Mount Aso: Japan’s Largest Active Volcano

Moun Aso mountain range and town Kyushu
Writer's profile
Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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Japan is situated on the western edge of the so-called “Ring of Fire” and sits on top or near the boundaries of no less than 4 tectonic plates, making it one of the most tectonically active places on Earth. This location makes Japan home to an impressive number of active volcanoes, with the country’s many soothing hot springs being a direct result of this. Among Japan’s active volcanoes, the most famous ones are undoubtedly Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, and Nagano Prefecture’s Mount Asama whose name often appears in haiku and tanka poems. Mount Aso, however, is very popular as a hiking and camping spot, and in this article we will take a closer look at this volcanic destination perfect for adventurous souls and lovers of the outdoors.

About Mount Aso

Nakadake Mount Aso
The Naka-dake volcano is still very active

Mount Aso is an active volcano located in Kyushu’s Kumamoto Prefecture, and its ancient caldera is Japan’s largest. Mount Aso has multiple peaks inside its caldera which are often referred to as “the central mountains”, with the five most prominent peaks called “Aso Gogaku” (阿蘇五岳). Of these five peaks, Naka-dake is still highly active and emits considerable amounts of white smoke. This also means that Naka-dake is sometimes off limits to visitors, but when the level of volcanic activity permits, its impressive crater can be viewed up close from viewpoints accessible by car or bus. Although the volcano is the symbol of Mount Aso, the nature surrounding it is also stunning: Kusasenri, famous for its beautiful grasslands, and Daikanbou, the highest peak on the outer rim of Aso, both offer spectacular views.

Mount Aso Shuttle Bus

Aso bus terminal
The area around Aso has a well-developed transportation system

As one of Kumamoto’s major tourist attractions, Mount Aso has a very well-developed transportation system that makes it easy for visitors to explore the area. Shuttle buses run between the parking lot on top of Mount Aso and the parking lot near the crater, with one-way and round-trip options available. Take the bus which features a cute design with Kumamoto’s popular local mascot, Kumamon, and enjoy a fun and educational visit to the volcano of Mount Aso!

Official website: Mount Aso Shuttle Bus

Camping

BBQ with tongs and smoke
At Kodai no Sato Camping Village you can rent a barbecue spot for private use

Camping is an option for those who want to fully immerse themselves in Aso’s wonderful nature. Camping by a beautiful lake or in a dense forest are classic options, but camping near a volcano is a unique experience where you can almost feel the pulse of the earth deep below. There are several campgrounds in Aso, and the services offered vary depending on the location. Here, we would like to recommend Kodai no Sato Camping Village. This campground has barbecue areas that can be rented for a fee, allows auto campers and even offers a landlocked salmon-catching experience. If you don’t have a campervan, fret not: there are several cottages available with advance reservation so that you can easily enjoy an overnight stay in Aso with your family and friends! 

Official website: Kodai no Sato Camp Village

Hiking

Aso green grass and horse
The Aso mountain range is a great hiking spot

The mountains of Aso and their breathtakingly beautiful nature welcome many climbers every year. For novice hikers, the hiking course at Kishima-dake is highly recommended. This trail is paved all the way, making it very easy to walk and at the same time difficult to get lost. The summit of Kishima-dake offers magnificent views and is perfect for taking pictures, and one can observe the volcanic fumes from the crater of Mount Aso.

Things to see and do around Mount Aso

In addition to the active volcano, Mount Aso is full of interesting things to see and do. Below, we have selected a few spots we recommend visiting for a fun time with family or friends.

1. Daikanbou

Mount Aso sea of clouds
On certain days, a beautiful sea of clouds can be observed from the summit of Daikanbou

Daikanbou is the highest peak in the outer rim of Mount Aso’s mountains and is less than 1,000 meters tall. It’s a popular climbing spot, partly because you can see all of Aso’s five main peaks from its summit. The view of the five towering mountains seen from Daikanbou is praised as the “Nirvana of Buddha”. If you are lucky, you can observe a beautiful sea of clouds in the early morning on clear autumn days, something that attracts many climbers. Located at this scenic spot you will find Aso Daikanbou-Chaten, a perfect place to rest and enjoy a tasty meal while taking in the spectacular view.

2. ASO Farm Land

Cows grazing Mount Aso
ASO Farm Land is a unique theme park where visitors can interact with animals

ASO Farm Land, located at the foot of Mount Aso, is one of the area’s main attractions and filled with activities perfect for families. It’s one of only a few theme parks in the world that are supervised by health experts, and it’s operated with the philosophy of bringing better health to people. In addition to exercise facilities that contribute to the improvement of children’s health, there’s also an area where visitors can interact with animals and a restaurant serving up special dishes made with homegrown vegetables.

Official website: ASO Farm Land

3. Shirakawa Water Source

Shirakawa Water Source
The water at Shirakawa Water Source is incredibly clear

Shirakawa Water Source is one of 11 water source spots in Minamiaso Village and is the most popular one among them. It’s famous for its high-quality soft water, and there’s a small admission fee to enter which contributes to protect the clean and beautiful water source. The spring water is so beautifully clear that you can even see the bottom, and water from here can be taken home freely which is very popular.

Access

Aso Boy
“Asoboi” is a special limited express train travelling between Kumamoto and Aso

We recommend taking public transport to Mount Aso. You can reach Mount Aso Station from Kumamoto Station in about 1 hour and 15 minutes with the limited express train also known as “ASO BOY!”. Another recommended means of transportation is the express bus “Yamabiko” which travels from Kumamoto Airport to Mount Aso Station in about 1 hour.

Boasting the largest volcanic caldera in Japan, the active volcano of Mount Aso is a symbol of Kumamoto. The level of volcanic activity can increase suddenly, so make sure to check the latest eruption status on Mount Aso’s official website before heading out. If you’re interested in volcanoes or simply enjoy hiking or being out in nature, we highly recommend a visit to Mount Aso during your time in Japan!

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