Spotlight: Mt Aso (Kumamoto Prefecture)

For those of you that read this blog regularly, you’re probably aware that I’ve recently moved to Kyushu. This whole island is known as the “land of fire”, for good reason. There are more active volcanos here than on any other part of the archipelago. And one of them – for better or worse – just happens to be on my doorstep.

Mt Aso (or Aso-san, san meaning mountain, not an honorific term) has one of the world’s largest caldera. What does this mean? Just that long ago, a massive volcano collapsed in upon itself and formed a basin over 25 kilometers wide. The current active crater of Mt Aso (Nakadake crater) lies, in all its smoking glory, inside this enormous cauldron, along with a few other peaks.

One of the Aso peaks
One of the Aso peaks

You can get to Aso by public transportation but, and this is said from the pure bias of one who owns a car, this is a great region to explore with your own set of wheels. Coming from Kumamoto, the north road snakes up the mountain, through forested patches and treeless plateaus that resemble the Scottish Highlands. Near the top of the route, there’s a great spot to look down on the Kome-zuka, a grassy, extinct volcano that resembles the rice bowl for which its named.

Extinct volcano "komezuka"
Extinct volcano “komezuka”

A few hundred meters further on, the Aso Volcano Museum sits at the edge of the Kusasenri Plain (a great area for walking in the warmer months). Truth be told, the exhibits are a yawn, with the exception of the live cam feed that shows what’s, er, cooking in the nearby active Nakadake Crater.

And this is certainly the crater to see. If the weather and the volcano cooperate, you can actually peer over the edge and watch the vapors roil out of the ground. Both a toll road and a ropeway run up to the crater; once there, a paved walkway makes a half loop around the active areas. If things get a little dicey eruption-wise, there are multiple cement shelters built to protect viewers from flying rocks and debris.

The active Nakadake crater
The active Nakadake crater

Buses run from Kumamoto to Ason town and from there on to the crater. For up to the minute news on the volcano’s activity and other information, check out the excellent Mt Aso homepage.

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