Kumamoto bus trip : walking in Mount Aso

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Second day of my Kumamoto bus trip. That day, I had planned to go to Mount Aso. The access to the crater, closed for a year and a half now, was still was not permitted but I wouldn't have missed. Unfortunately, because of the great weather all my photos' colors are completely burned. I retouched them thet best I could so be forgiving please.
Cratère Naka-dake, Mont Aso
Naka-dake crater
I went to bed early the night before so I woke up around 6 am to attack this day as weather heralded to be radiant. At Kumamoto city it was not far from 0°C  and it was that the temperatures in the mountains will be under 0. I settled on the bus, booked the day before, and spent my time watching the landscape : Kumamoto City and its surroundings, the airport where we boarded a few extra passengers, Ozu city and then we entered into the caldera.

Some bus line go straight to the top of Mount Aso but schedules were a little late for me so I would rather arrive earlier and change bus. Once it had dropped me off at the Aso station, I discovered all this people waiting for the bus bounding for the summit. No choice, I entered the queue but did eventually let a lot of people to go before me because I wanted to sit next to the window so I would take the next bus. On the bus, I ignored the noisy tourists and enjoyed the ride. My brain suddendly reminded a lot of memories : the forest, the cows grazing in the fields, Mount Komezuka (米塚) which gradually discovers itself and Mount Ojodake that reminds me a French dessert called Flamby.

Oh, I wanted to end a misconception : the buses do not stop (anymore ? ) for a photo stop near the Komezuka. See end of article to find the best places to observe it.

Mont Komezuka
Mount Komezuka from the bus
Even if  Naka-dake crater (the one commonly called Mount Aso) is closed on an 1km area, I decided to approach it as close as possible and went down to the terminus at the cable car station. I was here  4 years ago so it was a long time no see but I was shocked at the scenery, everything is now covered with a thick layer of black ash. Everything changed a lot.
I walked in all this ash, went to see the shrine and then went back into the station. The cable wasn't in operation work, of course, but the huge souvenirs shop was open. I warmed my hands near a stove, walked around the gift part, bought a ikinari dango for later and have thrown a look at the new attraction Aso Super Ring (a 5 minutes projection mapping show about the volcano) but decides not to go to keep my precious time.

Naka-dake, Mont Aso

Fermeture Mont Aso
No entry zone starts here
Amulettes Mont Aso
Weird ! 
There wasn't much to do in this area so  decided to go down to the  Kusasenri (草千里) where the museum is located. I hesitated to take the bus or going by foot but I finally took the bus because
1. I had SunQ Pass so it was "free" .
2. I wanted to save my strength for later.

I talk about sving my strength  because I decided to challenge one thing today :  a climb to one of the summit !
I am neither trained nor therefore had specific equipment so I decided to try the one which looked the easiest and fastest : Mount Kishima (杵島岳). I wanted to see how far I could go even if I wouldn't be able to finish the climb.

I committed on the path, absolutely deserted and fully paved. It started good!
the path begins by being parallel to the road before hitting a steep climb! I am a good walker but it was steep enough that it made me worried. After the ascent, the path becomes a long series of steps to the top . I climbed slowly, at my own pace, a couple was following me from a distance so I was reassured. With all this recent volcanic activity one can never be too careful. A last effort and I finally reach the top!

Mont Kishima
Mount Kishima, here I go !
Chemin de randonnée au Mont Aso

Hat, hoodie et skirt: Honeys | Socks : Tutuanna | Shoes : no brand
Kusasenri vu du ciel
Kusasenri from the top
Randonnée Kishima-dake, Mont Aso
A little bit to go ! 
Click on the picture to see it in a bigger size
Sommet du Mont Kishima, mont Aso
I made it !
The view at 1321m is breathtaking . I clearly could see Naka-dake crater but also the whole north part of the caldeira and Kusasenri. About the latter, I always thought it was some plain but it really looked like a crater from above and indeed ...
I sat to eat my dango and I finally got to make friends with the couple who was behind me before. This really is one of the reasons why I love traveling alone : the ease when it comes to speak with people. The husband left togo to the other side of the crater and I regretted not being able to accompany him : my shoes were not adequate enough.
After a long break  and dozens of photos and videos, I began the go down and it was rather hard for calves.

