Since I’ve lived in Kagoshima, there are few places I’ve found that can match the natural beauty and magnificent splendor found at the Sarugajo Ravine in Tarumizu City. Just a short, ten-minute drive from the Tarumizu Ferry Port, and located at the foot of the Takakuma Mountains, is the entrance to Sarugajo. The narrow path up to the mountain caused me to tense up and hold my breath as I climbed it in my large car, but this was a brief inconvenience that was quickly relieved once I pulled into the parking lot.
A prefectural nature park, Sarugajo (which is Japanese for “castle of the monkeys”) is located at the western border of Tarumizu on Kagoshima’s Osumi Peninsula. The first thing I noticed on my initial visit was the sturdy, metal bridge connecting one side of the ravine to the other, while a river gushed below. Swimming in this area proved problematic due to the many rocks, strong current and shallow depth. But fortunately, there is a larger, deeper, and calmer part just a short walk to the east.
Here is the principle area many people find themselves in when they visit Sarugajo. Despite the numerous hiking paths, including one that leads you to stunning Japanese red pines on the cliff of Touken Mountain, Sarugajo’s river is almost certainly the most popular attraction. The fresh water that comes from the Takakuma Mountains is ranked among the best in Japan, and it’s this same water that flows through Sarugajo. On hot summer days, there are few things I can think of that are more refreshing than a swim in here, with the mountains providing a gentle shade from the sun. But even here, the current can be difficult to fight through when getting in and to deal with this, a safety rope has been strung along from one end of the river to the other. Jumping in the cool water and pulling myself along this rope, fighting against the current, proved to be a lot more fun than I initially thought! Make sure you’ve got a waterproof bag or leave your things in the car, though, or your things could very well get real soaked, real quick!
Sarugajo is quite the popular spot. On warm days, there’s almost guaranteed to be some people cooling off in the water. More adventurous swimmers climb up the small cliffs and jump into the water. My first visit to the ravine, I encountered some of my students enjoying a day off in the water. “Let’s jump in together!” one of my students told me, in a phrase he delivered in English. In fact, jumping from the rocks is such a common occurrence, that there are even a pair of ropes hanging from a strong tree, perfect for swinging.
After all, when in the castle of the monkeys, one should follow the custom!