Aside from Sakurajima, Sengan-en is one of those things that comes up a bunch when you’re looking for things to do in Kagoshima.
It’s a former residence dating back to the 1600s that’s been turned into a pretty amazing garden.
It costs 1000 yen to get in (about 11 bucks Canadian), but it’s totally worth it.
Just getting there is pretty spectacular. It’s about two kilometres from the city, and you could take a bus, but the walk is impressively scenic; it’s clearly the way to go. I mean, I think this video speaks for itself.
Then you get there and it’s enormous and seriously impressive.
That’s not to mention the hiking trail that leads to a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
It’s pretty much just endless steps going up, so it’s crazy exhausting, but once you get up there it’s totally worth it.
That’s not a bad view at all.
I really did not have high hopes for this — I tried it more out of a morbid curiosity than anything else. I just assumed it wasn’t going to be very good.
But surprisingly enough? It was delicious. It was creamy and rich like a standard bowl of ramen, but with a garlicky, tomato sauce flavour. I guess it was essentially like a tomato soup — but way better than any tomato soup I’ve had before.
You choose from various add-ons; they recommend parmegiano regiano cheese.
Sure, parmesan on ramen — why not?
The cheese really enhances it, melting and merging with the noodles in a gooey, cheesy mess. It’s shockingly great.
One of the things Kagoshima is best known for is its proximity to Sakurajima, an active volcano on a nearby island (or what used to be an island — the lava from a 1914 eruption actually connected it to the mainland).
There’s a ferry that goes from Kagoshima to the island every ten minutes or so.
It’s a quick, but scenic, boat ride.
Once you get to the island, there’s a path that goes along the shore where you can see some volcanic rocks, and a pretty great view of the volcano.
There’s also a surprising number of cats, for some reason.
But mostly, some amazing views.
I mean, come on.
One of the many (many many) things I love about ramen is how much variety you get from bowl to bowl. There are so many different styles and types and varieties of ramen that what seems like it should be a simple dish (it’s just noodles and soup) has so much to offer.
There are some bowls of ramen that are subtle and light; on the other end of the spectrum is the bowl of slow-cooked pork rib ramen I just had from Hanamaruken in Osaka.
The broth here is unctuously, mouth-coatingly rich (though it thankfully never crosses the line into gravy soup territory). It’s also intensely flavoured, with a seafoody punch rounding out the in-your-face porkiness. There’s absolutely nothing subtle here; the flavour grabs you by the collar and screams in your face. And yet it’s not overbearing or one-note.
But what really makes this ramen noteworthy is the slow-cooked pork rib on top, subbing in for the typical chashu. It’s a big old hunk of deboned ribs that’s been slow-cooked until it’s so tender you can just pull chunks off with your chopsticks. It’s also browned on the griddle to give it some additional flavour/texture.
It’s so incredibly tender that even the cartilage has rendered down into a delicious, porky goo. And yet the meat itself still has texture — it’s not mushy at all, which can sometimes happen with slow-cooked meat like this.
After my shockingly great Korean McDonald’s experience — and considering how good all of the food in Japan is — I had high hopes for a similar experience here.
Yeah, no. This was a pretty standard McDonald’s experience, sadly. Not the best, and not the worst.
First up is the Mature Gracoro Beef Stew Burger, which is a crispy fried croquette with cheese and chili on top. Oh, and the croquette is filled with macaroni and shrimp.
There’s a lot going on here — between the chili, the cheese, the mayonnaisey sauce, the shrimp, the soft macaroni, the crispy exterior of the croquette, and the creamy interior, it’s a very random hodge-podge of tastes and textures. It’s not bad, but it never quite coheres.
I also tried the Teriyaki McBurger, which was very similar to the Bulgogi Burger that I tried in South Korea. In fact, I think the pork patty is identical — but when I had it in Korea, it was fresh and tasty. This one had clearly been sitting out for a while, and had a much dryer texture and a vaguely leftovery flavour. The teriyaki sauce was about what you’d expect, and it wasn’t quite strong enough to wipe out that patty’s iffy flavour.
Finally, there’s the Sankaku pie — a triangular chocolate pie with a puff pastry exterior. This wasn’t bad. The chocolate filling was nice and gooey, but the pastry shell was a bit tough and chewy.
These deer have been co-existing with people in this park for hundreds of years, so they’re not afraid of people at all.
