachiho Farm
Though encountering farm animals might sounds not too exciting to some folks, city dwellers will be thrilled at the offerings from Takachiho Farm, which allows guests to interact with cows and sheep. You can try your hand at milking a cow, and then sample the products that come from the local animals by tasting some of the farm’s popular ice cream.
This is a great choice for parents with kids, as it gives them a chance to pet animals they may never have seen before. The area is expansive and gorgeous, there are plenty of friendly creatures (so you’ll get to interact with them even if there’s a crowd), and with ¥500 admission fee, it’s quite inexpensive. Best of all, it isn’t far from the Kirishima-jingu Shrine, so you can take a quick bus ride to get there, or even walk if you’re down for a hike.
8. Takachiho Gorge
One of the most beautiful sites in Kyushu is Takachiho Gorge, which is accessible by buses that run several times a day. You can view the gorge from above via the three bridges, or rent a boat to see the Manai waterfall up close. The area also has some well-known shrines, a railway that gives tours, and in the wintertime, traditional Kagura performances.
The combination of serene natural beauty and cultural sites makes this a fantastic place to spend an entire day. On top of Kunimigaoka, it is sometimes possible to view the unkai, or sea of clouds, early in the morning, and at night, the gorge is illuminated, so there’s plenty to experience throughout the day. Note however that although they share the same name, Takachiho Gorge is not in the same area as Mount Takachiho and Takachiho Farm, but they are located a 4 hour drive from each other, so make sure you know which one you’re headed toward before you set out for the day.
The Kirishima mountains are an important site in the creation mythology of Japan and Kirishima is referred to as “the land where gods once descended”. Besides its stunning volcanic landscape, you will find several power spots in the area. The Kirishima Mountain Range is great for those who are looking to set out for the challenging Kirishima Ridge Trail taking a full day as well as those who are looking for smaller hikes to be completed in a couple of hours. Head to Ebino Kogen Visitor centre to start most hikes with absolutely stunning scenic views of the volcanic area. End the day at one of the many natural onsen that are available in the area. With limited public transportation, we advise you to think ahead of return transportation!
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Gregg Maxwell Parker is an author and screenwriter best known for the book Troublemakers. Originally from the United States, he moved to Kobe in 2018. Gregg and his wife, Eriko, are the minds behind the blog As Seen In Japan, where they share pictures and stories from everyday Japanese life. They can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
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