Onsen Review: Shiroyama Kanko Hotel (Kagoshima, Japan)
The Shiroyama Kanko Hotel onsen is a long time favorite of mine. Views of downtown Kagoshima and nearby Sakurajima volcano island are stunning and mesmerizing, be it daytime or late at night and getting there is easy. Everything is a bit more upscale than your average onsen – all in all, a pretty awesome and semi-urban onsen experience.
Sitting firmly right on top of a hill in the middle of Kagoshima, the Shiroyama Kanko Hotel is of the upscale variety, not too far from your average asian Grand Hyatt experience. The staff speaks fairly decent English and will happily guide you from the main lobby down to the spa frontdesk. The premises are a bit confusing at first with a maze of corridors and multiple levels and I've gotten myself lost more than once. Turns out the simplest way to get to the onsen part is to head down the stairs to your right after having entetered the lobby through the main enterance. When you get to the floor below, make a hard left (there's a wedding dress store to your right), then pass the wedding makeup saloon and you'll be all set.
The spa and oncen frontdesk accepts most major credit cards. Should you want to come back another time (and there is absolutely no reason not to), ask to get their loyalty card. It requires no more than a minute's worth of filling out a form and will get you a decent discount from then on. The regular entrance fee is about ¥1,350. Once the payment part has been sorted out, you will be given a robe to use when not in the mood for bathing along with a locker key and a shoe storage identification tag, the function of which I never really understood but hey, why not. Towels, both big and small, are available in the locker room along with a wide selection of grooming products and a vending machine filled with drinks.
Most of the spa has a nice, modern feel to it having gone through a major renovation not too long ago. A separate relaxing area features a bunch of incredibly comfortable, almost bed-like chairs. After a good onsen bath I usually get a soda from the vending machine, settle down in one of those chairs and kick back with a book along with some nice blend of korean pop music. Lovely.
Entering the bathing area feels a bit like walking into a hangar compared to most other onsens, and the spacious facilities do help a lot with keeping the atmosphere calm despite the place getting crowded at times. Indoor pools are large and pretty vanilla, what you really want to do is go outside and experience is the open air pool. It's wide, spacious and will get you an unobstructed view of downtown Kagoshima, the Kagoshima Bay and nearby Sakurajima Island. The pictures don't come anywhere close to relaying what the actual experince is like. It's amazing. In daylight, the vulcano on Sakurajima is visible right across the bay and you may end up catching an eruption, they happen all the time and can be quite spectacular if you're lucky.
At night the vulcano fades away into darkness while downtown Kagoshima lights up, producing a stunning, tranquil view that makes me incredibly relaxed every single time. I've noticed that a lot of my fellow onsen visitors late at night do exactly what I do – move to the front of the outside pool, arms on the edge, holding absolutely still while watching the cityscape in quiet. Contemplating life. Those moments alone are worth an entire trip across the hemisphere.
The Shiroyama Kanko Hotel has a handful of restaurants on-site at the other end of the building. I've tried the teppanyaki and sushi options and they are both great. I would absolutely recommend getting one of their set menus, allowing for a smooth transition from dessert into onsen land. And on a side note their wedding business seems to be going great, every now and then you run straight into outdoor wedding photo shoots.
They run a decent breakfast service too with great views. In fact, it's an insanely nice experience walking up the hill before sunrise, dig into breakfast and walk outside when the sun pops up above the mountains. And then move down below for some onsen magic.
If you arrive at the Kagoshima-Chuo station with any Shinkansen or local JR train, it's a short cab ride to get to the Shiroyama Kanko hotel. If the driver asks what entrance you want to be dropped off at, indicate that you want the main entrance, not the restaurant entrance. Walking up the hill from the station takes a while but it's doable if you want the exercise and have plenty of time.
Should you be in downtown Kagoshima near the Tenmonkan area, there's a small path (steep, with stairs) leading up from street level to a parking lot near the hotel's main entrance. And speaking of Tenmonkan, a nice place to stay in Kagoshima is Richmond Hotel Tenmonkan. It has all the facilities you need and the location along Tenmonkan Dori is great. The stairs up to the Shiroyama Kanko Hotel are a 5-10 minute walk away, indicated on the map below.