Advice for the Kishima hikking

The climb takes about 50 minutes to the first summit. It is possible to reach the other side
   of the crater by an extra 15/20 minutes walk.
The entrance road is located on the far right of the parking lot .
The path is indicated all in Japanese but it is not hard to follow. If necessary there are English
    maps available in the volcano museum and tourist offices.
Even if the path is paved, provide adequate shoes ( at least sneakers) .

I still had a lot of time so I went walking on the Kusasenri plain ... which was much less impressive when viewed from above. It was still pleasant and invigorating. I stayed there at least an hour going near lakes and climbing a crater that remains in its center.

To finish off the day, I went to the observatory on the road just above the volcano museum and then I had a glance of the souvenir shops in the hope of finding a little something to nibble on. I didn't want to eat at a restaurant and there wasn't a lot of food that tempted me (horse skewers...) but I ended up buying a piece of karashi renkon (辛子蓮根), a lotus rhizome  stuffed with Japanese mustard. it is a specialty of Kumamoto. It was good at first but quickly became pungent nauseating.

Kusasenri et cratère, Mont Aso

Kusasenri - 草千里 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Mont Komezuka
Komezuka from the observatory
To get back to Kumamoto, I had two solutions : take the bus to the train station then the one bound for  Kumamoto or wait this one from where I was. Souvenir shops weren't the most exciting thing ever and I started to feel really cold so I chose the first option.
Back to the Aso station, I went to Michi-no-Eki Aso. It is a great market that offers local and farmers products such as milk, vegetables, bento and so on, with space to rest and an information center. It's funny, it reminded me  a farm where I often went in France.
For over a year now, I read the blog of a French man who is working there and I wanted to greet him and thank him for all the information he writes. Unfortunately he took his day off that day.
I bought a small Aso beef croquette sandwich and a small Japanese pudding served in a small glass jar, so adorable that I kept it as a souvenir.

Michi-no-Eki Aso
Michi-no-Eki Aso
pudding japonais

Gare d'Aso

prospectus onsen et article contest
I was so surprised to discover pamphlets of two of the websites I designed this year
The bus bound for Kumamoto went  through the route 298, also known as Aso-Panorama Line, which leads to the Mont Komezuka whose access is prohibited. A few kilometers later  we reached Aso Farmland, a large hotel resort with many activities (mini-zoo, shops, sports fields, crafts and so on) and even an onsen. Since I went there in 2013 I dream to spend one night but it's really out of my budget . One day maybe ... While waiting to win to the lottery I allowed myself to jealous the Chinese group of tourists who came down there and comforted myself with a stunning sunset over the caldera.

On my next visit, I would like to try to climb Mount Eboshi, a bit harder, and redo the Kishima using another path. I would also like to go again to Naka-dake. I hope that the eruption will end one day... and why not try a helicopter ride !

Coucher de soleil, Mont Aso

useful words

Volcano : kazan (火山)
Eruption : funka (噴火)
Volcanic ash: kazan bai (火山灰)
View, panorama : keshiki (景色)
Air, oxyen : kûki (空気)

access and useful informations

Mont Aso (阿蘇山) 

Access from Kumamoto by bus :

Take the Kyûshû Odan Bus bound for Aso/Kurokawa/Yufuin/Beppu and get off to Mount Aso (Kusasenri (Aso volcano museum) orMt. Aso nishi station), or at Aso station. In this case, take the Aso Crater Line.
Download the timetable of this two lines

Access from Kumamoto  by train :

Take the Limited Express Aso Boy! (1h20, 2240 yens) or the Hohi bound for Higôzu line and change at Higôzu for the Hohi pour Miyaji line (1h35, 1110 yens). Get off at Aso station (阿蘇駅) and take the Aso Crater Line. 
Except the bus, all is covred by the JR Pass.

Is Naka-dake crater open now ?

To see the volcano alert levelin real time, read this page.

How much time should I spend there ?

A whold day

What to bring back ? 

To eat immediatly : milk or pudding
In the other case, a volcanic rock, a sulfur rock, takana (pickles made from mustard plant) or some cookies.

Where is the best place to see the Komezuka ?

With traffic and barriers on the roadside, it is difficult to stop close to the best places to observe the Mount, namely on the two roads leading to the summit of Mount Aso (111 and 298) . However there is a small park with a parking lot on the road 298 and an observatory just before the volcano museum where it is also possible to stop. They offer a completely different views so I recommend going to two places. For hikers or those who want to try it, the view of Komezuka from the North Slope Kishima is breathtaking .

How about this posts?