All About Japan

6 Geothermal Days in the 'Land of Fire'

| Visit Kyushu , Kyushu

DAY 3-4

Day 3

Beppu Onsen Accommodations → Take the Kyushu Odan Tokkyu (2 hrs) to Aso Station → Tour around Mount Aso (Cuddly Dominion, etc.) → Travel to Uchinomaki Onsen accommodations.

• JR Aso Station is a small station, but key to navigating the area. After you exit the station, you'll find the bus pick-up point on the left-hand side.
• Be aware that buses from Aso Station run fairly infrequently (usually about once per hour). Be sure to plan your travel time carefully!
• If you'd like to ascend the Nakadake crater in the center of Mount Aso, take the bus 35 minutes from Aso Station to Asosan Nishi Station (the access point for the Asosan Ropeway). While you can walk to the top of the crater (about 30 min), we recommend taking the Asosan Ropeway to save some energy for enjoying the view of the whole group of Aso volcanoes. Note that access to the crater is sometimes restricted due to volcanic activity, so be sure to check this site for the latest information.
• Also, please refer to the site below for the latest information about bus service in the area.

7. Mount Aso Caldera

7. Mount Aso Caldera

Kumamoto is renowned for its expansive, verdant mountains, the most prominent being Mount Aso. This massive volcano is now marked predominantly by a huge crater basin shaped by major volcanic eruptions 90,000 and 30,000 years ago. The volcano is still active today, and Kumamoto is even now known as the "Land of Fire."

Located to the northwest of Mount Aso, the Kikuchi Valley presents a stunning forest ecology, marked by maple trees that turn brilliant colors in autumn. Meanwhile, Kumamoto's high volcanic activity has created a huge number of hot springs (onsen) in the region, and you can even find old-fashioned hot spring towns in the huge caldera of Mount Aso itself. If you'd like to experience more classic hot springs in the region, you can also visit the renowned Kurokawa Onsen, located to the northeast of Mount Aso.

Meanwhile, Kusasenri is a broad, grassy plain located about 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) west of the volcanic crater in the center of the caldera. Panoplied with various restaurants, it's a great spot to stop for a bite to eat and take in the scenic view of both the grassland and the steaming central volcano.

*As this is a geologically active area, please refer to the page below for the latest information on road and access restrictions.

8. Aso Tour

a) Cuddly Dominion
This animal park offers roughly 100 species of animals and a variety of enjoyable animal shows. A big feature is being able to come in close contact with the animals, and even being able to touch many of them. If you'd like to add even more adventure to your day, you can also try a panoramic helicopter tour that takes off from the park. The experience is great for adults and children alike!

Address: 2163 Kurokawa, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 25 minutes’ walk from Aso Station, or 5 minutes by taxi

b) Monzenmachi Shopping Street
Located in front of Aso Shrine is Monzenmachi Shopping Street, where natural spring water gushes out from public Artesian wells. The water is extremely pure, and drinking it is said to bring you various kinds of good fortune. Of course, apart from the delightful springs, the classic shops are worth exploring as well!

Address: 1859 Miyaji, Ichinomiyamachi, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 20 minutes’ walk from Miyaji Station

c) Daikanbo
Daikanbo is the highest peak on the northern outer rim of Mount Aso's caldera. From here you can see the five peaks of the Aso and Kuju mountain range, a view called the Nehan-zo (Nirvana Buddha) because the profile of the peaks looks like a sleeping Buddha. The viewing platform allows you to look down on the streets of Aso City, and you can also find souvenir shops and restaurants nearby.

Adddress: 2090-8 Yamada, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 30 minutes from Miyaji Station by taxi, or take the Sanko Bus for Tsuetate and get off at Daikanbo Iriguchi (40 minutes)

d) El Patio Ranch
En route to Beppu is El Patio Ranch, a 30,000 tsubo ranch (10 hectares/24 acres)—the largest in western Japan. You can experience the fun of riding in the midst of a 360-degree panorama of Mount Aso. No booking is required, and the food is very filling as well. There's plenty to enjoy, whether you're a seasoned rider or it's your first time in the saddle. There are also restaurants, hotels and other facilities arranged in the style of the American west.

Address: 2305-1 Sanno, Ichinomiya-machi, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 20 minutes from Miyaji Station by taxi

e) Kusasenri
Kusasenri's vast grassland was once a crater that has now been covered with a swath of green. Horses and cattle stroll the plain and drink from the pond. A popular travel spot, visitors can trot across the grasslands on horseback or enjoy themselves on the grass.

