Hyakumeizan: Climbing Japan's 100 Famous Mountains

By Ginger Vaughn

Mt. Aso


I get off the bus at Miyagi Station and begin my two-hour walk to the Asosan trailhead. I am well rested, my pack feels less heavy than usual and the sun is out after a week of rain. I walk slowly, following the train tracks, taking in the cemetery, the few statues and restaurants along the way.

An old man in a paint-splattered uniform is bewildered when I approach him at a fork in the road to inquire about Aso-san. My map also calls this area “land of fire.” He seems as if he doesn’t talk to strangers much but manages to smile and point me in the right direction.

I leave my pack in the visitor’s center where the old woman at the counter yells after me, “You have your water? Map? Jacket?” I laugh and nod my head as I make my way up the easy trail to Asosan.

The national park I was entering has five mountains clustered together and it seems to have been a pet project for the Ministry of Tourism. A huge parking lot connected to a lift takes anyone willing to shell out the yen up the mountain without breaking a sweat.

The trail is flat and easy, and within an hour I am overlooking one of the spewing craters of Mt. Aso. It is a bit windy, and I can smell the sulfur spewing out of active Nakadake, the massive crater mountain in the center. Within two hours, I reach Taka-dake, at 1,592 meters the highest point on Mt. Aso, and then back down again in the visitor’s center parking lot.

I pass an elevated temple on the road down to town and stop to watch the monk in his yellow robes. He encircles the monastery many time s while beating a drum and chanting something that sounds as if it contains powerful meaning.

Another kilometer, and a green van stops. The driver asks me if I want a ride. It reminds me of a pickle with a surfboard on top. The driver, a college student from Kyoto ditching his studies, gives me a lift to Kumamoto Station. It is not yet mid-afternoon as I reflect on the relaxing, yet memorable, hike through the “land of fire” as I head down the road toward Kumamoto Castle.

Things to bring: Raingear, flashlight, map, camera, sunscreen, water, camera, gloves, sunglasses, warm hat, snacks.
Things to consider: If you have time, you can also take an overnight sleeper train to Kyushu (Hayabusa train from Tokyo to Kumamoto) and then take the scenic route (local train) to Mt. Aso.
Things to do: While you are in Kumamoto, take a stroll through Kumamoto Castle, a 10-minute bus ride from Kumamoto Station. Near the Castle, you also find the Kumamoto Art Museum which has an excellent collection of tomb replicas excavated from the area.

Contact Information: Kumamoto Tourist Information 熊本市観光案内所: (096) 352-3743
Kumamoto Goodwill Guide Service 熊本Goodwill ガイドサービス : (096) 355-6434
Aso Taxi Service: (0967) 22-0272
Aso Youth Hostel 阿蘇ユースホステル : (0967) 34-0804