Kagoshima is the capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture at the southwestern tip of the Kyūshū island of Japan, and the largest city in the prefecture by some margin. It has been nicknamed the “Naples of the Eastern world” for its bay location (Aira Caldera), hot climate and impressive stratovolcano, Sakurajima.
As of 1 January 2005, the city had an estimated population of 605,650 and a density of 1,107.81 persons per km². The total area is 546.71 km². In 2003, the city had an estimated population of only 554,136 and density of 1,911.41 persons per km². The total area was 289.91 km².
The city’s total area nearly doubled between 2003 and 2005 as a result of five towns—the towns of Kōriyama and Matsumoto, both from Hioki District, the town of Kiire, from Ibusuki District, and the towns of Sakurajima and Yoshida, both from Kagoshima District—merging into Kagoshima on November 1, 2004.
Kagoshima is approximately 40 minutes from Kagoshima Airport, and the city features large shopping districts and malls, is served by trams, and has many restaurants featuring Satsuma Province regional cuisine: kibi (a kind of tiny fish), tonkatsu (caramelized pork, as opposed to the breaded version encountered elsewhere in Japan), smoked eel, and karukan (sweet cakes made from steamed yams and rice flour). A large, modern aquarium has been installed on the old docks overlooking the volcano. The Senganen (Isoteien) Japanese garden is just outside the city.
The St. Xavier church is a reminder of the first Christians who came to Japan.
One of the best places to see the city (and the active volcano across the bay) is from the Amuran Ferris wheel on top of “Amu Plaza,” the shopping centre attached to Kagoshima Central Train Station. The wheel has two completely transparent gondolas which give a 360-degree view from 91 m above the ground.
Kagoshima was the center of the territory of the Shimazu clan of samurai for many centuries. It was a busy political and commercial port city throughout the medieval period and into the Edo period (1603–1867) when it formally became the capital of the Shimazu’s fief, the Satsuma Domain. Satsuma remained one of the most powerful and wealthiest domains in the country throughout the period, and though international trade was banned for much of this period, the city remained quite active and prosperous. It served not only as the political center for Satsuma, but also for the semi-independent vassal kingdom of Ryūkyū; Ryukyuan traders and emissaries frequented the city, and a special Ryukyuan embassy building was established to help administer relations between the two polities and to house visitors and emissaries. Kagoshima was also a significant center of Christian activity in Japan prior to the imposition of bans against that religion in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Kagoshima was bombarded by the British Royal Navy in 1863 to punish the daimyō of Satsuma for the murder of Charles Lennox Richardson on the Tōkaidō highway the previous year and its refusal to pay an indemnity in compensation. Kagoshima was the birthplace and scene of the last stand of Saigō Takamori, a legendary figure in Meiji Japan in 1877 at the end of the Satsuma Rebellion.
Japan’s industrial revolution is said to have started here, stimulated by the young students’ train station. Seventeen young men of Satsuma broke the Tokugawa ban on foreign travel, traveling first to England and then the United States before returning to share the benefits of the best of Western science and technology.