The active volcano of Aso brings quite a significant number of tourists to the small town of Aso. You can find Aso Tourist Information in Aso station itself or at Michi No Eki Aso (road rest area; the building on the left when you get of the train station). Check www.aso.ne.jp/~volcano/eng/ before setting out to see if the Nakadake crater is accessible to its rim, or whether noxious or poisonous fumes are rendering it inaccessible.
Aso is on the JR Hohi line, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Kumamoto by local train (¥1080, change of trains may be required). There is also a limited express, the Kyushu Odan Express (九州横断特急), which makes four daily round trips with no change of trains required (65 minutes; ¥2180).
From Beppu you can get there in about 2 hours by train (¥3740)
The bus connecting Kumamoto and Beppu stops at the Aso JR station, and often at Aso Nishi cable car station. From Kumamoto, it takes 2 hours (¥1760) to reach the cable car, et 2:30 (3350¥) for the JR station. From Beppu, the two morning bus services reach the cable car in 3:30 (2950¥) and the JR station in 4 hours (3450¥). Timetables: Kumamoto-Beppu, Beppu-Kumamoto, Fares.
There are luggage lockers at Aso Station.
- 1 Mount Aso Ropeway (阿蘇山ロープウェー). Currently closed due to Level 2 warning. Its station is easily reached by bus from Aso station. The last bus back from Aso Nishi cable car station leaves at 5 pm. You can also hop on and off the bus at the bus stop near the Aso Youth Hostel. The ropeway runs from the station to the crater, which saves a 1.5km walk (100m up). If you are not on a hurry to catch a bus, going back on foot is an option as the walk down is pleasant. If you're driving, a toll road goes right up to the station and if you're prepared to pay, you can actually drive up to the summit of the crater. one way adult/children: 750/¥370 ; round trip : 1200/¥600.
- 2 Takamori Line (高森線, takamori-sen). A tourist-oriented railway which passes through stunning scenery on its way to Takamori, a village within the Aso caldera. Board it at the Tateno train station, which is a 40-minute ride on the main train line from Kumamoto. The route is 18km long, and is most spectacular in spring, summer, or early November (when the leaves on the trees turn to bright autumn colors). 1220 yen.
- 1 Aso Volcano Museum (阿蘇火山博物館, Aso-kazan Hakubutsukan) (On the road between Aso station and mount Aso. Some buses stops there.).
- 2 Aso Shrine (阿蘇神社, aso jinja). An old shrine dedicated to the god of transportation and traffic safety.
- 3 Aso Saru Mawashi Gekijō (阿蘇猿まわし劇場), 793 Shimono, ☎ . This theater has man and a monkey stage shows.
- 4 Aso-san (阿蘇山). The volcano is still active and sulphuric steam can be seen coming from the Mt. Nakadake crater. However, you should be aware that the summit of the crater has been extensively geared for Japanese mass tourism - paved roads can take you right up to the crater and it can get quite crowded during the peak season. However, if you want to get away from the crowds, you don't have to walk too far. The site is not limited to immediate surroundings of the crater. Do not hesitate to spend one hour or more walking on the path to explore the beautiful scenery.
- 5 Komezuka (米塚). A nice small volcano cone to see on the way. It erupted 3000 years ago and now stands 80 meters high, with a perfectly symmetric shape. Climbing it is forbidden, in order to protect its cute green slopes.
The mountain spews sulphurous gases from the crater of Mt. Nakadake. Sometimes, when the winds blow from the crater towards the crowds, the cable car lines are shut down, so you might not be able to reach the summit. They will start operating again when the winds turn - sometimes you will only have to wait half an hour or so. If you want to check before starting your hike, the owner of the youth hostel is able to tell whether everything is in operation.
- If you have extra cash to spare or you want to have an aerial view of Mount Aso, you can take the helicopter ride, which is not far from the Mount Aso Museum. It costs ¥5000 (adult) / ¥4500 (child) per person for a 4 minute ride, but the view is astonishing!
- Various hiking trails around Aso-san can provide you anything from a nice afternoon walk to a good days hiking. The landscape is full of greenery in summer, while in autumn the mountains turn orange. If you're interested, be sure to pickup a hiking map (don't expect a detailed map, it will probably be just an illustrative map) from the friendly Aso youth hostel or from the Aso Tourist Information. Besides - the routes just around the Mt. Nakadake are marked very well, you get a small map with routes and 'You are here' mark every 15-20 minutes of hiking.
If you are in front of the crater, walk along it to the right (south) to join the actual trail. Allow two good hours (photos breaks included) if you want to climb the mountain (200m up) and enjoy beautiful views on the crater and the whole area, and a bit less for the way back down. Even if you cannot/don't want to spend so much time, it worth strolling on this path (which does not start to climb seriously before the actual foot of the mountain) and then turn back (which will take you as much time).
- There are also several hot spring resorts around Aso. Contact Aso tourist information office for more information.
Just next to the train station, at Michi No Eki Aso, various local products are on sale. You can find fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, milk, handmade lunchboxes, sweets and so on. Everything here is cultivated or produced in Aso city.
Besides the usual tourist trinkets you can buy from the Aso Nishi cable car station, there's not much shopping to do around here. Your usual supermarket is a couple blocks south from the Aso station.
- 1 Kojirō-buchi, 1303-2 Kurokawa (Facing the Aso JR station, turn right and follow the road round and over the railway line. Turn right just before the fire station (look out for the tower), and it's on the left.), ☎ . Friendly, reasonably-priced restaurant. Most dishes involve cooking your own meat using a fire in the centre of the table. Generous portions. ¥1500-¥2000.
There are some restaurants and a noodle bar near the station. In Aso Heights, there is a delicious cheese cake. Japanese lunch box can be bought at Michi No Eki Aso just next to the station. The aso noodles are amazing.
- 1 Aso Youth Hostel (阿蘇ユースホステル), 922-2 Kurokawa, ☎ . The youth hostel is quite ascetic, but is cheap and the owner is very helpful. No breakfast, but they sell stuff like instant noodles you can have in the morning. They also have a simple Aso hiking map revealing the different trails around the mountain. It's about 20 minutes walking uphill from Aso-station. They have a very small public bath open from 5PM to 9PM. No wifi and to use Internet, you have to use the prehistoric Windows 98 computer in the hall (if it works), or you can gently ask for a network cable if you are lucky enough. Dorm ¥2000.
- 2 Aso Base Backpackers (阿蘇バックパッカーズホステル) (500m from JR station), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 11:00. It is extremely expensive. However, if you do find yourself staying here, they have spotlessly clean, perfectly organized, nice kitchen, cozy fire, you name it - they have it. Free Wi-Fi, but you have to pay ¥100 for 30 minutes on the provided computers. Dorm ¥2800, Twin ¥6000, Double ¥6600, Single ¥5500.
- 3 Little Asia Guest House (リトルアジア), 3617-7 Kain Aso-mura, Aso-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture, 869-1411, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00-22:00, check-out: 10:00. This was a really nice family-run operation close to Aso-san. It's easy to get to if you have a car, but you might miss the sign if you're not looking closely. The owners were very welcoming, as were the other guests. There is free Wi-Fi available, and they do a family-style dinner every night at 7PM. Guests who want to attend are asked to contribute a small ￥280 fee to help pay for the food. There is a natural hot spring out back that you can pay ￥300 to use. There is a trail that will take you to a "secret" waterfall. Dorm ¥2500, Double Rooms ￥3000, Single ￥4000.
- 4 Guest House Asora (ゲストハウス阿蘇楽), 73-2 Kurokawa, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dorm ¥2500, Private room ¥3000/person.