I sort of figured they’d be in one small area of the park, but nope — everywhere you go, hey, there’s a deer.
Some of them are just wandering around.
Other’s are just chillin’.
A lot of them are hoping for food. There are several vendors throughout the park that sell a bundle of special deer crackers for 150 yen.
There’s pretty much always a deer hanging out nearby, hoping for a quick snack.
Once you’ve got these crackers, hungry deer will come right up to you.
What’s this? A cracker?
This never gets old.
Just stick a cracker out and within seconds, here comes a deer.
I have a video of this, too. Note: these deer are so Japanese, they’ll sometimes bow to you before or after you give them a cracker. You can see it a couple of times in the video.
You also occasionally see deer getting into fights.
These guys butted their heads together until one of them gave up, bowed to the other, and backed off.
There’s also a couple of temples in the park.
And yeah, of course there are deer hanging out there, too.
It’s a pretty amazing place.
When I’m searching for the best food in a particular area, I’m always hoping for a clear consensus. If you come across recommendations for the same restaurant over and over again, then you can be reasonably assured that it’s going to be good.
Well, there’s very little doubt about it: Ramen Yashichi serves what everyone seems to agree is the best ramen in Osaka. And holy crap, the place draws the crowds to prove it.
I showed up at around noon on a Friday; they have a system where they hand you a ticket that tells you when to come back, and I figured it’d be a half hour later. Maybe an hour.
It told me to come back at 3:56 — almost four hours later.
Well, okay. At least I won’t have to line up.
Except I absolutely did have to line up — I showed up at the allotted time to find about a dozen people waiting outside, so I spent about half an hour waiting to get in. Then I got in and there was another line. It took about ten more minutes.
But then I sat down and got to try the ramen, and it was like, yep. I get it. It’s a chicken-based shoyu ramen, and it was absurdly good. It was a bit more oniony than normal — I’m not a fan of raw onion, so that was unfortunate — but other than that it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve had since coming to Japan (which means it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had).
I mentioned that the mediocre bowl of ramen I had in Dotonbori was just one-note salty; the thing I love about the best bowls of ramen is that they seem simple, but there’s so much depth and complexity to their flavour. That’s absolutely the case here. With every mouthful, you discover something new. It’s magical.
The only wrinkle was that the big draw here is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I hadn’t seen a single Harry Potter movie. So I watched them all over the last couple of weeks — that’s just the way I roll.
The Harry Potter area was pretty amazing, including an impressively detailed recreation of Hogwarts.
And, of course, there’s the famous Butterbeer, which I obviously had to try.
It’s basically a cream soda float, only with melted ice cream. It was fine, I guess? It cost a whopping 600 yen (almost seven bucks Canadian) for a tiny cup, so it’s not cheap.
The centrepiece here is the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was easily one of the best rides I’ve ever experienced. It also made me feel like I was moments away from vomiting everywhere, so that was unfortunate.
It was also insanely crowded, as you can see from this board with a listing of all of the various wait times across the park.
Yes, that’s a 170 minute wait (!) for the Harry Potter and Despicable Me rides.
As for the food, it was mostly nothing special, though there was one thing called a croissant brulee that was shockingly amazing.
It’s creme brulee with a croissant base; the custard soaks into the croissant, and it basically becomes the best bread pudding that you’ve ever had (only with a crispy, sugary top to make things all the more delightful). It was so much better than I was expecting it to be.
While walking around Dotonbori, I came across a ramen joint with a giant cartoon dragon on the outside, and I suddenly got hit by a freight train of nostalgia.
Not only had I eaten here on my previous trip, but — and I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’m fairly confident — this is where I had my first bowl of real, non-instant ramen (you have to remember that the explosion of ramen joints in Toronto has only been in the last few years — rewind to a decade ago, and ramen was much more of a rarity in the GTA).
Though ramen is one of my favourite dishes now, it certainly wasn’t at the time, and this restaurant failed to ignite any sort of love for the dish. Did I just not know how to appreciate a good bowl of ramen?
Nope, it’s pretty lousy (as you’d expect from a place with a big cartoon dragon mascot in the most touristy part of town). The noodles were actually pretty good, but the broth was just one-note salty, and the pork was dry.
Still, the nostalgia! Plus, how often to you get to revisit the place where you first tried one of your favourite meals? Totally worth it.