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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lunar New Year: Kagoshima

Sengan-en 仙巌園

Kagoshima 鹿児島 may be dominated by the always-fuming volcano Sakurajima 桜島, but the city offers a handful of other sights for the traveling connoisseur. Unfortunately for us, time was limited, so on Sunday we decided to concentrate on Sengan-en, a beautiful garden-villa by the sea established by the Shimazu clan 島津氏, the feudal rulers of the Satsuma Domain 薩摩藩 and one of the driving forces behind the Meiji Restoration 明治維新. After checking out of our hotel, we walked in the rain to Kagoshima-Chūō Station 鹿児島中央駅 to catch the City View bus. Many Japanese cities have similar bus services, which stop off at the main sightseeing spots and are thus quicker than normal buses.

In front of Kagoshima-Chuo Station is a statue dedicated to a group of young students sent by the Shimazu rulers on a tour of the West as Japan's feudal era was coming to an end.

My daughter waits for the bus as a tram passes by. Kagoshima has an excellent streetcar system. 

Sengan-en is located about three kilometers from the city center, and it took us about 25 minutes to get there on the bus. Like many attractions in Kyūshū 九州, information was able in languages other than Japanese and English, such as Korean. My wife had a choice of pamphlets in either traditional or simplified Chinese characters, and being from Taiwan naturally opted for the former. Tourists from China, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries are playing an increasingly important role in the regional economy. 

Tickets secured, the three of us entered Sengan-en and made our way toward the garden area. Amber stopped to admire some examples of daikon 大根 radishes, their gigantic sizes the result of the rich volcanic soil produced by Sakurajima:

Jambo-mochi 満模餅 are pounded rice cakes on sticks, and are coated with a choice of soy sauce しょう油 or miso 味噌 (or you can have both, as we did):

The garden is a delight, but the best reason to visit Sengan-en is to go on a guided tour of the former villa of the Shimazu family, an absolutely gorgeous example of a traditional Japanese home (think sliding paper screen doors and tatami 畳 mat floors), but with a couple of rooms containing Western-style furniture including armchairs and a dining room table (the villa once entertained a visiting Russian prince). The tour concluded with the provision of Japanese green tea 抹茶 and sweets, to be enjoyed in one of the tatami-mat rooms. Photography wasn't permitted indoors, so I could only get shots of the outside:

After the tour, we walked around the garden. While typical of many traditional Japanese gardens...

...Sengan-en also has a number of unique touches, such as palms (the climate in Kyushu is generally warmer than in other parts of Japan save for Okinawa 沖縄, though it was still pretty cold at times while we were there)...:

...a large stream running through it...:

...and, in addition to its seaside location, probably the greatest use of "borrowed scenery" anywhere in Japan, the Sakurajima volcano:

A grove of bamboo trees

Oniwa-jinja shrine 御庭神社

While the girls browsed in some souvenir shops, I made the 15-minute walk uphill to check out views of a waterfall...:

...Kagoshima (note the train passing by)...:

...and, of course, Sakurajima, the top obscured by low clouds:

Satsuma Kiriko cut glass 薩摩切子 - beautiful, but expensive:

Rāmen noodles ラーメン for lunch:

What with the garden, the villa tour, lunch, shopping and a visit to the adjacent Shōko Shūseikan 尚古集成館 (included in the admission price to Sengan-en), an interesting museum dedicated to the Shimazu family and the early industrial history of Japan (and housed in the country's first factory, dating from the 1850's), there was precious little time to see any other attractions in Kagoshima. Which was a shame, because I would've liked to have seen the Reimeikan museum 黎明館 of local culture and history, the Museum of the Meiji Restoration 維新ふるさと館, Terukuni-jinja 照る国神 and the views from atop Shiroyama 城山. But our Lunar New Year holiday break was a short one (four nights), and we'd already done a lot - driving around Sakurajima, visiting the samurai house gardens of Chiran 知覧 and having ourselves buried up to our necks in hot volcanic sand on the beach in Ibusuki 指宿. It was time to move on, so we boarded the Kyushu Shinkansen 九州新幹線 at Kagoshima-Chuo Station for the approximately 100-minute ride on the bullet train to Hakata Station 博多駅 in Fukuoka 福岡:

I did bring a little piece of Kagoshima with me in the form of a bottle of Satsuma-imo さつまいも craft beer 地ビール called Satsuma 薩摩 Gold, made from sweet potatoes:

It was a ten-minute walk from Hakata Station (see photo below) to our lodgings for Sunday night, the Canal City Fukuoka Washington Hotel キャなるシティ・福岡ワシントンホテル, located within the Canal City shopping complex. While the hotel and room were perfectly fine (I've stayed at other Washington hotels in Japan), it wasn't my first choice for our one night in Fukuoka. I had a tatami-mat room in a minshuku 民宿 lined up, before Pamela learned that the bathroom and toilet facilities would be communal. With visions of having to be seen by other guests in her pajamas while walking down the corridor, she insisted we stay in something more..."faceless" or "sterile" were the first adjectives that came to my mind, but let's just say the Washington in Canal City was more "standard", and leave it at that (except that my daughter was disappointed to learn she wouldn't be sleeping on the floor in a futon 布団):

Feeling pretty hungry, we went looking through Canal City for a place to eat. Amber decided on a Moomin-themed restaurant for dinner. After being seated, a large Moomin was brought to our table to sit with us, while promos for Moomin movies played on the screen behind us. At least they had beer, probably for suffering fathers like myself. It was a uniquely Japanese female kawaii かわいい dining experience. For the few boyfriends in attendance at the restaurant that night, I hope they were rewarded later that evening (somehow, I doubt it, though):

My daughter enjoyed the fountains at Canal City. Every hour there is a performance, with the water jets going through various movements set to music. The one below was done to the theme from Peter Gunn:

Fukuoka is famous throughout Japan for its yatai 屋台, covered stands set up along the riverbank and offering ramen, yakitori 焼き鳥 and other treats, to be washed down, of course, with beer, sake 酒 or shōchū 焼酎, the latter being the traditional alcoholic drink of choice in Kyushu (though personally I don't care for it much). I've had the pleasure of sitting down in a Fukuoka yatai and talking baseball with the owner, but at this point the three of us were full from dinner and all the stands were crowded, so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the area:

The view from our hotel room

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