Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Kagoshima: Kirishima Volcanic Group Practicalities

From Karakunidake.
From Takachihonomine Ridge.

There's nothing like a decent hike after a long series of flights.

previously posted how to get from Kagoshima Airport to a hotel on the edge of the Kirishima Volcanic Group of Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park. The hourly bus from the airport takes you to the Kirishima Iwasaki Hotel in 47 minutes. If you arrive in the morning, there's time for a hike in the afternoon.

This post gives specifics about where to stay, bus service to trailheads, and trails.

Kirishima Iwasaki Hotel

Note added October 31, 2017. The Kirishima Iwasaki is closed, effective November 6, 2017. There are other hotels in walking distance, down the road; e.g., Kirishima Kanko Hotel. The airport bus goes past this hotel.
From my hotel room I watched Sakurajima erupting 25 miles to the south.

I've chosen this resort hotel because it's the closest to the national park. The airport bus runs past other hotels lower down the road and terminates at the Kirishima Iwasaki. The hotel has decent facilities, including hot springs to relax in, a coin laundry, and free WiFi.

Making a Reservation

In Japan I generally book hotel rooms within a day of my stay. In the case of the Kirishima Iwasaki, I book well ahead. The hotel gets full, particularly at weekends, and I don't want to arrive after a long flight, only to find there's no room.

The hotel Web site does not have online booking. I've booked my stays using the Rakuten Travel Web site. In March 2016, my spacious room (with bathroom and toilet), breakfast, dinner, and tax costs ¥12,960 (US$108) single occupancy per night.

In 2015, because of flight issues, wabi-sabi travel, I had to cancel the hotel, and re-book for the following week: I was charged a reasonable 20% (just over US$20) of the first night's room rate for cancelling. Had I thought of it, the credit card I used to pay for taxes and fees on my mileage award ticket to Kagoshima would have reimbursed me for this.

Checking In

After initial pleasantries:
  • Show the reservation on your phone screen to the clerk. The clerk may request your phone to use the information to look up your reservation record.
  • Hand over your passport when requested. The clerk will photocopy it and return it to you.
  • Place your credit card, front facing towards the clerk, on the little tray.
  • The clerk will ask (hopefully in English) what time you will be having dinner. If you want to be preemptive, copy and paste the following (yūshoku no jikan, dinner time) into your phone notepad app (e.g., Google Keep):
夕食の時間 18:30
Replace the time with the time you would like in 24-hour format. I generally choose an early time for dinner. 
  • Request a trail map. You can show the clerk the following picture:
    Someone will take you to your room.
    • If it is a Japanese-style room, be sure to make a show of removing your shoes immediately upon entering the room, and before stepping up onto the tatami mats.
    • Absolutely no tipping, it would be taken as an insult.
    If it's a Japanese-style room, your futon is stored in a closet. While you are at dinner, the futon will be moved to the floor, and your bed made up.


    The meals are good.

    Breakfast is a substantial hot and cold buffet.

    Dinner is served at your table by a woman dressed in a kimono. I greeted the server with "konbanwa" (good evening), after that all communication was by good-natured gestures and mime. There's a menu, but you don't select from the menu because you get all the courses (about 10).

    If you have drinks with your dinner (I have beer, "Bīru" pronounced bee-roo) stick around at the end of the meal until you are given a receipt to sign. Pay when you check out of the hotel.

    Checking Out

    After checking out, I left my pack at the front desk for safe storage. There was no charge, and (of course) no tipping. I then walked the Takachihonomine Ridge Trail as described below. Had it been a muddy walk, I would have used the boot-cleaning station at Takachiho Visitors' Center.
    Getting to Trailheads

    A bus stops right outside the hotel to take you to trailheads.

    Bus Pass

    A bus pass simplifies using the bus. It cost ¥1,100 (about US$10) in March 2016.

    Ask for for a one-day bus pass at the hotel front desk. You can show the clerk the following pictures of the front and back of the pass:

    Write down (or use your phone notepad app) the validity date in year-month-date format and show it to the clerk.

    Alternatively, pay when you exit your bus. You might save a bit if you only ride a short distance.


    The map you requested at the hotel front desk includes the timetable for buses to take you from the hotel to the trailheads:
    I found this hard to follow, so I created this diagram:
    In March 2015 there was a trailhead bus from the hotel at 8:38 a.m., 10:38 a.m. and 12:38 p.m. I was glad to scour the Japanese-only timetable on the bus stop outside the hotel and see those same bus times.
    Remember to enter the bus by the center door, and take a numbered ticket from the machine. Pay the driver or show your pass when you exit the bus by the front door.

    The Trails

    Trails are my reason for being here. The bus makes the trailheads easy to reach, and a map and good signage make the trails easy to navigate. I don't have many suggestions for enjoying the trails. Hikers are hikers the world over. Look happy, greet other hikers with a robust konichiwa.

