The dragon-shaped Japanese region where Tokyo residents go to relax


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Some say that Kagoshima, the prefecture surrounding the southern tip of the Japanese island of Kyushu, resembles the head of a dragon. In the mouth of this dragon lies Sakurajima, one of the country's most active volcanoes, whose plumes of smoke can often be seen from the capital, the city of Kagoshima, a short ferry ride away.

The area's extraordinary natural features, which also include a sprawling 1,500-year-old camphor tree, the largest in Japan, have inspired equally beautiful art. Director Hayao Miyazaki visited Kagoshima's densely forested Yakushima Island to recreate the landscape of the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine for his 1997 animated film, “Princess Mononoke.” But while Tokyo and Kyoto continue to attract stampedes of Western tourists, Kagoshima still seems to attract mainly Japanese and other Asian visitors, eager to explore the prefecture's peninsulas and islands and make shopping trips to the pottery town of Miyama in the city of Hioki.

History buffs know Kagoshima, which includes what was the feudal domain of Satsuma, as the birthplace, in 1828, of Saigo Takamori, known as the last samurai, who led the movement to overthrow the military shogunate in Edo ( present-day Tokyo). . The region was also home to the Shimadzu clan, who, during the Edo period (1603-1868), while the rest of Japan largely closed its borders to foreigners, maintained connections with other East Asian nations through their trade with the Ryukyu Kingdom and later promoted technological exchange with England. The clan's efforts helped pave the way for the country's industrial revolution in the second half of the 19th century. Sengan-en, a 1658 Shimadzu villa in the city of Kagoshima, is open to the public and features lush gardens, a palace, and a museum. Further south are a series of exceptionally picturesque islands, including Tanegashima, home to the country's largest rocket launch center; the forested Yakushima; and the Amami chain, with its teeming coral reefs.

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