All About Japan

'Road to Laputa' Scenery Gone for Good?

Ghibli Natural Japan Kumamoto Kyushu

Mount Aso is a volcano in Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu. On one ridge of its caldera, which is one of the largest in the world, a narrow path can be found which seems to weave its way through the clouds, as if whisking you off to the beautiful floating island of Laputa, seen in Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky.

The resemblance is so strong that the path has been dubbed “The Road to Laputa,“ a little-known scenic gem we were lucky enough to visit and that warrants a spot on anybody’s Japan bucket list. The path has glorious views across the caldera and much of Kumamoto Prefecture, rural beauty far away from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s major cities.

According to the Kumamoto Nichinichi Shimbun Newspaper, on August 22 Aso City Council announced that it's considering closing down the Road to Laputa despite its popularity with tourists. The path and the road that leads to it, known as the “Milk Road,” took extensive damage during last year’s Kumamoto earthquakes and also landslides caused by the period of heavy rain which followed. If repairs were to be made, it’s estimated that it would cost the city over ¥10 billion (US$91.6 million).

While technically still accessible (although with large signs forbidding entry) the damage has left both the road and path in a serious state of disrepair and further landslides still a possibility. These Twitter users braved the walk to record the damage, but we imagine even they wouldn’t be foolhardy enough to try it during the misty weather that gave the Road to Laputa its name.

The Aso City Council has applied for the case to be assessed by the national government. If the government considers the damage to be disaster-related and sufficiently important, the city may receive financial support, although the council has already stated that even with subsidies the cost of repair may be more of a burden than the city can bear, suggesting that the best chances to see the Road to Laputa might be behind us.

If the road does end up being permanently closed and you (quite rightly) don’t fancy taking your chances on the landslide-susceptible hill in foggy weather, there is an alternative in the form of the beautiful ruins of Takeda Castle in Hyogo Prefecture which caught at the right time appear to be nestled by a sea of clouds, and can also lay claim to being the real-life Laputa.

Takeda Castle is also a little off the beaten track, to the north of Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.

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