GUIDE Kyushu: Lake Ikeda Summer Activities, Kagoshima by JNTO on 12 February 2019
Located between Kagoshima City and Ibusuki (which is famous for its hot sand baths), Lake Ikeda is the biggest volcanic lake in Kyushu with a circumference of 15km. This almost-circular lake is a caldera lake formed over 6,000 years ago, and since there are no rivers flowing in or out of the lake, it is entirely dependent on rainfall to maintain its water level.
Thanks to its isolation, the lake itself – at a depth of over 200m – is also home to a unique species of giant eel which can grow up to 2m long and weigh up to 5kg. These eels are perhaps the inspiration for the legend of Isshii (or Issie-kun), which is Lake Ikeda’s version of the Loch Ness monster. Isshii was supposedly ‘discovered’ in 1978 when people living near the lake saw what looked to be a giant lake monster and a reward of 100,000 yen was offered to those who could produce a photo of it. Today, the only evidence of the creature is in the form of a statue that’s erected by the lake.
From Lake Ikeda, you can see Mt. Kaimondake which is nicknamed ‘Fuji of Satsuma’ due to its conical shape that resembles Mt. Fuji. Rising to almost 1,000m above sea level at the tip of the Satsuma Peninsula, you can hike up to this mountain for a gorgeous view of Lake Ikeda from the summit. You can visit the lake from December to February when yellow rape plants (called nanohara in Japanese) bloom along the lakeshore, making for a picturesque sight.
In summer, visitors come here to partake in watersports. Along with the usual paddle boats and banana boat rides, you can also try your hand at wakeboarding, jetskiing, as well as the unique sport of hoverboarding and flyboarding.
A flyboard literally lets you fly above the lake – you’re strapped into boots on a surfboard that is connected by a hose to a jetski, and when the water is forced into board, the jet nozzles underneath the boots provide the thrust to fly you up to 15m above the water, although most people tend to manage about 2-3m. It may be difficult to balance at first try, but this is an exhilarating experience.
Similarly, the hoverboard lets you ‘fly’ on a wakeboard (you’re not strapped into boots). Unlike the flyboard, you can control the propulsion of the board, which is connected to a long hose. The thrust is powerful enough to propel you over 3m in the air.
Must-try foods in Kagoshima
A number of souvenir shops along the lake cater to seasonal visitors, and in summer, the most popular food is satsuma (sweet potato) ice cream. Kagoshima produces 40% of Japan’s sweet potatoes (known as satsuma-imo), which is also a popular ingredient that’s used in desserts (like sweet potato cakes) and shochu (a popular local liquor). It’s also what the Kagoshima Kurobuta – local black pig – are mainly fed on to produce tender meat that is less greasy.
Satsuma Cuisine – ‘Satsuma’ is the old name of Kagoshima – is known throughout Japan for a number of its dishes, including Kagoshima Ramen and satsuma-age, a deep-fried fishcake.
Seafood is also an important aspect of Kagoshima cuisine. A must-try is the silvery kibinago (a type of herring) – caught in Kagoshima Bay during spring and summer –which are popularly served as thin slices of sashimi. You can sample it at its freshest at Wakana, where you can also try it grilled or fried. Kagoshima Bay is also the largest producer of kanpachi (amberjack) in Japan, and you can try them as sashimi or served atop rice as Kanpachi Don.
For a snack, Jambo-mochi are grilled rice cakes skewered on two sticks and smothered with sauce; the two sticks represent two swords that samurai warriors carried.
End your dinner with a glass of Kagoshima shochu that’s made with sweet potato (imo shochu) at one of many izakayas (gastropubs) or bars all over the prefecture. If you’re a fan of shochu, you can also visit one of Kagoshima’s many distilleries that offer tours and tasting.
How to get to Lake Ikeda?
Lake Ikeda is located between Kagoshima City and Ibusuki, and doesn’t have its own train station. From JR Ibusuki Station, take the Kagoshima Kotsu Bus to the Lake Ikeda bus stop (30 minutes).
Date: Anytime (most shops open from spring to fall)
Time: Anytime (shops normally operate from 10:00 to 20:00)
Entrance fee: Free