Twist and turn your way through the wooded, mountainous landscape around Kirishima Kinkowan National Park, which lies on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, stopping off for relaxing onsens, delicious local specialities, historical shrines and stunning volcanic views.
Feel the Power
A good starting point is the Ebino Eco Museum Center. With an astounding view of the smouldering Mt Iwo, the spacious facility is crammed full of photos, videos, tectonic data and 3D maps of the surrounding landscape, providing you with all the information you could possibly need before heading out into the hills.
Top of any hiker’s list should be to tackle the historic Mount Takachiho. According to legend, the Kirishima mountain range is where Ninigi no Mikoto (the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu) was sent down from the heavens and, after marrying a local princess and turning mortal, began the lineage of Japanese emperors. Just a few hundred meters up from the Takachihogawara Visitor Center stands Kirishima Jingu Shrine Furumiya Ato, the remains of the second incarnation of the shrine to be built in dedication to Ninigi no Mikoto (the remains of the first stand further up on the ridge between the Ohachi and Takachiho volcanoes). Following its destruction by a volcanic eruption in 1234, the stone staircase, torii and surrounding walls are all that’s left, but the historical significance and mystical energy can be felt all around the rocky site. It also offers a wonderful view of Mount Shinmoedake, which Bond fans will recognize from the 1967 movie You Only Live Twice.
Further down, surrounded by forest and in a less precarious location is the present-day Kirishima Jingu Shrine. Approached through a canopy of trees, the red lacquered buildings have been in existence since 1715 and with the lush surroundings and sense of spirituality and grandeur, it’s easy to see why revered samurai Ryoma Sakamoto, who was instrumental in overthrowing the shogunate 150 years ago, chose this place for his honeymoon.
Amongst the crater lakes of the Kirishima mountains, Lake Miike is the largest (at one kilometer in diameter) and the deepest – hundreds of discarded World War II weaponry and ammunition has been found over the years with much more thought to be lurking beneath. The lake offers a sweeping panoramic view of Mount Takachiho and is a great spot to set up camp. Take some time out to relax along the shore, do a spot of fishing or head out onto the lake itself in one of the nearby rental boats (or dragon gondola if you prefer). Drive up to the Yatake Plateau for even more uninterrupted panoramic views from the grassy mound. Towering over the landscape below, you’ll find yourself in good company if you happen to be a keen paraglider.
Soak and Soba
Driving around provides opportunities for more isolated discoveries such as Sugawara Shrine. A, lone, bright-red torii protrudes from the surrounding rice fields. Touching the corresponding body part of one of the two stone guardians is thought to heal any ailments you might have in that area. If you’re looking to relieve aches and pains in a more traditional manner, head to the upper bathhouse of Shiratori Onsen. Take advantage of its traditional wooden sauna hut to sweat out stress before soaking in the outdoor pool that overlooks the valley down toward Ebino city. For a healthy lunch stop by Gamakouan, renowned for delicious handmade soba dishes. Alongside a selection of freshly baked bread, the shop also sells homemade jams that make great gifts to bring back home.
Photographs by Stephan Jarvis