Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san), located in Kyushu's Kumamoto prefecture, is the largest active volcano in Japan, with one of the world's largest calderas.
The active volcano of Aso brings quite a significant number of tourists to the small town of Aso. If you come by train you can find a Tourist Information center inside the train station itself or at Michi No Eki Aso (The building on the left when you get out of the station).
Aso is on the JR Hohi line, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Kumamoto by local train (¥1110, 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; ¥2240). Buses departure from Kumamoto Station, Kumamoto Kotsu Center (Bus Terminal), and Kumamoto Airport.
Kumamoto connects to Hakata in Fukuoka, and to Kagoshima via the Kyushu Shinkansen or JR Kagoshima line.
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.
The region is loaded with excellent places to see besides the volcano, and it is highly recommended to rent a car as the best way to tour the area.
There are two cable car lines up to the mountain. Aso Nishi (west) cable car station is easily reached by bus from Aso station (¥540 each way). 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 when it is open.
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-san. Five separate volcanic peaks, one of which is still active, are collectively known as Aso-san. The active Mt. Nakadake is the main draw, providing a constant stream of sulfuric steam that occasionally shuts down the area. The other peaks are interesting too however, and provide some excellent short to medium length hikes, with some stunning views. edit
||WARNING: The volcano spews poisonous sulfurous gases from the crater of Mt. Nakadake. Frequently over the last several years, the amount of gases becomes hazardous and approaching the crater is not allowed. If you want to check before starting your hike, the owner of the youth hostel is able to tell whether everything is in operation. Or before your trip, please check this link: Mount Aso restriction page
- Aso Volcano Museum. edit
- Aso Shrine. An old shrine dedicated to the gods of harvest and planting. Was severely damaged in the earthquake in 2016 japan-guide edit
- Aso Osaru-no Sato Saru-mawashi, 793 Shimono, ☎ +81 967 351341. This theater has man and a monkey stage shows. edit
- Daikanbo This is a lookout at the edge of the caldera that when the weather is clear offers a spectacular view over the entire area. Renting a car is needed to get there, or book a bus tour of the region from an urban travel agency.
- Nabegataki Falls Another beautiful gem in the area is this hidden waterfall, where you can actually walk behind the falls. There is no train or public bus access to it, however.
- Kuju Flower Park One of the most beautiful flower gardens in the region, when in season you can see a huge number of gorgeous flowers in bloom.
- Kurokawa Hot Springs More famous among the locals and unknown to the tourist guidebook "experts", Kurokawa is one of Japan's most beautiful hot spring areas, made up of about 30 hot spring inns and famous for its forest outdoor hot spring baths (rotenburo). Access is only by car or bus. From Aso Stn. it takes 50 minutes and a ticket costs ¥1200. Get a Rotenburo Meguri Tegata pass for ¥1300 and you can visit any three of almost all of the hot spring places during the daytime, including some of the most expensive inns. It can be a great place for an overnight, though not for the frugal.
- Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine One of Japan's most surreal shrines, with moss growing all around you in summer and trees towering over your ascent. But extremely inconvenient to reach without a car.
- Milk Road For those driving, this section of Rte 339 just a bit NW of Aso City has has magnificent views over the caldera.
- Shiroyama Viewpoint Another beautiful vantage point is Shiroyama, with nice views over the patchwork of rice fields down below. Driving required.
- Yamabuki Springhead You'll need a car to reach this beautiful green area NE of the volcano, but you'll be tremendously rewarded with magnificent green scenery as you watch 30 tons of water per minute flow out to join the Ubuyama River.
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. When running, 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 day's hiking. If you're interested, there's an excellent topographic Aso Trekking Guide Map available, (ask where you're staying), but the Aso Guide Map available on the mountain shows hiking trails and is adequate for most hikers. The routes around Mt. Nakadake are marked very well; you get a small map with routes and 'You are here' mark every 15-20 minutes of hiking. The best reward-for-effort hike is up Mt. Kijimadake. Take the shuttle to the Aso Volcano museum, and walk to the far end of the parking lot to find the trail between two small teepees. The peak provides an incredible view of the area, and can be reached in 30-45 minutes, depending on your fitness level. (It's steep.)
- There are also several hot spring resorts around Aso. Contact the Aso tourist information office for more information. It would be prudent to set up a reservation ahead of time however, especially for weekends and during peak seasons.
- 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.
Just next to the train station, at Michi No Eki Aso, various local products are on sale. You can find fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, milk, handmade lunchboxes, sweets and so on. Everything here is cultivated or produced in Aso City.
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) edit
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 next to Aso JR Station at Michi No Eki Aso. 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. edit
- Aso Base, (500m from JR station), ☎ 0967-34-0408, . checkout: 11:00. It is a little pricy, but worth every cent. Minutes from the Aso Station, spotlessly clean, perfectly organized, laundry, nice kitchen, cozy fire, you name it - they have it. You can borrow a trekking map for free, and the staff is quite helpful. Free wi-fi, but you have to pay ¥100 for 30 minutes on the provided computers. Dorm ¥2800, Twin ¥6000, Double ¥6600. edit
- 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 owners provide pickup and drop service from and to the nearest bus/train stop if required, although the house can be easily reached in 20 minutes walking. 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 ¥1500, Double/Group Rooms ￥2000/person Single ￥3500. edit
- Guesthouse Asobigokoro (ゲストハウス阿蘇び心), Kurokawa211 (1.6km from JR Aso station), ☎ 0967-34-0315 ([email protected]), . checkin: 15:00~21:00; checkout: ~10:00. This is a beautifully converted Japanese house. Free pickup from the train station. Cute rooms with a nice kitchen, free tea and lovely English speaking staff. Dorm(Male/Female separated) ￥2,500 / Private room (2~4Presons)￥2,800 (1person use ￥4,000). edit
- Kumamoto Famous for its large castle (currently under extensive repairs) and beautiful Suizenji Garden.
- Takamori Small rural town on Aso's SE edge with nice natural scenery and a surreal shrine.
- Takachiho One of Japan's most beautiful gorges with a waterfall and boats to row by it. Car or bus access only.
- Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park A beautiful area for volcanic hiking, with several waterfalls and flower fields.
- Kagoshima If you still want more volcano action, go see Sakurajima, the beautiful Senganen Garden, and history of one of Japan's most dynamic regions.
- Beppu Another big hot spring place in Kyushu, along with its Hells Tour and one of Japan's most geologically active places.
- Yufuin Yet one more famous hot spring area, more tranquil than Beppu and very relaxing.
- Nagasaki One of Japan's most interesting and unique cities, and not at all because of its recent history.
- Fukuoka Kyushu's largest and most active city, with a relaxing atmosphere, urban nightlife, famous tonkotsu ramen, and several beautiful gardens.