Biking Around Sakurajima: A Complete Guide

Sakurajima: Overview

Sakurajima, (literally Cherry Blossom Island), is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is located in Kagoshima, Kyushu. Though once an island like the name suggests, Sakurajima now connects with a nearby peninsula following a major lava explosion in 1914. Today there are still many small-scale eruptions- the surrounding city is often dusted with volcanic ash, and depending on the wind, you can smell sulfuric fumes coming from the active South Peak (Minami Dake).

Sakurajima Volcano from Arimura Observatory

Sakurajima is the iconic symbol of Kagoshima and is a great place to visit as it is just a short ferry ride away. On Sakurajima, you can travel by car, bus, or bike to visit different observatories, see lava fields, and eat locally farmed food. When I visited, I rented a bike and explored the 36km (22mi) perimeter of the island in a challenging yet fulfilling adventure.

Renting a Bike on Sakurajima

This post is all about biking on Sakurajima. Where to rent a bike, how much it costs, how difficult the ride is, where to stop… all the important questions if you’re thinking about jumping on a pair of wheels. Sakurajima can also be toured by bus or rental car, but I found biking to be a great way to combine exercise and sightseeing – as long as you are up for the challenge!

Biking Itinerary

The following is how I got to Sakurajima and the route I took once on the island. The woman I rented by bike from recommended traveling clockwise for an easier time so I followed her advice. I saved each of these stops on Google Maps before heading out so I could easily see where I was on the map throughout the journey. Unfortunately Google Maps doesn’t support the “biking” feature for these destinations yet, but you shouldn’t get lost as the path follows the main road. I spent about 3.5 hours on the bike and another hour eating, resting, and taking photos for a total trip time of 4.5 hours.

Getting There: Sakurajima Ferry

Use the Sakurajima Ferry to easily get to Sakurajima Island. The ferry operates between Sakurajima Ferry Port (on the mainland) and Sakurajima Port. Each way costs ¥200, and you always pay on the island side. No ticket is needed to board, just use an IC card or cash. The ride takes 15 minutes and operates frequently throughout the day.

Renting a Bike

There are two places I found close to the ferry port where you can rent bikes from.

  • The Visitor Center: A short walk from the ferry terminal, 24 speed gear shifting bikes, ¥2500 for 3 hours + ¥500 for each additional hour.
  • Sakurajima Car Rental: Right next to the ferry terminal, 7 speed gear shifting bikes, ¥300/ hour.

The bikes at the Visitor Center looked nicer and lighter, but since I was trying to save money, I opted for the cheaper option at Sakurajima Car Rental. There were times during the ride that I wished my bike was lighter, but in the end I still made it around the island and was glad I saved almost ¥2000. Note that both rental places close at 5pm so plan your trip accordingly since it can take 4-5 hours to bike around the island.

Rental Car/ Bicycle is just covered by pedestrian sign

Stop 1: Cafe Shirahama (45 min)

Since I arrived at Sakurajima in the early afternoon, the first stop I planned was Cafe Shirahama. It took about 45 minutes to reach the cafe from the bike rental location. The ride was pretty flat and close to the water’s edge. I enjoyed being back on a bike and found this stretch a good way to warm up my legs.

Cafe Shirahama serves locally harvested, fresh meals. The menu is a bit small (local food lunch plate, curry rice, and bagel sandwich), but it was delicious and light enough that I could bike after. I ordered the half size local plate for ¥900. The miso soup used freshly fished clams, the potato salad was made with handmade mayonnaise, and the salt in the dishes was also produced locally. The ladies running the cafe were also very kind. I didn’t see many eateries along the ride, so I recommend this place if you’re looking for a food stop.

Stop 2: Kurokami Observation Point (45 min)

After fueling up, it was time to hit the road. This next leg of the journey was the most difficult for me, especially right after the cafe when the incline started. I had to get off and walk my bike on some of the hills, and I started to wonder if I would be able to complete the whole loop since I wasn’t even halfway done. There were really nice downhill sections that made me forget about my aching legs until it started to get steep and I had to pedal again.

After 45 minutes I reached Kurokami Observation Point. Unfortunately, the hazy day made the view somewhat unspectacular. While I enjoyed the rest and took the time to hydrate a bit, this is a stop you can skip as there are better observation points later in the trip.

Mediocre view at Kurokami Observation Point

Stop 3: Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate, Halfway! (3 min)

The Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate is a quick ride from the Kurokami Observatory, and was pretty small that I almost missed it. Located on the right side of the road just in front of the Kurokami Elementary School, this shrine was almost fully covered by lava in the 1914 eruption. With only the top of the gate visible, this Shrine serves as a reminder of the volcano’s power and menace.

Kurokami Buried Shrine

The buried shrine is also the halfway marker for the bike ride! After coming this far I knew I wasn’t going to turn back. (Thankfully I found the second half of the ride to be easier than the first, so if you made it this far, keep it up!)

