Volcanoes Part 1: Sakurajima & Kirishima

SakurajimaMy cycling journey in Japan is slowly moving towards its end. However, I still have a few days left but the bike gets back into its box in Fukuoka. There it will probably stay till New Zealand. Before, I visited the volcanoes of Kyushu. Here is part one of this tour.

Osaka – Shibushi
After arriving in Osaka, I enjoyed the city for two days and prepared myself for the last part of the journey in Japan: Kyushu, the most southern of the main islands of Japan. And I enjoyed with Koichi, a future Japanese restaurant owner from Canada, authentic Japanese Food: Soba (Japanese noodles). It was great.
The next day, I cycled to the ferry port of Osaka, which is situated a bit outside of the city. I already reserved the ticket but still had to pick it up. I went to the ticket desk there and tried to explain to them, that I would like to pay for my ticket. First, I had to fill out a form. After that, they were standing a bit around and after some time, one guy wrote a time on a piece of paper. It took me a moment to understand, what that meant but got it: Check-in will be in around a hour. So I was too early. I left for getting some food. After that hour, I returned and had to queue this time. I got my ticket and got informed about the next steps by showing a piece of paper with some English sentences on it. Through the whole process, they didn’t use one English word I think but I still got what I was looking for and arrived happily on the ferry :-). On the ferry, you had to book a place for sleeping. I chose the second cheapest one, which is called “Tourist bed” and which is like a dorm in a hostel. I can recommend it and wouldn’t go for the cheapest one, which is one huge room without any privacy.
After a good night, I arrived in Shibushi in the south of Kyushu. Because I didn’t have a map and also no drinking water, I first went to the local tourist office at the train station. The very friendly woman there, communicated with me through a online translation tool, but we still somehow understood each other ;-). I continued towards the volcano Sakurajima afterwards.

I was very much looking forward to this part of the journey. Sakurajima is the most active volcano of Japan. And even if there was no big eruption going on at the moment, its ash cloud was already visible from pretty far away. However, volcanoes are really spectacular during the night and I therefor was planning to stay over night in this area. Unfortunately, there is no official campground on this peninsula and I searched therefor for another option. And I found one: A shelter close to one of the lookouts. The good thing was also, that I was very well protected in case of a sudden bigger eruption. I setup my camera before it got really dark. Just in time to capture a bigger eruption. I was very happy about this one and was looking forward to more. I waited several hours but Sakurajima just erupted ash and nothing was visible in the darkness. After some time, I decided to go to bed and let the camera run by itself for some time.
It wasn’t a very pleasant night in this concrete tube but at least I was safe there. I checked the camera in the morning and was hoping to find an eruption within the hundreds of picture the camera took. There was nothing, unfortunately. Sakurajima was still erupting a huge amount of ash, when I started cycling again. And my path went straight through this ash. Not really a pleasure and probably impossible for people with contact lenses… I finally reached the ferry port in the city of Sakurajima, enjoyed a warm footpath and sailed to to the city Kagoshima just across the bay. I wanted to stay in a hostel but they were again completely sold out. Took a business hotel instead. It’s always a bit funny, when I arrive at hotel like this in my sweaty and dirty clothes. Everybody else is wearing suits… But the staff is still always very friendly and helpful. In the evening I felt the second earthquake during my journey. It was less than 100km away but with 4.9 luckily not that strong. However, I still felt it clearly in the 12th floor…

Kagoshima – Kirishima – Kumamoto
It was raining the next morning and I therefor decided to stay for another night. I continued the day after. The destination was the volcano chain of Kirishima in the north of the city with the same name. One of the volcanoes there erupted pretty violent in the beginning of 2011 (see the webcam pictures of that time at my other website). It calmed down in the mean time again but access is still restricted. It was a pretty steep road up there but I had a good chat with the Japanese Noni on the way. I always enjoy those talks because they are pretty rare.
Shortly before sunset, I reached the targeted campground in this area. Unfortunately, it was officially closed (probably already since a while). Because there was not really another option, I decided to be the only unofficial guest that night. It was ones more not a very pleasant night, especially because the wildlife was pretty loud. No idea what that was…
I left the campground pretty early and found a rest area joust around the corner. And thanks to that, the problem toilet was already solved. Originally, I planned to go hiking in this area. However, access to the Kirishima volcano was still forbidden. So nothing with volcano watching. I just wanted to leave, when a Japanese guy started asking me questions. Our discussion didn’t go further than figuring out how old we both were (he was 52 years old, most hikers are older here). But he didn’t leave without giving me one of his energy gels. Very nice. I continued down the hill and up at the other side of the valley. My next target was again a campground. Unfortunately, it was the same game as the day before: It was closed. I waited for some time but put up my tent at the end anyway…
I couldn’t really enjoy the night again and that takes a lot of energy longterm. I was looking forward for a good night sleep. But first I continued the road towards volcano Aso. I didn’t get that far and had suddenly a whole forest of signs in front of me. On them the numbers of the streets and some Japanese text was written. Unfortunately there was also sign with the number of the street I planned to take. I couldn’t read the text but had the feeling, that I shouldn’t continue. I stopped a track driver and tried to ask him what it meant. He didn’t speak English but showed to me the X-sign with his arms, which normally means closed. I had no idea where this road was really closed on the next 200km to Aso but I didn’t want to take the risk to cycle everything back. I searched for an alternative path therefor and started cycling that way. I would soon leave the mountains and cycle along the coast. First I had to do some steep climbs before getting into the next valley. Pretty exhausting. I reached the city of Taragi later in the afternoon and enjoyed first the convenience store. After watching a procession, which was going on at this place, I continued towards Hitoyoshi and hoped to find a open campground there. I arrived shortly before sunset and was lucky: It was a public campground of the city and a family was already camping there. I put up my tent and cooked dinner. The first time since a while. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that during last few illegal nights…
After a pretty good night (I wasn’t afraid that somebody would kick me out during the night), I first had to dry my tent a bit. Fall is definitively arriving and with it dense fog. Everything was pretty wet. I therefor decided to stay in a hostel or something similar the next night. Because I couldn’t find a hostel, I booked a business hotel in Yatsushiro instead. I had only around 50km to go and therefor didn’t really rush. When I saw a cave on the way, I decided to visit it. Nothing special but some of the pictures can be found in the Gallery.  I reached Yatsushiro in the evening and enjoyed the bed a lot :-).
After saying goodbye to the perfect English speaking employee (she was married with an American), I continued cycling. The road through the mountains was definitely more scenic but at least there were more than enough places to eat and get stuff to drink. So I was pretty well nourished, when I reached the city of Kumamoto. Here I would stay for two nights and visit the volcano Unzen on a day trip. More about that in the next blog entry.
All the best from Kyushu,
PS: Sakurajima had a pretty strong eruption a few days later. Would for sure have been impressive from the place I stayed over night… See yourself on YouTube. Check also pictures in the Gallery.

About Stefan

I'm a telecommunication engineer by profession and like to discover the world by bike. I think, that it is the perfect speed to move but still be in touch with the world and the people which live there. And I'm very happy, that my wife Susanna is joining me now on those adventures. If you are interested in other journeys we did so far, please also check my website www.biketravel.net. Stefan, Switzerland

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3 thoughts on “Volcanoes Part 1: Sakurajima & Kirishima

  • Sandra

    Hallo Stefan
    unglaublich! Das du immer noch nicht genug hast vom Velofahren und dein nächstes Ziel Neuseeland schon im Visier hast.
    Tolle Bilder vom Vulkan, wenn auch nur ein Ausbruch dafür warst du gerade zum richtigen Zeitpunkt da 🙂
    Ich wünsche dir weiterhin viel Spass und Ausdauer beim Strampeln 🙂
    Freue mich schon auf deinen nächsten Bericht.
    Auch hier herbstelt es sehr, evt haben wir am Wochenende schon den ersten Schnee bis in die Niederungen……
    Liebe Grüsse aus der kühlen Schweiz

  • Stefan Post author

    Hoi Sandra
    Schön von dir zu hören!
    Nein, genug habe ich im Moment noch nicht. Zudem gibt es ja schon bald eine Velofahrpause und ich werde mich dann sicher noch viel mehr auf’s Velofahren in Neuseeland freuen als ich im Moment eh schon tue :-).
    Liebe Grüsse und hoffentlich noch ein paar schöne Herbsttage,