With its spectacular setting on a deep blue bay facing a smouldering volcano, Kagoshima is one of Japan’s most alluring and exotic cities. The ranks of palm trees lining its streets attest to the mildness of the local climate – one of the factors that first attracted European traders and missionaries to the area in the 16th century. A legacy of this early contact with the West is the prominence of sweet potatoes in the local cuisine (introduced by the Portuguese from Brazil).
Aside from taking the place of rice, orange and purple yams are also used to produce Kagoshima’s signature tipple, shochu, which is made in several distilleries around the city. The secret behind the sweet potato’s success is the stupendously fertile soil, resulting from centuries of volcanic deposits from nearby Mount Sakurajima. Clouds of ash still erupt daily from the summit of the volcano just across the water, an awe-inspiring spectacle – though a bane for local car owners! You can get close to Sakurajima by jumping on a ferry across Kagoshima harbour. A network of roads and trails lead to various observation points surveying the main crater.