Visit Kumamoto where you can find culture and natural beauty
Kumamoto Prefecture is located in the center of Kyushu, the southwest part of Japan. It is a place rich in natural beauty with a grand mountain range and shining blue ocean. Kumamoto has a popular PR character called “Kumamon”. The center of Kumamoto Prefecture is Kumamoto City where the atmosphere of this 400 year old castle town still remains.
The most common way is to get to Kumamoto Station is by Kyushu Shinkansen from Hakata Station in Fukuoka City (about 40 min). Kumamoto City also has some highlights, so you should stop by before going to Aso.
Kumamoto Castle, known as the “impregnable castle”, is one of the most famous castles in Japan and was selected top of the 2015 “Best castles worth visiting in Japan” by TripAdvisor. You can enjoy the view of the strong and powerful castle surrounded by many watchtowers and stone walls piled up high.
Suizenji Jojuen Garden has a Japanese traditional style of garden where you walk around a pond in the center. It is a place you should not miss. You can take a stroll around the pond where underground water from Aso wells up.
You can get to Aso area from Kumamoto Station in about 1 hour and 15 minutes by JR limited express train. The limited express “Aso Boy” is equipped with panorama seats from where you can have a great view of the scenery. It runs round-trip twice a day and you can get to Miyaji Station, which is the base for sightseeing trips in Aso, from Kumamoto Station in about 1.5 hours. Reservation is required at the ticket counter of JR before getting on as all seats are assigned.
When going to Aso from Tokyo or Osaka, taking an airplane is convenient. Take “Kyushu Odan Bus” from Kumamoto Airport and you will get to Aso in about an hour. It will be a good idea to reserve online in advance as all seats are assigned (available on English website only).
Aso is dotted with observation spots and has driving courses that are well maintained, so renting a car at Kumamoto Station or Kumamoto Airport and driving around is a good way to see Aso. When you drive in Japan, you need an international driver’s license. You should confirm the details before coming to Japan.
Enjoy one of the most famous grand sights in Japan
The best part of Aso is its rich beauty. It is characterized by one of the largest calderas (a basin created by a volcanic activity), which is about 18km (11 miles) from east to west and about 24km (15 miles) from north to south. It has been designated as a “Global Geopark”.
The caldera was formed by eruptions that occurred 4 times between about 270 thousand years and 90 thousand years ago. More eruptions occurred within the caldera later and the five mountains “Aso Gogaku” were created in the central part. “Daikanbo”, located in one spot on the outer rim surrounding the caldera, has an elevation of around 900m (2,953ft) and commands a panoramic view of Aso Gogaku which looks like the Reclining Buddha (Buddha lying down).
The road that leads from Asodani (Aso valley) in the caldera basin to the north rim of the caldera sometimes looks as if it was floating in the air when a sea of clouds appears . This is a popular spot called “Laputa Road”or “Sky Road” which makes us picture the scenery that appears in “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”, an animation film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. There is no public transportation here, so you should use a rental car or a taxi.
There are many places where you can fully enjoy nature within the caldera and around Aso Gogaku as well. As of October 2015, entry to the area around the crater of Nakadake is limited, but you can see the meadow that spreads over the base. You can enjoy the view of “Komezuka”, a small cone-shaped volcano with a hollow top and the pastoral scenery such as “Kusa-Senrigahama”, the meadow that has a pond, where horses are grazing. You can also see the crater through a live camera in the “Aso Volcano Museum” near Kusa-Senrigahama.
Another highlight of Aso is the flowers with beautiful colors that bloom on the green mountains. You can enjoy azaleas in spring, daily lilies in summer and gentians in autumn.
Come and explore a place where people and nature live harmoniously. There are many spring sources,where the rain fall on Mt. Aso gets filtered underground over a long period of time and springs out of the ground as clean water. Among all of them, “Shirakawa Suigen” is a famous spring source that provides water with high transparency and quality.
“Aso Shrine” has been worshipped locally for a long time and has an atmosphere worth experiencing. It has a matchmaking tree and a rock that makes your wish come true and is known as a place flowing with mystical energy.
Aso is also one of the most famous Onsen resorts in Kumamoto Prefecture. Especially the around Uchinomaki area has plenty of Onsen inns to stay and bathing facilities you can visit for the day to take a bath.
Play in Mother Nature! Aso activity guide
You can also enjoy plenty of activities in Aso that make the most of its vast and rich nature.
Activities such as paragliding, flying and looking down at the beautiful green meadow under your eyes, are especially popular. If you are a Japanese speaker, you can take advantage of a solo flight where you run down a small hill and fly in the air. If you are not confident alone or don’t have enough time or are not confident with your Japanese, there is also a two-people course to fly with an instructor. Participate in comfortable clothes (such as pants and sneakers). It also feels good to experience looking down on Mother Nature from a hot-air balloon. Both paragliding and hot-air balloon flights require a reservation in advance by phone or email.
※Hot-air balloon flights are available in the early morning only. Check the details and conditions for each activity when making a reservation
※It may be cancelled at the last minute due to weather, so the phone number that the shop can reach you must be provided.
Horse-riding in the vast meadow is also recommended. Riding on a horse, with a staff guiding the horse by the reins, is enjoyable for beginners. This type of horse-riding is available on the day you visit without advance reservation at most places.
Aso is a place where you can be filled with the beauty of Mother Nature from one of the most famous grand sights in the world to a variety of activities and relaxing Onsen. Visit Aso and feel the dynamic activity of the earth.