Stop 4: Arimura Lava Observatory (35 min)

The next part of the ride passes through large intersections (roads that lead off Sakurajima to the Ōsumi Peninsula) and provides a nice view of the water below. There was quite a bit of road work + this section is traveled by many more cars so be careful!

After 35 minutes, I reached Arimura Lava Observatory Here you will be closest to the volcano, and if the day is good you will be rewarded with a nice panoramic view. I found this observatory to have the best scenery compared to the other places along the ride.

Trying to blow out the volcano… it didn’t work ?

There are a few different paths and viewing spots you can explore around the observatory that take 10-20 minutes to walk to. Additionally, you can see places where visitors have left coins on the rocks that are now covered with black ash. These coins create a neat visual that shows just how active the volcano still is.

Stop 5: Portrait of A Cry (40 min)

Portrait of A Cry is weird looking monument dedicated to the “Sakurajima All Night Concert”. I took a picture because it was right off the road, but other than that there wasn’t much else to do.

Portrait of a Cry Memorial

Stop 6: Karasujima Observatory(5 min)

Very close to Portrait of A Cry is the last viewing spot, Karasujima Observatory. There was pretty terrible visibility when I arrived here, but hopefully you’ll have better luck! Regardless of the sulfur fumes and ash that blew in my face, I was excited coming to this point in the ride as I knew the loop was almost complete and the hardest parts were behind me.

Low visibility at Karasujima Observatory

Stop 7: Hakamagoshi-Karasujima Lava Trail (15 min)

I recommend taking the Hakamagoshi- Karasujima Lava Trail which runs right next the water on your way back towards the Visitor Center. Here you can see lots of black volcanic rock and enjoy the nice, flat path. Watch your speed here as many pedestrians frequent this path.

Lava fields and water on the Karasujima Lava Trail

Stop 8: Visitor’s Center & Footbath (10 min)

The Lava Trail leads back to the Visitor Center and its neighboring outdoor footbaths. These footbaths are 101 meters long and have a view of the volcano. I didn’t feel like taking off my shoes and soaking my feet, but several people were relaxing around and enjoying the view. The Visitor’s Center is located right next to the footbath and inside you can purchase Sakurajima merchandise or learn more about Sakurajima through their informational displays and video screenings.

Footbaths by the Visitor Center

Stop 9: Tsukiyomi Shrine (5 min)

If you’re up for one more stop, you can check out the small Tsukiyomi Shrine which is right before the bike return.

Tsukiyomi Shrine

Finished: Rental Return! (2 min)

Finally after three and a half hours of biking + an extra hour of eating and taking photos, I had made it back to the rental shop! My legs were beat, but I was so happy to have completed the journey. I didn’t always have the best views because of the weather, but it was satisfying knowing I had made it all around the island. During parts of the ride I really wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew, but in the end I made it! Tired, dirty, and probably covered in a layer of ash, I was ready to get back on the ferry and head home.

Just returned my bike- so happy to have made it!

Celebratory Meal: Kurobuta (Black Pork) Shabu Shabu

As a reward for my accomplishments, I decided to treat myself to a celebratory dinner of black pork shabu shabu (a Japanese hot pot dish) Since black pork is a speciality in Kagoshima, I was eager to try this during my stay. Having shabu shabu in my mind during the ride definitely helped me to get through the more difficult sections. I will be writing about the delicious shabu shabu dinner I had so stay tuned!

Black pork shabu shabu celebratory meal

A Note about Japanese Bikes

Many Japanese bikes come with a built-in lock and a key (as opposed to needing a separate U-lock or chain). To lock this kind of bike: slide the metal tab along the rails to move the circular ring. Click into place then remove the key. To unlock: insert and turn the key and ring should slide open.

Built in lock on the back of a Japanese bike

Precautions to Note Before Riding

While I had a good experience biking around the island, it was not without challenges. Here are a few things that might help determine if this is the right activity for you. (Not to scare you, but hopefully you can be more prepared than I was!)

  • The roads are usually dusted with fallen ash which can make them slippery when biking.
  • There is no designated bike lane so you should be comfortable biking next to cars throughout the trip.
  • There are quite a few inclines on this route- I consider myself an out of shape, semi-experienced biker. (Comfortable on a bike but I don’t bike often). I had to get off and walk my bike at some points and my legs got very tired especially during the first half of the ride. I’d recommend being this level or higher to complete the trip.
  • During the time I was closest to the active South Peak, the winds caused ash and smoke to blow in my direction. I was wearing sunglasses and a mask, but it still was a bit irritating and didn’t feel super healthy. I could imagine this being problematic for contact lens wearers.
  • There are not many food/ rest stops along the way so make sure to plan your route. I chose an itinerary that had an early lunch, and rode with plenty of water and Pocari Sweat (a Japanese electrolyte drink).
  • This bike takes roughly 3-5 hours. (I spent 3.5 hours on the bike and 1 hour eating/ taking photos). Plan your time accordingly so you can return the bike by 5pm.

I hope this guide helps you plan your time on Sakurajima!

By the lava fields on Sakurajima

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