We had been to Kagoshima on our first Japan cruise almost 10 years ago. Back then we had taken a tour to the island where the volcano is, though all I really remember is that it was drizzling most of the time and we didn't get many pictures. You can see the blog from that day here. Although I don't remember there being as much smoke from the volcano then as there was on this trip, our last visit was just two months before there was a massive eruption that sent ashes 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the sky.
This time we had booked an excursion with the cruise line that would take us to Lake Ikeda and then to the Chiran Samurai Residence Village. Although the tour was 6.5 hours long at least a couple of hours of that was spent on a bus going to and from Lake Ikeda, with a stop on the way back at the Samurai village. And of course, given that we were all from a cruise ship, there was lunch in there as well or else they'd risk a mutiny on the bus.
Our first stop, Lake Ikeda is the largest lake in Kyūshū island, the island Kagoshima is located on. It was formed from the caldera of a now extinct volcano. In the background of the picture below is the distinctive cone of Mount Kaimon, another volcano which erupted 800 years ago.
Some believe that lake Ikeda contains a monster named Issie, similar to the Loch Ness monster Nessie.
During the Pax Tokugawa era, a period of relative peace in Japan from 1603 to 1868, Samurai were resettled into villages. Below is a garden in one of those homes in the Chiran Samurai village.
Each Samurai homes is surrounded by a high stone wall and looks almost like a mini-castle. Many of the homes are still occupied by descendants of Japanese Samurai, the house having been passed down generation to generation for hundreds of years. Each house has a garden, though most aren't quite as elaborate as the one in the picture above. Most are rock gardens with no water at all. They all have a peaceful almost serene feeling about them.The Japan Experience website has more information on the Chiran Samurai Residence Garden.