I'm filled with questions when I look at a map of a place I have never visited.
How do I chunk up a manageable journey through this place? How do I get there? Which areas do I visit? Where are the hiking trails? Where are the trailheads? How do I get around? How do I find a room?
I once stared at a map of Japan and, like most newbies, focused on central Japan. Most visitors stick to this part of the island of Honshu. They visit Tokyo and points south, 4 hours or less by bullet train, Kyoto, Hiroshima. Easy, populous, over-loved.
Since that first trip, I've found I can go to just about any corner of Japan and find a great place for the solo hiker. I find good trails, decent and inexpensive places to stay and eat, reliable public transport, civility and safety.
If I could visit only one region of Japan, it would be Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu, the southernmost of the main islands.
|Location of Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan.|
It's obvious I like Kagoshima: I was there in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and have a flight booked for 2016.
I'm drawn by the variety of trails, the climate, and the remoteness compared to central Japan. I can catch a train or bus or jetfoil from the city of Kagoshima and within an hour or two reach a wide variety of hikes. I get to walk under cherry blossoms and palm trees in March when it's still chilly back home in Minneapolis. Kagoshima's subtropical climate is warmer than most of Japan.
It's more laid-back than central Japan. The few westerners who make it this far tend to want to take Japan on its own terms, they want to be here.
The challenge for me was to view Kagoshima Prefecture as manageable chunks. So far, I've explored 3 areas:
- The city of Kagoshima, and day hikes near the city.
- The island of Yakushima.
- The Kirishima Volcanic Group section of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park.