Sponsored by the Minamisatsuma Tourism Board.
With a gentle climate year round and some of the most untouched natural landscapes in Japan, Minamisatsuma is the ideal destination to go on long cycling rides. Safe from car traffic, you will discover both the seaside and countryside of the area, either by yourself or with a local guide.
First stop: the Rinrin cycling terminal
The whole experience begins by choosing the right bike for you. Let’s head to the cycling terminal and rental shop Rinrin, a true cavern of Ali Baba for cyclists.
With more than a hundred bikes available, there is an option for everyone: bicycles with small baskets, professional road bikes, cycles with electric assistance, cycles for kids. Some very well maintained gear you can rent at a reasonable price, starting at only 200 yen for two hours (500 yen if you choose an electric bike).
Although you can absolutely explore the surroundings by yourself and at your own pace, you can also do it in the company of a guide who knows the region like the back of his hand. This is how I got to meet Akira Kato, a globetrotting cyclist with a unique story!
With more than 110 countries visited and 140,000km cycled, he spent ten years of his life exploring the world on his bike before settling in Minamisatsuma to help develop and promote cycling tourism.
Once I had picked my ride for the day – a bike with electric assistance – and put on my helmet, I followed my experienced guide on a tour through parks and fields.
Crossing Fukiagehama Seaside Park to reach the sea
On this tour, you will start your ride at Fukiagehama Seaside Park, where many roads and paths have been designed for cyclists and pedestrians only. This is the ideal setting to warm up surrounded by nature without having to share the road with cars.
First stop in that park: a 405 meter long bridge built in a modern architectural style and crossing the Manose River.
The panoramic view from up there is splendid: immense sandbanks bordered in forest, with the Eastern China Sea in the background. Akira, my guide, pulled a binder out of his bag, filled with pictures to show me of some of the local wildlife. He explained that what we were looking at was a natural reserve, home to several animals that can only be seen in this region, such as tiny crabs or birds with flat beaks.
A couple of pages further, his binder contains images of the sunset visible from this bridge, each more breathtaking than the last. No wonder this bridge has been nicknamed the ‘Sunset Bridge’.
As we continue on our journey through the park, the landscape slowly starts to change as we get closer to the sea. Tall grass and pine trees start appearing on each side of the road, and the concrete road gives way to a slightly more sandy path.
It is through such beautiful seaside scenery that Akira guides me carefully to a small staircase climbing through the brush. Step by step, a salty scent starts to fill the air and the sound of the waves can be heard.
Once at the top, the sand dunes of Fukiagehama – the third largest sand dunes in Japan – stretch as far as the eye can see.
My guide tells me this is a spot known by locals and tourists alike to practice kiteboarding. And this also where the annual Sand Festival of Minamisatsuma takes place every May, when gigantic sculptures are created in the sand. It is a panorama you could spend hours gazing at, but we have to hop back on our bikes to keep the exploring!
Meeting the local farmers
After getting back on the road, we headed out of the park towards the countryside, riding close to local fields; daikon radishes, rice and even olive trees grow here. Even though we have to share the road with cars at this point, there isn’t much traffic and the tour remains pleasant.
The next and final stop for me on this tour would be at Kengo and Tomoko Komiya’s greenhouses, to take part in a cherry tomato picking session.
After a friendly welcome from Tomoko, I was invited to enter the greenhouse. Pulling back a two protective tarps, I gently snuck in between two crops of tomatoes. And there I was in this small bubble-like greenhouse bathed in early January sunlight, enveloped in muggy warmth and breathing in the delicious aroma of tomatoes.
Tomoko guided me to the back of the greenhouse to greet her husband before explaining to me how to choose and pick the tomatoes. After identifying the reddest and ripest of them, you have to gently detach them with a piece of the stem. As I am filling up a little plastic bag of the delicious fruits, I manage to exchange a few words of English with Tomoko. I learned that on top of cultivating vegetables, she was also running a café with her husband – mojo café 357 – located right by the Sunset Bridge. It was a pleasant experience from which you get a bag filled with handpicked fresh cherry tomatoes and the privilege to have spent some time in the company of local farmers.
In a nutshell, this lovely afternoon spent cycling with Akira was a unique way to discover some of the most beautiful landscapes of Minamisatsuma while enjoying some fresh air. A cycling tour which must be even more pleasant in the spring or the summer, which is a good reason for me to come back!
If you wish to book a tomato picking experience with Kengo and Tomoko, please contact Minamisatsuma’s Tourism Office at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org (in English). Write down in your message your preferred date and time, as well as the number of participants and contact details. The fee is 1000 yen for the experience (picking the tomatoes + taking a full bag home).
Located only one hour by car or by bus from Kagoshima, Minamisatsuma can be more easily reached than it seems. A flight from Tokyo to Kagoshima only takes about 2 hours, and a Shinkansen ride from Fukuoka 50 minutes. Please note however that going around the area is more easily done if you rent your own car (which can be done at Kagoshima airport or station for example). Check out the following website for more information.