Kyushu: Places to Explore

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Kagoshima

Kagoshima is a laid-back, flowery, palm-lined southern getaway on the Satsuma Peninsula with mild weather, outgoing people, and a smoking volcano out in the bay. Ancient relics believed to date back to 9,000 BC indicate that humans have been in the area a long time indeed. It became a center of trade with Korea and China and was an important fortress town from the mid-16th century until the Meiji Restoration. This is where Saigo Takamori and his rebel followers (reduced to a few hundred from 40,000) made their last stand against the new Emperor on September 24, 1877, chased here after having sacked Kumamoto Castle. Facing 300,000 well-supplied troops, they had no chance, and Takamori was injured in the fight. Rather than face capture, he ordered one of his own men to cut off his head. Reviled and vilified during the rush to modernization, he was posthumously pardoned and honored as a national hero.

Today, the area is famous for growing the world's smallest mandarin oranges (only an inch across) and the largest white daikon radishes—grown in the rich volcanic soil, these can span 3 feet and weigh in at more than 100 pounds. There's also kurobuta, a special breed of black pig that locals convert into breaded, fried cutlets called tonkatsu (ton is pork; katsu means cutlet).

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