Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san) is the largest active volcano in Japan. Aso ia a group of mountains consists of five peaks - Mt Neko, Mt Taka, Mt Naka (Nakadake), Mt Eboshi and Mt Kishima.
In the center of the caldera, Mount Nakadake's crater is accessible to tourists. It is important to note that though the crater is not also open, sometimes partially and other times completely closed off due to emission of volcanic gas.
Unfortunately, on the day of my visit the eruption level alert was raised to Level 2 and entry around the surroundings were restricted.
Let me digress a little with another bit of story. I bought the 3-day Northern Kyushu SunQ pass because for some reasons unknown, I mistook that Takachiho is in Kumamoto. Unknown reasons because I can't explain why I misread the map every single time I checked and that was many times, which resulted to me buying a northern pass. Takachiho is in Miyazaki Prefrecture and unfortunately for me, not covered under the Northern Kyushu pass that I bought. On the minor bright side though, the loss I incurred wasn't too much but don't be silly like me.
Seat reservation for Kyushu Odan bus
If you have a SunQ pass and want to reserve a seat for Kyushu Odan bus, it can be made by:
Within Japan phone: 096-354-4845 (08:00-19:00).
International call: 002-81-96-354-4845 (08:00-19:00)
In person: At Kumamoto Kotsu Center
Online: http://www.atbus-de.com (must be in Japanese only, won't work in other language including google translate, else it would ask for payment)
I've put it here because you'll need to call different bus center depending on which bus you would be travelling with. I managed to make a reservation online for Mt Aso - Kurokawa Onsen trip but the rest I reserved in person at Kumamoto Kotsu Center. If you are buying the tickets online, there would be no issue with bus reservation.
Back to Mt Aso. The reason for the above side story was I initially made seat reservation the day I landed at Fukuoka Airport and Nakadake crater was open for visit. However, when I went in to Kumamoto Bus Terminal to check which bus stop that departs to Takachiho the day before, I saw a notice at the ticketing office that access to the crater has been closed. I decided to still go even though the crater is not accessible.
Getting to Mt Nakadake crater from Kumamoto
This was my initial plan plus seat reservation timing (reservation made 4 days before) on the first leg of commute, thinking it would give me a bit more time to get to the crater.
06:50 - 08:55 Kumamoto Kotsu Center - Mt Aso station (Yamabiko Express)
09:20 - 09:55 Mt Aso station - Asosan Nishi Station (This is where one gets on the Mt Aso Loop Shuttle Bus to the crater)
(Note: When I am blogging this post, I cannot find this bus timing again... so please recheck!)
Mt Aso Loop Shuttle Bus, which runs every 15-20 minutes and costs ¥1,200 for return trip.
(Asosan Ropeway is suspended due to earthquake damage, Mt Aso Loop Shuttle Bus is ropeway replacement)
When I found out that the crater is not open for access, I requested to amend my seat reservation to a later time. In addition, for some reason I cannot find the 09:20 bus from Mt Aso to Asosan Nishi Station when I am searching now, so it is probably a blessing in disguise.
Anyway, this was my revised seat timing (Kyushu Odan bus) - reservation made a day before travel
07:44 - 09:27 Kumamoto Kotsu Center - Mt Aso station
09:40 - 10:15 Mt Aso station - Asosan Nishi Station
Asosan Nishi Station (阿蘇山西駅)
Coin locker: ¥300
Building wise, there isn't much at Asosan Nishi Station. Just this one.
Good view though but I didn't trek far.
Then I took the bus to Kusasenri.
|Here's the link to all the stops|
Kusasenri is a prairie with background of Mt Naka, complete with grazing horses. Opposite the prairie is a large building which houses some shops, eating places and a museum. At the back area of the building is a lookout point.
I carried my backpack when I was at Kusasenri, simply because I felt wasteful to have left my luggage at Asosan nishi station for such a short period of time. Ideally I would've left my backpack at Asosan Station but I was running out of time and didn't want to miss the connecting bus. There were more coin lockers at Asosan Station but at ¥600. Thank goodness my backpack wasn't that heavy!
|Inside the museum - the free bits|
I missed getting the ikinari dango to try when I was a Suizenji. A shop before the entrance of Suizenji was selling some ikinari dango but closed after my visit. So when I saw it again at Mt Aso, I got one to try.
After breaking the dango I had into half, it looked like this. Guess I need to work on breaking food prettily as it doesn't look like the ones I saw online. It doesn't taste like the rest of dango and the sweet potato tasted prominent. Quite yummy despite the look.
|Ikinari dango, ¥160|
A volcanic cone in Aso that is about 50 meters in height on northern slopes of Nakadake.
|From the bus|
Returning to Mt Aso station from Kusasenri
12:35 - 13:03 Kusasenri - Mt Aso station
I took the 12:35 bus back to Mt Aso station so that I could make the 14:12 bus towards Kurokawa Onsen. That also gave me some time to grab lunch. I didn't go to far but just settled for a hot meal at a shop adjacent to the station. I had curry beef rice with salad, ¥850.
There's also a nearby tourist info that comes with a marketplace. There were cooked food including bentos on sale. As I had already eaten, I settled for a milk cheese pudding dessert. I also almost bought a box of dango as they were yummy but put it back because the expiry was within a week's time.
|Yummm - on the way to Kurokawa Onsen|
Side note: Detective Conan, episode 720-721 (Aso part episode 720)