Steaming crater of Mt. Nakadake, Aso
Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san), located in Kyushu's Kumamoto prefecture, is a volcano with a very large caldera.
The active volcano of Aso brings quite a significant number of tourists to the small town of Aso. Aso Tourist Information is located in its own building just beside Aso Station.
Aso is on the JR Hohi line, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Kumamoto by local train (¥1080, change of trains may be required). There is also a limited express, the Kyushu Odan Express (九州横断特急), which makes four daily round trips with no change of trains required (65 minutes; ¥2180).
Kumamoto connects to Hakata in Fukuoka via the Relay Tsubame and Ariake limited express trains, and to Kagoshima via the Relay Tsubame and the Kyushu Shinkansen.
From Beppu you can get there in about 3 hours by bus (¥2950) or 2 hours by train (¥3740)
There are luggage lockers at Aso Station.
There are two cable car lines up to the mountain. Aso Nishi (west) cable car station is easily reached by bus from Aso station. The last bus back from Aso Nishi cable car station leaves at 5 pm. You can also hop on and off the bus at the bus stop near the Aso Youth Hostel. If you're driving, a toll road goes right up to the station and if you're prepared to pay, you can actually drive up to the summit of the crater.
Aso Higashi (east) cable car station can be reached by taking a local train to Miyaji station (2 stops from Aso station) and then walking up the road to the cable car station.
- Aso Volcano Museum.
- Aso Shrine. An old shrine dedicated to the gods of harvest and planting.
- Aso Osaru-no Sato Saru-mawashi, 793 Shimono, ☎ +81 967 351341. This theater has man and a monkey stage shows.
- Aso-san. The volcano is still active and sulphuric steam can be seen coming from the Mt. Nakadake crater. However, you should be aware that the summit of the crater has been extensively geared for Japanese mass tourism - paved roads can take you right up to the crater and it can get quite crowded during the peak season. However, if you want to get away from the crowds, you don't have to walk too far.
||WARNING: The mountain spews sulphurous gases from the crater of Mt. Nakadake. Sometimes, when the winds blow from the crater towards the crowds, the cable car lines are shut down, so you might not be able to reach the summit. They will start operating again when the winds turn - sometimes you will only have to wait half an hour or so. If you want to check before starting your hike, the owner of the youth hostel is able to tell whether everything is in operation.
If you have extra cash to spare or you want to have an aerial view of Mount Aso, you can take the helicopter ride, which is not far from the Mount Aso Museum. It costs ¥5000(adult)/¥4500(child) per person for a 4 minute ride, but the view is astonishing!
- Various hiking trails around Aso-san can provide you anything from a nice afternoon walk to a good days hiking. If you're interested, be sure to pickup a hiking map (don't expect a detailed map, it will probably be just an illustrative map) from the friendly Aso youth hostel or from the Aso Tourist Information. Besides - the routes just around the Mt. Nakadake are marked very well, you get a small map with routes and 'You are here' mark every 15-20 minutes of hiking.
- There are also several hot spring resorts around Aso. Contact Aso tourist information office for more information.
- In October, there's an annual country music festival (Country Gold)at Mt. Aso. Distinguished Japanese gentlemen dress in cowboy boots, horse sashimi, American country stars of former decades...all with a smoking volcano in the background.
Besides the usual tourist trinkets you can buy from the Aso Nishi cable car station, there's not much shopping to do around here. Your usual supermarket is a couple of blocks south from the Aso station.
- Kojirō-buchi, 1303-2 Kurokawa (Facing the Aso JR station, turn right and follow the road round and over the railway line. Turn right just before the fire station (look out for the tower), and it's on the left.), ☎ 0967-34-0945, . Friendly, reasonably-priced restaurant. Most dishes involve cooking your own meat using a fire in the centre of the table. Generous portions. ¥1500-¥2000. (32.939307,131.080796)
There are some restaurants and a noodle bar near the station. In Aso Heights, there is a delicious cheese cake. Japanese lunch box can be bought at Aso JR Station. The aso noodles are amazing!!!
- Aso Youth Hostel, 922-2 Bochu, ☎ +81 967 340804, . The youth hostel is quite ascetic, but is cheap and the owner is very helpful. No breakfast, but they sell stuff like instant noodles you can have in the morning. They also have a simple Aso hiking map revealing the different trails around the mountain. It's about 20 minutes walking uphill from Aso-station. They have a very small public bath open from 5PM to 9PM. No wifi and to use Internet, you have to use the prehistoric Windows 98 computer in the hall (if it works), or you can gently ask for a network cable if you are lucky enough. Dorm ¥2000.
- Aso Base, (500m from JR station), ☎ 0967-34-0408, . checkout: 11:00. It is a little pricy, but worth every cent. Spotlessly clean, perfectly organized, nice kitchen, cozy fire, you name it - they have it. Free wifi, but you have to pay ¥100 for 30 minutes on the provided computers. Dorm ¥2800, Twin ¥6000, Double ¥6600.
- Little Asia Guest House (リトルアシア), 3617-7 Kain Aso-mura, Aso-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture, 869-1411, ☎ 0967-67-2155, . checkin: 09:00; checkout: 12:00. This was a really nice family-run operation close to Aso-san. It's easy to get to if you have a car, but you might miss the sign if you're not looking closely. The place was crawling with small kids, but they were cute and well-behaved. The owners were very welcoming, as were the other guests. There is free wireless/wifi available, and they do a family-style dinner every night at 7PM. Guests who want to attend are asked to contribute a small ￥280 fee to help pay for the food. Our room itself was okay. It was a bit damp in the group room, to be honest, but we slept comfortably. The dorm rooms were crowded - there is barely enough space to walk in there with the beds! Though we didn't see this feature while we were there, they apparently have a natural hot spring out back that you can pay ￥300 to use. The wooded lot behind the guest house was really quite nice and if you follow the trail it'll take you to a "secret" waterfall. Dorm ¥2000, Double/Group Rooms ￥2000/person Single ￥3500.