Visiting an active volcano – Sakurajima

Sakurajima is Japan's most active volcano and while we were there, it was smoking all the time and on each day, we saw a gust of ashes rising into the sky.

The port of Kagoshima with Sakurajima in the background.

Kagoshima is the capital of its same named prefecture and is located in a bay in southern Kyushu. In the bay right in front of the city is a peninsula named Sakurajima, which is also an active volcano.

We spent two nights in Kagoshima in 2019. We arrived comfortably via Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) and stayed at a hostel near the harbor.

© Google Maps

It was still sunny on arrival, but the weather changed quickly due to an approaching typhoon. Strong winds and a temperature drop made us seek some comfort foods which we found in some food stalls at the train station. We explored the city a bit and had some fun riding the trams there. We also went to a bath house while it rained to warm up a little.

And yes, we wanted to visit Sakurajima.

We hadn't researched anything and thus were a little afraid of this lava breathing monster. After asking a few people if it would be safe to go there that day – and getting some confused looks – we learned that it's usually safe and that there is a ferry every 15 minutes.
So we then found out that there is a small city at the foot of the volcano with people living there. Near the ferry port is also a visitor center with some tourist attractions (like a hot foot bath and walking trail) to visit.

The first day in Kagoshima we just walked down to the port and viewed the mountain from a safe(?) distance. After some minutes, we witnessed smoke and ashes rising and forming a cloud in the still sunny sky of that day.

Unfortunately, the next day was pretty cloudy and windy. Still, we walked down to the ferry and took the 15 minute ride across the bay to Sakurajima.

We still were pretty clueless, so we completely missed out on the tourist attractions here and started walking in the opposite direction to where the small city is. We had the road to us most of the time, and this walk sometimes had a lost island vibe – I felt as if in a scene out of Jurassic Park.

After a while, we started to see more buildings and were then walking through a residential area. A lot of the houses seemed abandoned though and only gradually while walking further in we got the feeling that this island was still inhabited.

We still had fun walking around and enjoying this scenery. The small roads had a somewhat different feeling as we were used to and when looking closely, you notice that a lot of surfaces were covered with dust or moss. We took a turn leading us to a seaside path which we continued to stroll on.

After a while walking by the sea, I glanced towards the volcanos peaks. I noticed a little smoke rising behind the clouds. There were still no other people around and we didn't hear any alarms, so we kept going, glancing a little nervously at the small ash cloud.

Glancing at the volcano, I suddenly notice this ash cloud rising into the sky.

We passed a few people acting normal and saw some children on their way home from school. The children had helmets on their heads which they always have to wear on their commute, I think.

The ashes suddenly seemed to gain velocity, rising quickly into the sky. Looking around, the children were gone. The other people had also vanished from the streets. And then the ashes came.

The volcano ashes had spread out over the island and were raining down on us now. It was like a light rain, only with dirt and not water. We found a building with an outside staircase, beneath which we found some shelter and waited there for a while, watching others walk by with umbrellas.

School children with umbrellas shielding themselves from the ashes.

As the ash rain calmed down a bit, we walked back to the ferry. At this point, we were pretty tired due to travelling, the winds with the approaching typhoon and the dust rain we witnessed. With all the new ashes/dust on the roads and the wind, the walk back was also pretty dusty and a little cold.

Back at the ferry, we were glad to be able to go inside and leaving the dust cloud behind. Back at Kagoshima, we enjoyed some Sushi at the port and dipped our feet in a hot foot bath there, while watching the night settling over Sakurajima.

While this was an exciting experience, I was glad to get back to Kagoshima, have a meal and shower off all the ashes. Our whole trip to Kyushu was also a little rushed, since we didn't want to get stranded in the approaching typhoon and just did a few things there and then headed back to Tokyo.

Some day, I still want to explore Kyushu.

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