Spotlight: Museum of the Meiji Restoration (Kagoshima)

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.

Museum of the Meiji Restoration
Museum of the Meiji Restoration

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.

Upstairs exhibits
Upstairs exhibits

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.

4 thoughts on “Spotlight: Museum of the Meiji Restoration (Kagoshima)

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  1. Hi! I am going to Kagoshima to stay for the night before exploring the next morning. I was thinking whether it is too ambitious to cover Sakurajima, Sanganen Gardens and Shiroyama Observatory before I take 3.30pm/4pm train to Hakata.

    If so, what would you suggest I remove? Thank you so much!

    1. Excellent questions, Gerald. I DO think it’s possible if you plan it very carefully and if you only visit the Sakurajima Visitor Center near the ferry port (which has exhibits on the volcano and its history, footbaths outside, and a walking trail signed with good information about previous eruptions). If you wanted to do more on Sakurajima, like take the bus up to one of the viewpoints, then you may find yourself in a bit of a crunch. In that case, I would cut out Shiroyama Observatory. Yes, it does give you good views of the volcano BUT if you are taking the ferry to Sakurajima anyway, the volcano will loom very large in your viewfinder. 🙂 You can also view Sakurajima from Sengan-en, a site I consider much more worth seeing than Shiroyama. I hope that helps!

      1. Thanks for your reply! Alright I will take out Shiroyama it will probably look nicer from Sengan-en. I will have enough time (9am-3.30pm) to head to Sakurajima and Sengan-en?

        Do you happen to know the ferry timetable? And also, is there any food places you recommend? I heard unagi rice is nice.

        It is so cool youre able to stay and explore Japan. I hope that day will come for me too!

      2. Gerald,
        Here is the ferry schedule:
        As for food, the easiest places to eat are either downtown Kagoshima (near the covered arcades) or near the train station. For you, you’ll probably have to grab lunch around the ferry port of either Kagoshima or Sakurajima. There are a few options, but don’t expect anything too fancy or memorable. There are also a handful of eateries inside Sengan-en, which may be a good option.

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