Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the largest on earth. Located on the island of Kyushu, it also has one of the world’s largest calderas and reaches 1592 meters above sea level at its highest point. Visitors can walk or take a rope-way right up to the edge of the crater, as long as the wind is bowing the noxious fumes in the other direction. The caldera also presents numerous hiking opportunities and a large, green meadow just below the crater offers the chance to both ride horse and to eat them. Read about my visit to Aso here.
Best Time to Go
Winters in the caldera can get quite cold and last much longer than in the lower lying areas. On the flip side, summers are nowhere near as hot and uncomfortable. Late spring and early autumn are the best seasons, mainly due to the heavy rainfall in the summer months. Precipitation is pretty heavy all year round though, so don’t let that deter you from a summer visit. It really is a nice break from the heat and humidity of Japan’s coastal areas.
Getting to Mount Aso
The town of Aso lies on the JR Hohi Line, which connects Kumamoto on the west coast of Kyushu with Beppu on the east coast. A local train from Kumamoto to Aso takes 1hour and 40 minutes and costs ¥1080. An express train runs 4 times per day; it costs ¥2180 and cuts the trip to 65 minutes. You may have to change trains if taking the local, but not with the express.
From Beppu, the trip takes 3 and a half hours and costs ¥2070 by local train; the express takes 2 hours and costs ¥3500.
If coming from Fukuoka, take the JR Kagoshima Line or the JR Kyushu Shinkansen Line (high speed) to Kumamoto and change to the JR Hohi Line.
You can also reach Aso by bus from Kumamoto or Beppu. The Kyushu Odan Bus connects Kumamoto and Beppu, stopping in Aso along the way. It takes 100-140 minutes and costs 1220 yen from Kumamoto; from Beppu it’s 2900 yen and takes 3 and a half hours. From Beppu, you can also take the daily JR Aso Yufu Kogen Bus. It takes 4 and a half hours and costs 2000 yen.
To get to the Nakadake crater from Aso city, take a bus from JR Aso Station. It runs every 1 to 2 hours, costs 540 yen and takes 30 to 40 minutes. It will drop you off at Asosan Nishi Station, from where you either take a short rope-way to the crater for 1000 yen round trip or walk for 30 minutes.
If you have a car, you can drive all the way up to the crater, but will have to pay a 560 yen toll for the stretch from the bottom of the rope-way to the top.
You’ll find a bunch of ryokan (Japanese style inns) and hot spring resorts in the caldera, but there are a few budget options as well. If you know some Japanese or know someone who does, your best bet is probably one of the minshuku (a less-fancy, and thus less expensive ryokan) in the area.
Otherwise, you’ll find a few hostels, also. The cheapest is the Guesthouse Little Asia. It has English-speaking owners, its own hot spring and beds starting at 1500 yen, but it is located in the south Aso area which is nowhere near Aso Station (it’s actually near Choyo Station on the Minamiaso Tetsudo Line).
If you prefer to stay closer to town, Aso Base Backpackers is probably the best option. It’s a bit more expensive, with beds going for 2800 yen and up, but it’s also nicer and more conveniently located, at least for those who do not have their own transportation. It’s a 2-minute walk from Aso Station to the hostel and another 2 minutes to the nearest hot spring.
Eating & Drinking
Most restaurants and convenience stores are located near Aso Station. There was also a beer vending machine in the area back when I was there, but I’m not sure if that will still be around. You can try grilled horse meat at the Asosan Nishi Station at the base of the rope way.
Things to Do
- Mt. Nakadake Crater: active volcanic crater that spews fumes and ash; lava can be visible after dark; surrounded by concrete bunkers where visitors can take shelter in case of an eruption (not sure how safe I’d feel sitting in one of those with lave flowing all around me…); closed when the wind blows the fumes toward the visitor area; you can take the rope-way up for 1000 yen round trip or spend 30 minutes hiking up; if you have a car, you can drive to the top but will have to pay a toll of 560 yen
- Hiking: you’ll find numerous hiking trails in the area to keep you busy as long as you like; the Aso Guide Map available on the mountain shows most hiking trails, but there’s actually a much more detailed Aso Trekking Guide Map; ask your guesthouse about it, if interested; you can also just start walking somewhere, which is what we did
- Hot springs: there are a bunch of hot springs in the area and wherever you are staying, there’s probably one nearby; most resorts and ryokan will have one attached to their property
Money Saving Tips
- stay in a hostel dorm or a minshuku
- walk up to the crater (30 minutes) instead of paying for the cable car