The subtropical environment is clad with dense vine vegetation, and home to the lush coastlines of Kinkowan Bay. It is also where you will find the Kirishima mountain range, a collection of volcanic peaks. There you can enjoy the delicate flowers blooming on highland walking trails, where early-morning mist intertwines with steam from open-air hot springs.
Land of Legend
This area of contrasts is rife with ancient folklore integral to Japanese spiritual tradition—from the tale of the dragon palace of Ryugu, popularized in the southernmost coastal regions of Ibusuki in the Kinkowan region of the park, to the very creation myth of Japan itself, centered around Kirishima Jingu Shrine.
This tradition, born from the nature contained within the park, is yours to experience in numerous storied shrines built in accord with their surroundings. Whether participating in quaint local customs or challenging hiking pilgrimages to sacred peaks, it is an invitation to step into a fantastical landscape of the gods, who are said to have once roamed here.
The peaceful Kinkowan Bay is replete with dolphins playing in its depths and lazy stretches of sandy beaches, which bely the volcanic forces of nature at play here. From deep beneath its caldera, boiling bubbles rise up from an underwater volcano. On its banks, the stunning specter of Sakurajima looms over the bay. Also an active volcano, its smoking summit blends with the clouds.
Once an island, but now connected to the mainland by its own lava flow, Sakurajima looks out over the peaceful bay and the city of Kagoshima beyond. The gentle plumes of smoke from its summit drift lazily overhead—just another part of the landscape—and its banks are home to farmland, and even schools. On days of increased volcanic activity, local children don helmets and adults sweep away the ash. Just another day in the life of the bay.
While all of Japan tells the same creation story (to some extent) across the length and breadth of the volcanic archipelago, here the story of Japan’s seismic creation is laid bare before your eyes.
A different story of creation awaits up in the mountain range of Kirishima. Hiking trails leading to Mount Takachiho invite you to the point where legendary ancestor to the Japanese Imperial Family, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, was said to have descended to Earth. The summit is marked by a great three-pronged spear thrust into the ground, which reminds visitors of the myth while viewing the stunning panorama and revered nature of the mountain range.
Elsewhere, walking and hiking trails around the Ebino Kogen highlands guide you through the mountain scenery of Mount Karakuni, on to the deepest green waters of Lake Onami-ike. The cooler climate makes for accessible hiking year-round, as well as rare endemic floral vegetation flourishing in the foothills.
Nature's Own Resort
Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park offers equal opportunities to relax as well as explore. The beaches of Kinkowan Bay and the Ibusuki coast are home to a local custom largely unique to this area: sandbathing. Thanks to the large number of volcanic hot springs located just beneath the surface, since antiquity locals have discovered spots where you can dig down just a little beneath the surface and find naturally heated areas of sand.
These days, visitors don a cotton kimono before heading out to the beach, where they are buried in these sand baths overlooking the stunning shoreline. The weight of the sand and gently rising heat is said to be therapeutic for a number of conditions. But more than anything, with the scenery of the national park before you and encased in a cocoon of sand, it is a wellness treatment for the mind that leaves you revitalized and ready to explore.
The mountain hot springs of Kirishima and coastal regions of Kinkowan offer an abundance of resorts, but here, too, there is a lot of local character and many styles of bathing. For the definitive national park onsen experience, you can even soak in waters heated by Sakurajima while overlooking the volcano itself.
The vibrant nature extends to the dining table. With green tea grown in the cool climate of Kirishima, award-winning Japanese beef, and the fresh catch of the day, there are countless culinary encounters for all palates.
However, it is the Sakurajima daikon, a radish that is a specialty of Sakurajima that best sums up the character of the area. While daikon are normally long and narrow, the mineral-rich slopes of Sakurajima cause these to balloon in size, creating an entirely new variety in the process. The result is as delicious as it is impressive, and symbolizes the bounty that can only come from life in such close proximity to volcanic activity.
Even if it is just for a while, to live and breathe the living landscape of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park is an experience that unlocks an important part of Japanese culture.
This nature has a story to tell. Learn more about Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park here.