A volcano, historical Japanese estate, sapphire blue ocean, UNESCO museum, a cute Starbucks…. Sengan-en has it all.
I visited this feudal estate, built in 1658 by Shimadzu Mitsuisha of the Shimadzu clan, before Ste went back to the UK. It was recommended by my awesome friend and Kagoshima connoisseur, Lydia. Her recommendations are consistently brilliant so I didn’t doubt her for her second on this one.
Following her advice, we boarded the city tour bus from Amu Plaza; you can’t miss the rooftop Ferris wheel. The pre-recorded tour guide, speaking English and Japanese, gave us some useful information about Kagoshima’s history as we headed out of the city, towards the coast to get to Sengan-en.
The bus cost 190 yen (just under £1.50) and stops at other places of interests too,; including Shiroyama Observatory for an amazing view of Kagoshima, as well as Saigo’s Cave, for anyone interested in the last samurai.
Feeling rather swatted up on Kagoshima history, we hopped off the bus right outside of Sengan-en. From the onsite ATM we withdrew some money and stood for a while at the ticket machine, pondering the prices.
You can either pay 1000 yen to visit the garden and museum or pay an extra 500 yen for access into ‘The House’. Eventually, we went with the house ticket, better to go all out, right?
Our first stop was the museum. We had no idea what the museum was about until we went in and I was happily surprised to find that all of the artefacts had an English explanation.
The museum is a UNESCO World Heritage site, telling the story of Japan’s industrial revolution. We learnt about the area’s birth of industry, interactions with the west and got to see some stunning samurai armour. The museum itself is an artefact, housed in Japan’s oldest remaining stone factory, built in 1865.
Next came the gardens and holy sweet potato, they are huge. They mirror the volcano; with greenery and natural beauty sprawling out from the house like lava and pouring down into the blue sea. You follow this rippling magma of natural beauty across the sea and meet the mirror image itself, the epicentre of Kagoshima pride- Sakurajima. An active volcano.
We planned to go to the house first but ended up distracted and detouring the gardens first. There were little craft shops, ponds, beautiful flowers and multiple shrines- including a cat shrine. It’s no wonder we took a detour!
I can’t praise this place highly enough. The whole place just felt calm. Ste was even in the mood to meditate!
Eventually, after a long, long, long long long time- we got to the house.
The house is presented as it was lived in by Shimazu Tadashige in the 19th century and I want this to be my house. It was resplendent. A living, almost breathing, artefact of Japanese history.
Walking around the house, you realise how giant it is. It doesn’t look so big on the outside.
The highlights for me were the views of Sakurajima from the window, the at-home private onsen and the inner garden. Yes, INNER garden. The house just swallowed Japanese culture and welcomed us in to see it preserved in its stomach.
After getting our fill and looking till we couldn’t look anymore we headed off. Slowly meandering back through the gardens, straight into the omiyage shop (obviously).
One of the shops was a brand shop, which I would argue doubled as an art gallery. They were selling famous Satsuma Kiriko glassware, cedarwood work and other literally stunning products. This stuff was, naturally, pretty expensive but it was worth it just to look around. I’d recommend this place if you wanted to get a special present.
The shop next door was more my style. It was a standard souvenir shop selling snacks, local shochu (Japanese liquor), postcards etc.
After stocking up on postcards for people back home, we set off for Iso Beach, sitting five minutes away from Sengan-en, just past the 7-11 and Joyfull Restaurant.
Sitting right on the beach is The Factory Cafe, where we went to get lunch, at Lydia’s suggestion. While there were food options in Sengan-en, Ohkatei Restaurant (open 11:00-15:30) and Shofuken (open 11:00-14:30), this place was supposed to be good, well known for its burgers, and I wanted Kagoshima speciality sweet potato chips.
We were not at all disappointed.
The owners of this cafe also own PINA, an amazing Italian restaurant in the city centre that I’ve eaten at. They also have veggie options and the food is delicious. For more info on these restaurants, their location or to have a look at some of their others, visit their website!
We all need a bit of escapism at the minute. With a big load of you stuck within the same 4 walls for the foreseeable future, where do you dream of going when all of this is over? Keep that place in your mind and remember that we’re all in this together.
Feature Image taken at Iso Beach, Kagoshima