Want to go deep, discover rural Japan, and meet the real people who make this beautiful country what it is? If so, look no further and subscribe to People of Kagoshima, a new YouTube channel introducing the true stories of amazing people to enrich your next visit to southern Kyushu.
The team have spent over a decade getting to know the local people of Kagoshima - and they want to share their stories with you. Hear their stories, see their lives, and get a glimpse of real life in Japan. Come and meet a couple of your guides!
Shigemizu-san the Hioki City Samurai
Japan is famous for its samurai warriors and some of the most powerful came from the Kagoshima region. Historically called the Satsuma domain, the area was ruled for over 700 years by the powerful feudal lords of the Shimadzu clan.
The people of Kagoshima today are still very proud of their samurai roots, no more so than Shigemizu Kenrou. An employee at Hioki City Hall, he has decided to use his free time to promote the rich history of the area. On weekdays he works a desk job in a typical Japanese local government office, but when the weekend rolls around he turns into a full on samurai decked out head to toe in traditional armour to promote warrior culture and the Hioki region.
Shigemizu is a member of the Hioki City PR Busho-tai, a group of twelve local government workers who use their free time to dress up as famous Shimadzu warriors in samurai armour and appear at events all around the country. Shigemizu says, “Satsuma samurai were tough. It was all or nothing – 0 or 100%, nothing in between.”
Shigemizu has also been a hardcore rock musician since his teens and found a unique way to pair his twin passions of history and music. The result was a hardcore samurai band thrashing out rock music with the same intensity and passion their ancestors had going into battle.
Visitors to Hioki City can try out wearing armour themselves at the Yoshitoshi Gungi-jo (literally samurai war council). With over fifty sets of armour to choose from and instruction on how to put on the armour for yourself it’s a great experience to tie in with a visit to the area and a novel way to interact with the locals.
Frivolity aside, Shigemizu is deadly serious about promoting the region. “It’s not just about the swords and armour. I want people to feel the culture, eat the food, and feel the real Kagoshima. This is just an introduction to that. Wear the armour, meet the people, eat together, chat, and hopefully become a fan of Kagoshima.”
Niimura-san of Satsuma San‘ei restaurant
Nestled away in a quiet corner of Kagoshima City on the stone paved streets of Shiroyama-cho, Satsuma San’ei is a landmark of the local restaurant scene. Founded in 1932, the restaurant is presently run by the third-generation owner Niimura Yukiko.
Niimura lived close to San’ei as a child and recalls seeing the hustle and bustle of running a popular restaurant saying, “I remember women in kimono coming and going, and traders turning up in their vans with fresh fish and vegetables. During opening hours, it was a battle against time to get everything finished.”
San’ei became famous as a kappo restaurant; fine dining but slightly cosier than formal kaiseki, with customers generally sitting at a counter near the chef. The founder’s stellar reputation led to him being assigned as the personal chef for the Showa Emperor on each of his visits to Kagoshima.
Niimura never planned on taking over the restaurant and moved to the UK for university and work, before taking up a career in marketing in Tokyo. On a visit back home, she found a book written by her grandfather containing his philosophy on food, cooking, and life, and was inspired to take over the business.
She says “At first I had terrible arguments with my dad about how San’ei should be run. I’d come back to Kagoshima with all these new ideas but none of the experience.” Niimura, encouraged by the words of her grandfather, overcame the obstacles she faced and is now going from strength to strength promoting not only the San’ei brand but also Kagoshima cuisine.
A great fan of the outdoors and a wholistic approach to living, Niimura has recently come up with a series of gluten free, high protein recipes based on traditional Kagoshima ingredients. “I love working out and spend days off doing SUP in Kagoshima Bay or playing golf. I’ve always been very conscious of what I eat. My new recipes are simple and delicious Japanese food providing enough energy to fuel an active lifestyle.” While running San’ei Niimura also acts as a consultant for restaurants across Japan, most recently FLUX Café in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Takemoto-san of Coffee Soldier café
One of the go-to spots in Kagoshima City for a decent coffee, Coffee Soldier is located just a short walk from the central Tenmonkan shopping arcade and Terukuni Shrine.
Owner Takemoto Shunichi started out as a pâtissier but changed over to coffee after being inspired by a professional barista and his dedication to trying to make the perfect coffee right in front of the customer. Takemoto says, “When making cakes it’s pretty common to make sponge the night before and chill it overnight. I never really liked this because I always wanted to serve customers freshly made sweets. I thought if I had a shop of my own, I would make everything from scratch on the same day.”
A glance over the chalkboard menu shows the usual line up – latte, cappuccino, espresso; but also, sweeter alternatives like caramel macchiato and an espresso banana shake ideal for the hot Kagoshima summer.
Takemoto recalls how he got started in coffee while lacing the surface of a latte with stokes of white froth. “The barista became my mentor, and I got a job working in his coffee shop.” After several years of studying, Takemoto entered and won the All-Japan Barista Championships twice before opening his own shop in 2013. The third wave of coffee had yet to hit Kagoshima, but Takemoto soon amassed a loyal following via social media promotion and word of mouth.
Takemoto roasts his own coffee beans in-house and evaluates each year’s crop carefully before choosing which varieties to sell. “High quality coffee is affected by factors like sunlight, soil quality, humidity, and timing of the harvest so the quality can vary from year to year,” he says. “At Coffee Soldier we spend a lot of time selecting beans, and we use different beans each year to ensure the highest quality.”
In the future Takemoto hopes to expand the Coffee Soldier brand, selling more beans for people to enjoy at home, and open another store somewhere in Kagoshima. For now, Takemoto sums up his thoughts on travellers visiting the region. “I hope that people visiting Kagoshima can stop by Coffee Soldier, take a break and enjoy premium coffee, lovingly made one cup at a time.”