Well, January hasn’t even ended yet and I was already fortunate enough to check off one of my travel goals for 2014 the other weekend. My family and I made the rather reasonable drive to Kagoshima for a few days of exploration. We took the ferry over to Sakurajima to see the smoking volcano, hiked in frigid Kirishima National Park and appeased our toddler with a dolphin show at the Kagoshima Aquarium. Before we rolled out on our final day, we also stopped in at the Museum of the Meiji Restoration near Kagoshima’s main train station (Kagoshima Chuo).
Truthfully, this museum isn’t for everyone. It helps to have some sort of knowledge about Japanese history and the power transfer from the two and a half centuries of closed-door rule by the shoguns to the forward-thinking Emperor Meiji. And a lot of the focus is, deservedly, on the role the Shimazu clan (who ruled present day Kagoshima during the Edo Period), a fairly unsung group in the international history books. For some visitors, it all may be a bit obscure.
But if you’re curious about Japanese history and don’t mind a good mannequin show (more on that in a minute), this museum is actually a very worthwhile stop. Staff will greet you at the entrance with free English-language headsets. TAKE THEM. The museum will be a bit of a jumble without them and they have some great information on there.
The upper floor chronicles the history of Satsuma province in the 1800s, that period of upheaval that saw the end of the shogunate and the first conflict-filled decades of the Meiji Period. There is a section on the schools that inspired Satsuma students to be the country’s future leaders, a corner dedicated to politician-turned-revolutionary Saigo Takamori, and a corner on the Satsuma Rebellion, Satsuma’s response to the brazen policies of the new Meiji government.
Downstairs, there are two wings on how Satsuma led Japan in industrial development and a theater that features two 30 minute programs starring animatronics characters. Sounds cheesy, sure, and it is a bit but there’s a plug under each seat that gives you an impeccable English translation of the show and the stories presented are rather interesting. One follows (mostly) the life of Saigo Takamori and his efforts to bring about the fall of the shogunate. The second presentation focuses on the small delegation of young men from Satsuma who were sent to England in the 1850s (when Japan was still essentially closed off) in an effort to learn as much as possible about the rest of the world.
If you have a few minutes to kill in the Kagoshima Chuo neighborhood and you happen to be a Saigo Takamori fan (and if not, I wouldn’t mention that aloud in Kagoshima 😉 ), this museum makes for a good hour’s visit. You can check out their website here for opening times and details.