The Journey to Aso San 阿蘇産
Me and my college buddies are in school in Beppu, Oita and we all desperately needed a break from our busy student lives. Luckily, our college APU (Asia Pacific University) was about to have quarter break. I did some basic research and found out Mount Aso is the biggest volcano in Kyushu and second largest after Mount Fuji in all of Japan. What better way to release some college stress than go on a road trip to look at a smoldering mountain? I had gotten my international license so went and rented a car in Beppu. Me and my buddies hopped in and we began the two hour journey to Kumamoto Prefecture.
Typical of Japan we passed by serene rice paddies and curved up several narrow mountain roads. We eventually landed at some random monument that none of us could read because it was written in ancient kanji. We were sitting on the edge of a mountain so we figured it was a good place to snap some photos.
We took this gem of a photo at that location unfortunately it was a little rainy. Notice the clouds in the background (because we are so high up)
Arriving in Aso Town 阿蘇町
Aso is a tourist town, that gets it’s income off the travelers who come to visit and hike the beautiful volcano. There are many eco-lodges and spa resorts, I was surprised how thriving the town seemed to be. You also can’t help but notice all the Horse meat signs. Aso is renowned for it’s Horse sashimi, thats right raw horse sushi! Personally I’m from Texas and I’m more accustomed to riding horses than eating them. But the locals assure me it’s very tasty…
There are several different craters around Aso san and 7 main peaks. The Volcano is still active and if you know anything about Japan you know Japan is one of the most active earthquake and volcanic zones on earth. All this seismic activity makes for some pretty dramatic landscapes (some of the most beautiful I’ve seen). Aso also has an azalea bloom every may which leads to the volcano being covered with lush purple flowers every Spring.
The center of the crater offers tourist activities like horse back riding (an activity I found odd since Aso town is famous for Horse meat) and a museum that explains the natural phenomena in the local area. I also learned that there are several connected volcanos including the volcano in my city, Tsurumidake and also Mount Yufu in Yufuin. My buddies were in a rush because they had to get to their part time jobs by 5 so we decided to rush up to see the main crater. You can take a shuttle bus and go close to the crater but all you can see is smoke. (no lava viewing unfortunately)
The way home
On the way back we stopped and got juicy burgers from an American themed biker bar in Aso. The owner was an old Japanese biker guy with a thick ZZ top beard. We looked on the walls and he had pictures with various famous musicians including Micheal Jackson and the Carpenters. The bar had really cool wooden architecture (log cabin みたいな). Me and my American buddy, Micah were pretty happy to get our hands on some proper ground beef burgers and Hero enjoyed it too!
Micah enjoying the tasty burger at Strong Boss Burger in Aso City
We then had to go down some pretty gnarly one lane two way roads. Japanese roads are extremely curvy and narrow. Also I’m not used to driving on the left side of the road so it was a bit tricky. We all got home in one piece and had a wonderful day trip in Aso! I strongly recommend Mount Aso for anyone who appreciates stunning mountain views, hiking and/or Horse meat!
Japanese people call mountains “san” just like people… For example to say Mr. Sato in Japanese you would say Sato san to denote respect. It is a sign of familiarity between well know acquaintances or friends to stop saying “san” after several meetings. But Mountains are pretty important spiritually in Japan so denote respect they sometimes add “san”. So mount Fuji can be called Fuji san（富士山）and Aso can be called Aso san（阿蘇山)
Mountains also tend to be the location of holy sites such as shinto shrines see my earlier post about Mount Tsurumi Dake to learn more!