Address: Kusasenri-ga-hama, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 30 minutes from Aso Station by taxi, or 30 minutes by Aso Crater Line bus from Aso Station to Kusasenri Kazan Hakubutsukan-mae bus stop

f) Aso Volcano Museum
Providing information about volcanic activity and more, this is an important facility that supports and complements the research, sightseeing and culture of Mount Aso. If you can't go up the mountain itself, you can come here and learn more about Mount Aso while you're in the area. Please refer to the official website (Japanese) for the latest opening hours.

Address: 1930-1 Akamizu, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: Same as Kusasenri above

9. Uchinomaki Onsen

9. Uchinomaki Onsen

Uchinomaki Onsen is a hot spring village located to the north of Aso Station, offering relaxing open-air baths with incredible views of Mount Aso and the broad surrounding horizons. The village is full of traditional accommodations with friendly, intimate service, where you can enjoy classic Japanese meals. The Aso Plaza Hotel is a great option after a long day of volcano viewing!

Address: 1287 Uchinomaki, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 10 minutes by taxi from Aso Station

- (Japanese)

Day 4

Aso Station → Take the Kyushu Odan Bus (90 min) to Kumamoto Station → Tour Kumamoto (Josaien, Kumamoto Castle, Kumamon Square) → Kumamoto accommodations.

10. Sakuranobaba Josaien

10. Sakuranobaba Josaien

Sakuranobaba Josaien is a tourist dining, shopping and culture area in the shadow of Kumamoto Castle, designed in the style of the Edo Period (1603-1868). It's a great place to try local produce and specialty food from Kumamoto. You may also catch sight of leaders from the Warring States Period (1467-1590) wandering the area—great for photo ops!

Address: 1-1-1 Ninomaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: 15 minutes by city tram from Kumamoto Station to Kumamoto Castle/City Hall stop, then walk 7 minutes

11. Kumamoto Castle

11. Kumamoto Castle

One of Japan's Three Famous Castles, Kumamoto Castle was built by the renowned Warring States Period daimyo Kato Kiyomasa between 1601 and 1607. Built atop a hill known as Mount Chausu, the castle grounds have a circumference of about 5.3 kilometers (3.3 mi). Its black-and-white, Momoyama-style construction combines triangular Chidori gables with undulating, wing-like Kara gables. Kumamoto Castle is also known as Ginkgo Castle thanks to the large ginkgo tree growing by the central keep, said to have been planted by Kato Kiyomasa himself. The keep actually consists of two connected towers, while the finished castle under Kiyomasa had some 49 turrets, conferring unto it a truly majestic scale.

Upon entering the castle you may be welcomed by samurai, merchants and ninja from the Warring States Period, offering another fun photo opportunity. Inside the castle tower are displayed ancient relics belonging to the castle lords, including weapons and other items. Within the castle grounds you can also find various stone walls, turrets, wells and moats.

*The castle is presently inaccessible. However, you can see the central keep and its surrounds from the adjacent Ninomaru Square and Kato Shrine.

Address: 1-1 Honmaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Access: Immediately northeast from Sakuranobaba Josaien

12. Kumamon Square

12. Kumamon Square

Kumamon Square is the main office for Kumamon, selected as Japan’s most popular mascot character in 2011. Kumamon is the official mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture, and this is where all his activities are organized, be they local or overseas. If you want to know anything about Kumamoto or Kumamon, this is the place to go!

Address: 8-2 Tetori-honcho, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto
Access: 8 minutes' walk east of Kumamoto Castle

Dining Recommendations (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Dining Recommendations (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Kumamoto Ramen
Ajisen Ramen has branches in a dozen countries worldwide, including the U.S. and China, but it actually originated in Kumamoto. See how it compares to the taste in your home country! Take the Kumamoto tram system A Line to Shiritsu Taiikukan-mae and walking about nine minutes east. The main branch of Ajisai is located right next to the main entrance of the Kumamoto Prefectural Office.

Address: 6-20-24 Suizenji, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture

New Kusasenri
New Kusasenri is located by the Kusasenri plain and combines a café, restaurant and shopping area. The spot is particularly famous for its delicious red beef, or akagyu. The complex is located one minute's walk from Kusasenri Kazan Hakubutsukan-mae bus stop. Please refer to the website above (Japanese) for the latest information on business hours.

Address: 2391-15 Nagakusa, Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Yamami Chaya (Josaien)
Sakuranobaba Josaien has many local specialty shops. At Yamami Chaya you can taste the rare Takamori Dengaku, a kind of traditional farmers' cuisine from east of Aso, featuring taro, tofu, konnyaku and river fish covered in pepper miso sauce and roasted on a skewer.

Address: 1-14 Ninomaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture