A methane-like pong wafts through the air. The pungent odor is in fact part of the attraction of Kyushu’s most elevated onsen resort—Kirishima.
Sulfur dioxide is a natural by-product of the hot springs in Kirishima, generated by the geothermal activity of the area. Kirishima refers to the onsen resort town and the surrounding volcanic region. Extending from Kagoshima Prefecture into Miyazaki Prefecture, it is part of the extensive Kirishima-Yaku National Park, Japan’s first national park.
The park also includes Sakurajima, an active volcano and a former island (now connected to the mainland) overlooking Kagoshima, as well as another island further south, Yakushima, the world heritage site famed for its ancient cryptomeria cedar forest.
Soak it up!
Most patrons at the numerous hot spring resorts and hotels in Kirishima come specifically for the luxurious bathing facilities. Once inside they shed their everyday clothing in favor of loose cotton gowns (yukata), then set about rejuvenating themselves, soaking to their heart’s content.
Uphill in the Ebino Kogen highland area, there are plenty more hot springs. There’s even opportunity to bath with your partner in an outdoor rotenburo, (though for modesty’s sake you should cover yourself with a towel).
Ebino’s hot springs reputedly have therapeutic value. Besides relieving aches and pains, they’re said to assist blood circulation and digestion, aid skin irritations and reduce scarring.
Land of Legends
Due to the altitude, Kirishima is often shrouded in mist. (Kirishima literally translates to “mist” or “fog” island.) This eerie atmosphere perhaps contributed to the many myths that originated here. The most notable of these is Kirishima as “the birthplace of Japan.”
As legend has it, Ninigi-no-mikoto, grandson of sun goddess Amaterasu, descended to earth at majestic Mt. Takachiho to father the Japanese people. He brought with him a sword, a jewel and a mirror—the symbols of the Japanese imperial family to this day.
Not surprisingly, Kirishima Shrine is dedicated to Ninigi-no-mikoto. The annual Minami Kyushu Kagura Festival is held at the shrine at the end of summer. Within this haunting setting the myths of Kirishima are recreated in music and dance though traditional performing arts. (An interesting collection of kagura masks can be seen at the entrance to the shrine if you can’t make it to the festival.)
As you approach Ebino Kogen, along winding Route 223, the spectacular Maruo Waterfall comes into view amidst the volcanic landscape. (There are a number of other falls within the vicinity too.) Sulfur deposits secreted from fumaroles, volcanic vents that dot the landscape, stain the soil yellow. From the highland, volcanic cones can be seen on the horizon and many peaks still have their craters intact, some with caldera lakes.
Ebino Kogen takes its name from the susuki silver grass found here. Due to Kirishima’s acidic soil, the grass turns a pinkish orange in early autumn. The color of shrimp (ebi). Ebino has a great variety of other seasonal flora and scenery too. The spring landscape is splashed yellow by flowering rape blossoms and, as summer approaches, native pink azalea (miyama kirishima) come into bloom.
With a cool average temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius, it’s not surprising that summer is peak tourist season in Kirishima. It’s an ideal time to go hiking and enjoy the many natural attractions in the area. There are numerous hiking trails in Ebino Kogen, and here is a selection of them:
Colorful Caldera. Take a two-hour round-trip hike to appreciate the brilliant color and clarity of three of Kirishima’s caldera lakes. Along the way you may bump into some loitering local deer waiting to be fed.
Dragon’s Lair. A tough full-day hike to takes you to the summit of Kirishima’s highest peak, Mt. Karakuni. Return via Lake Onami, one of the largest crater lakes of Kirishima. Keep your eyes peeled for a dragon said to reside here!
Three Peaks. Continue from Mt. Karakuni over three more peaks to Takachiho-gawara. This full-day hike allows you to view much of the diverse nature of Kirishima. Camp and enjoy views of Mt. Takachiho or continue seven kilometers downhill to the creature comforts of Kirishima Youth Hostel and the hot springs around Kirishima Shrine.
Travel Tips: If you plan to hike in Kirishima it’s advisable to bring food with you as shopping is limited. Also remember it is an active volcanic region. Don’t stray too far off the trails or you’ll find it a little hot underfoot or worse, breathing in potentially lethal sulfurous gases.
By Car: The most convenient way to access Kirishima is by car. From Kagoshima take the Kyushu Expressway to Ebino I.C. From Miyazaki take the Miyazaki Expressway to Kobayashi I.C.
By public transport from Kagoshima or Miyazaki: To Kirishima Shrine take JR Nippo Railway to Kirishima Jingu Station. To Ebino Highland take JR Nippo Railway to Miyakonojo, change to the Kitto Line to Ebino and then by bus or taxi.
Web Connection: For extensive information check Kirishima’s excellent home page: www.kirishimacho.com/en/enindex.htm