Known as Japan's friendliest city, Kagoshima lies across a sparkling blue bay from the very active Sakurajima volcano. It's a common sight for locals to use umbrellas against the fine ash, and this slumbering giant also provides naturally heated hot springs and plenty of hiking and cycling opportunities. Within the city itself you can wander between fascinating museums, modern shopping complexes and gardens bursting with exotic trees and flowers.
In a Kagoshima hostel, you can chill with friends on a seafront terrace or spend the night on a traditional tatami (futon) bed. Some Kagoshima hostels in the city have communal kitchens, and others can loan you a bike so you can explore like a local. Look out for female-only dorms, and when you want to catch up with someone back home you can find hostels in Kagoshima with free Wi-Fi.
Tenmonkan is the main shopping and nightlife area of Kagoshima, located between the port and JR Kagoshima-Chūō Station. If you continue walking towards the waterfront you'll reach Dolphin Port, a wooden footpath lined with restaurants and speciality shops offering views over Kinko Bay in addition to their quirky wares. Tsurumaru Castle and most of the city's museums are north of Tenmonkan in the streets below Shiroyama Park. To glimpse a bygone time, drive north about an hour to the small town of Chiran where you can stroll down a street of preserved samurai houses and gardens.
Kagoshima brims with samurai tradition, which you can learn about at the Museum of the Meiji Restoration. Here you'll explore everyday samurai life, the education system and sword-making. On a sunny afternoon, stroll round Sengan-en in the north of the city, a historic villa with gardens full of shrines, museums and sculptures. Adventurous travellers can attempt the 2-hour hike up Sakurajima volcano – you can even kayak across the bay to get there. If you're looking for something more low-key, jump on a ferry from Kagoshima harbour for a leisurely tour of Kyushu's dramatic mountain scenery.
To reach the city, fly to Kagoshima Airport and take the 50-minute shuttle bus to Tenmonkan. You can also take the bullet train from JR Kagoshima-Chūō Station south of Tenmonkan to Hiroshima (2.5 hours), Hakata (2 hours) and Shin-Osaka (4 hours). Hop-on hop-off buses are a handy way of getting around the city's sites and one-day passes are valid on Kagoshima trams, though hiring a bike from your hostel or the train station can be more fun.