    Selected hiking trails.
    Interactive map | My tracks (GPX)

    Mount Karakuni (Karakunidake) and Onami Pond

    I've posted about this magical hike. From Ebino Eco Museum Center, I initially walked through a forest.
    From the top of Mount Karakuni I could see several volcanoes, including a caldera holding a small lake (Onami Pond).

    From Karakunidake. Steam rises from one crater, Onami Pond fills another.

    I walked round part of Onami Pond, then took a spur to the Onami Pond Trailhead where I caught the bus back to the hotel.

    Takachihonomine Ridge Trail

    This is an in-and-out trail starting at Takachiho Visitors' Center.

    The trail was a lot of fun. Besides being a ridge trail with 360° views of a volcanic world, it was largely scree, unstable underfoot. I was glad I was wearing my "monkey" gloves.

    From Takachihonomine Ridge
    At the summit I chatted with Mitsuhiro from Okayama. He had earned his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota's agricultural school. After a pleasant conversation about the trail and other experiences we had in common, I rode the scree back down.

    In 2016 I will revisit this ridge and allow more time to continue further along the trail. 

    Other Trails

    Volcanoes are active in this area. Several trails have been closed.

    Kirishima Volcanic Group has a few more trails. In 2015 some of those trails were off limits because of volcanic activity. I'm hoping they will be open when I return in 2016, but it's also quite possible the level of activity will increase.
    All My Kagoshima posts


    1. Thanks, we'll try the area 24-27 th of march 2017. This probably will help us a lot! Dutch guys

      1. Thank you for your comment. I'll be back there in mid-April: Kagoshima is wonderful. Have fun--March is a great time of year to be there, not busy, but warm enough.

    2. Hey Tom,

      Thanks for the super helpful write-up. Really useful as we go about planning our hiking trip to Kirishima in a few weeks' time. Would you happen to know what the current trail conditions are like and if they have opened up the complete ridge trail?

      1. Thanks, Awanti and Ashish for your comment.

        It's a year since I last hiked the park. I go about once a year, and the ridge trail has always been open: it seems to be sufficiently far from seismic activities. The most recent notice I could find is this:
        The notice does not pertain to the ridge trail, and I hiked the ridge trail a few weeks after that notice was issued.

        I've found, generally hiking in Japan, seismic conditions can change quite quickly. However, my *guess* is the Takachihonomine Ridge trail will be open.



      2. Thanks Tom! Appreciate the additional info. Just got back from the Kumano Kodo and had a blast. Looking forward to Kirishima.

    3. Tom - one quick question. Can you please let me know how long both hikes you describe above took? Trying to figure out the bus timings accordingly.


      1. I don't recall exact times, but you will have plenty time: these are not long hikes. Here's what I recall from my 2016 visit:

        Karakunidake and Onami Pond. I came from Kagoshima Airport that day, so I got to the Onami Pond trailhead at 12:50 p.m., had time to climb Karuidake, then get to Rhino Eco Museum Center to catch the 4:00 p.m. bus. If you have extra time, you can adjust your route, or explore the area around the Museum Center.

        Takachihonomine Ridge Trail. This is an in and out trail, so you can easily manage your time. If you take the first bus in, you'll have plenty time to walk further, beyond the summit, or explore other trails back at the trailhead.

        In both cases I had extra time at the end of the hike.

        I'm back in Kagoshima April 16, sadly only for a few days. You are in for a treat visiting this lovely part of Japan. Enjoy!

    4. Awesome! Thanks again for all the info and looking forward to our hike there.

    5. Thanks tom for your very helpful blog posts about this area. I was planning my trip there a couple of weeks ago and your blog certainly helped to guide me :-).
      Went up the marakunidake 3 days ago while it was extremely windy (65-70 kph) and rainy. Felt a bit like the apocalypse there, haha, it was some knid of fun though. But it was so hazy that, for instance, i couldn't see anything when i was looking in the crater lake onami. I was just surrounded by 'white'. What a hike.
      Did takachihonomine one day later, awesome weather, awesome views. Really worth to go up there as well!
      Thanks again,

      1. Thanks Martin for your kind comments: glad the posts helped. Yikes, you braved some less-than-perfect weather conditions on your first hike! Glad the total experience was good.

    6. Thank you for your useful information!! I am planning to go there in December, do you think it would too tough to hike at that time?

      1. I would hike there in December. December is a dry month with temperatures typically hovering around 10°C. I haven't been there in December, though, so be sure to use your best judgement, wear something warm, etc. I would expect to see lovely ice crystals in sheltered spots, as I did in March a few years ago, but the trail was not slippery. The ice quickly melted as the sun got higher. I hope you enjoy some fine hiking.