So not too long ago, I was in Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture on Japan’s four main islands. It is a rather backwater place despite the abnormally large role it played in Japan’s contemporary history, but it is very beautiful.
Kagoshima is also the location of Nishi-oyama Station, Japan Railways’ (JR) southernmost train station.
Located in the southern part of Kagoshima with a latitude of 31.11 degrees north, Nishi-oyama Station is not much more than an sheltered slab of concrete with a single wooden bench.
Facing west at the station gives one a pretty grand view of Mt. Kaimon, a perfectly conical dormant volcano that apparently has the exact same silhouette no matter which direction you view it from. (Taxi drivers are pretty helpful when it comes to sightseeing.)
JR also placed a helpful signboard that indicates the location of its easternmost, westernmost and northernmost train stations. There were actually two Japanese tourists taking photos at Nishi-oyama when I was there. Being a train otaku in Japan is serious business.
There is also a yellow post box that lets you send letters and postcards to your friends and families with a special postmark indicating that it was sent from Nishi-oyama. You can probably send one to yourself and win the race home.
The surrounding area is nothing but farms and hills. Presumably many of the farms grow a variant of sweet potato known as satsumaimo, a speciality of Kagoshima. I bought some satsumaimo-flavoured Kit Kats at the central train station.
The southern part of Kagoshima is divided into two areas by a deep inlet forming the Kagoshima Bay and is hence shaped like a crescent. The left side is known as the Satsuma Peninsula (薩摩半島) and the right side is known as the Osumi Peninsula (大隅半島).
Most of the tourist stuff, including Kagoshima City, Sakurajima (the volcanic island) and the onsen town Ibusuki, is on the Satsuma side, while Osumi is mostly an inaccessible jungle of weird boars and demons. At least that’s what I think it’s like, considering there are basically zero train lines running through it.
But Osumi does play host to Cape Sata (Japan mainland’s southernmost point) and JAXA’s Uchinoura Space Center, which would probably be cool to visit if they were ever made reasonably accessible. Woot.
But I digress.
Much of Satsuma Peninsula itself is also rather inaccessible and rural, but it does have a single JR train line serving its southern parts. So I guess that is something.
And when I say “train”, I am not talking about JR Yamanote or even your typical subway train. The local Ibusuki-Makurazaki line is served by tiny two-carriage trains that are operated by a single person. JR call these trains ワンマン, literally “one-man”. There are usually two trains per hour.
The tourists who take this line are generally headed for Ibusuki (指宿), a small onsen town by the sea more than an hour away from Kagoshima-chou Station. And by “tourists”, I mean old Japanese couples from other parts of Japan.
I could not identify a single foreign tourist during my stay at Ibusuki and my train rides there and back, although I did spot a few in Kagoshima City itself. This can also be observed from Japan Guide’s wholly inadequate section on Kagoshima, which I feel doesn’t do the prefecture/city justice.
But I digress again.
The regular trains on the Ibusuki Makurazaki line terminate at either Kiire (喜入) or Yamakawa (山川). Unforunately, Nishi-Oyama, the southernmost station, is located father down the line and is served by just two direct trains a day from the central station. Due to a lack of prior planning, I did not have time to actually take a train there, sadly.
I want to say that I was hardcore enough to navigate 6km over mountainous terrain to get from Yamakawa to Nishi-oyama (which I almost did because I thought it was at most 2km away in a straight line) armed with only my Android smartphone’s Compass app and no data access, but I was a pussy and took a cab instead (which in retrospect was not such a bad idea).
It turned out to be impossible to follow the track on foot as I had originally planned because it is fenced off and goes into tunnels.
All the stations on the line passed Yamakawa are unmanned, so the train driver has to also act as the conductor at every stop. It’s pretty cool.
The title of this post is kind of a lie because Nishi-oyama is no longer Japan’s southernmost station after Okinawa prefecture built a local monorail line in Naha due to what I presume to be immense spite for JR that I am sure has nothing to do with making life more convenient for its residents.
Hence, Nishi-oyama is now “Japan’s Southernmost JR Station”. You can see the faint red “JR” spray-painted onto the top of the landmark.
Apparently, JR originally changed the sign to “Mainland’s Southernmost Station” in response to the construction of the monorail, which incurred Okinawa’s wrath because it implies that Okinawa isn’t part of Japan mainland. (And I thought the Ryukyu separatists would be happy about that…) JR then changed it back to the original sign with the red word “JR” appended to the front. People fight over everything.
I really loved Kagoshima. Will blog more about it in a future post.
The section of the Kyushu Shinkansen that extents to Kagoshima-chuo Station only came online less than two weeks before my trip to Japan, so it was really lucky that I got to visit Kagoshima with my JR Pass.
P.S. This JR Kyushu commercial celebrating the full opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen is really awesome. Brings a tear to my eyes. Pity they had to stop airing it and tone down the celebrations after the Tohoku quake.