## Southern Japan in Spring

Kagoshima, Hiroshima, and Himeji

# Traveling to Southern Japan

Well, I was originally going to write about this trip as one post, but after hitting 2000 words on this one and only being about 5 days into the trip I figured it would be better to split everything along a few posts instead. This will cover our time from Kagoshima up to Himeji. At the end of this (and each of the additional) post I will give some general tips for making the best of a trip over there.

## Welcome to Japan

Our trip to Japan started out in Tokyo for one night before we flew to Kagoshima. There are two main airports to fly into if you travel to Tokyo: Narita and Haneda. Narita is the most common destination (and where we landed), but is about 50 miles to the east of Tokyo. If you have the choice between the two I would definitely recommend flying into Haneda; it’s much less congested and is MUCH easier to get into Tokyo.

The Narita airport offers two trains that take you into Tokyo: the Narita Express and the Keisei Skyliner. Most people take the Narita Express (which is what we took) because the Japanese rail pass covers the train ticket (if you end up getting a rail pass that is - I’ll talk more about the pass and these tickets at the end of this post). The Narita airport during high tourism season is rough – the lines to get your tickets for the train (which everyone has to get on since you are 40-50 minutes from Tokyo) were very long. It took about two hours to go through the Japan Rail pass redemption line and finally get on the Narita Express.

After a few train station transfers (and us getting lost and rained on) we got to our hotel, which was a 5 minute shuttle ride from the Tokyo Haneda airport. Due to a mix of lack of sleep, our first day there, and being surprised at how cold it was I managed to miss that we hopped on an express train, which took us WAY past the station we were supposed to get off for our hotel. Once we finally got to the train station for our hotel it started POURING – luckily it wasn’t too far of a walk.

We dropped our things off inside, dried off, and ate at a little diner next door. The hotel (and really all the hotels in Japan we stayed at) was really nice, but the rooms were very small. It’s easy to forget how much space there is in the US until you travel to almost any other country. We consider it so normal to have giant houses, lawns, large hotel rooms. Bigger seems to always be better over here, but after staying in places that were much smaller I kind of loved it… It does gets cramped if you end up having a large group of people traveling together though.

## Kagoshima

Kagoshima is a city at the southern-most tip of Kyushu (the southern-most island of the 4 main islands that make up Japan). Here’s a handy picture for reference:

To put everything into a little better perspective for anyone that hasn’t be over there here is a neat map someone online put together of Japan compared to the east coast

The flight from Tokyo to Kagoshima was about 2 hours versus an express bullet train (shinkansen) which takes about 8 hours. We didn’t want to waste half of a day taking a train all the way down there, especially since we were taking the shinkansen all the way back up to Tokyo during the next week and a half.

### Getting in to Kagoshima

The Kagoshima airport was a 40 minute bus ride to the city train station. From the train station we were able to take a local tram to our hotel. The city is very mountainous and therefore doesn’t have many trains running through it – on top of this the bus system isn’t as great as Kyoto, so getting around requires a little more walking. If you travel to Japan be prepared to walk a lot in general; I don’t think we had a day on the trip where we walked fewer than 10 miles.

My favorite part of Kagoshima was how quaint it was compared to the rest of the cities we visited. We were some of the only tourists down there; it’s not really known as a hot spot for seeing the cherry blossoms, so not many people want to make the flight/train ride down there. The whole day was very slow paced, which was nice after being on a flight for 12 hours.

Kagoshima has an active volcano in the bay right next to the city that you can take a bus up to the base of. The bus stops at a few other fairly uneventful points along the way (like a children’s dinosaur play park), but ends up at this lookout point:

Being the frugal person I am, I didn’t want to take a taxi from the ferry spot (where we saw the volcano) to the park that overlooked the city. Unfortunately (mainly for Haley because she already gets cold easily) it was very windy that evening. That along with it already being colder than we anticipated made for a slightly miserable hike up to the lookout point. We were blown away by the view though – definitely worth hike.

## Kokura Castle

The next morning we took an early shinkansen up towards Hiroshima. It’s crazy how fast and smooth the bullet trains are. For a point of reference, the Amtrak train from Charlotte to New Orleans takes about 17 12 hours. This is about the same distance as Tokyo to Kagoshima (which is 8 hours). Riding on the bullet trains is one of my favorite parts of traveling to Japan. You get to see such beautiful scenery, and I like that you get a better understanding of what the Japan countryside really looks like:

Since we got an early start we decided to stop in the city of Kitakyushu to see Kokura Castle:

This was the first time we saw a lot of cherry blossoms in bloom up close; we saw a few on the train, but they were only white specs on the forest-covered mountains. The cherry blossoms are even more stunning in person than they are in pictures. It almost looks as if it has snowed all over the country – it is incredibly peaceful and calming to be around them.

Kokura castle was small compared to some of the other castles we saw on the trip, but it was definitely worth seeing. It was also nice because it wasn’t very crowded. Most tourists stick to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, so any stops outside of there will be a completely different experience. The castle staff/receptionists were very nice and I had a fun time joking with them in Japanese. It’s so rewarding being able to (or attempt to, at least) speak to someone in their language; I feel like it builds much more connection than expecting someone to know English.

## Hiroshima

Later that afternoon we got to Hiroshima. We ended up staying at a hotel right on the water that overlooked Hiroshima bay; it was this stunning new place that had the most incredible atrium area. Unfortunately, it was a 45 minute bus/train ride from the city center (close to the world peace memorial and museum). I booked that hotel because it was close to the water/because we wanted to go to Miyajima (an island across the bay) right when we checked into the hotel.

Travel tip – Hiroshima has a loop of buses that go to most of the destinations you would want to see in the city. The JR pass covers this loop for free, otherwise tickets are between two and five dollars for a ride.

## Train life 101

• Hyperdia is another great app that allows you to look up the fastest route from one station to another, but you have to know your origin and destination station name, so without much knowledge of the country it can be difficult
• People generally do no talk on local trains (non-shinkansen) unless it is related to navigation - if you need to talk try to keep your voice to a whisper
• You should refrain from eating or drinking anything other than water on a train (unless it’s a shinkansen, then you are welcome to eat and drink - they even have vending machines and an attendant that comes around selling snacks)
• If you miss a train there will probably be another train within a few minutes, so don’t worry about it too much
• Trains stop running a little after midnight until ~5:00. If you are out past then you either need to take a cab or find a karaoke bar that is open. (This isn’t hard in most cities; karaoke bars offer 12:00 to 4:00 AM special rates for this specific purpose)

## Airports/Flights

• Similar to the JR Rail pass, tourists in Japan can purchase discount tickets to anywhere within the country from both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways). These tickets are at maximum 10,800 yen, so it can save you quite a bit of money if you are flying to a far away island. Read more about the flights here. We used Japan Airlines - it was a very simple process.
• Haneda airport is much more accessible than Narita. If you fly into Narita and you take the train (the Narita Express) you must have a reserved seat. Tickets can be purchased at the airport, and if you have a JR pass you can use that you ride the train for free.
• If you are planning on seeing more of the country than just Tokyo consider flying into Osaka!

## Trash and manners

• Japan is incredibly clean but there are not many trash cans… in fact, they’re very hard to find. So - hold on to that trash or put it in a bag until you find a trash can
• It’s rude to stand/walk while eating, so you’ll need to find somewhere to sit and eat if you get something to snack on