Aso is a city located in the Kumamoto Prefecture, rich with natural and beautiful landscapes that would take your breath away.
Exploring Aso is convenient if you have a car as your main transportation. When I and my family visited this place a few years ago, we pre-booked a rental car from Times Car Rental and collected it upon our arrival at Kyushu.
Prior to my Kyushu road trip, I had to do lots of homework. I did not have any knowledge of the Japanese language so I knew I had to put in the extra effort. What I did was listing down coordinates of the places I plan to visit and then asked the car rental service’s staff to pre-set it into the car’s GPS later on. You could also do this if you want for self-drive in Japan.
Besides this, I also applied for an International Driving License through the Japan Embassy from my home country prior to my trip. The Japanese government requires foreigners who want to drive in Japan to hold an International license.
Let me share about some of my experiences and what I did in Aso.
1. Witness the powerful volcanic Mount Aso from far
Mount Aso (or Aso-san) is a very active volcano in the Kyushu Prefecture. When I was here (a few years ago), the gas from the Mount Aso’s crater was rather strong and hence the ropeway to the mountain was temporarily closed. So I drove along the place and stopped by to see a glimpse of Mount Aso and picturesque scene of that area.
2. Catch the cute Komezuka
Komezuka is the youngest volcano here as it was formed about 3000 years ago. It was once an active volcano but now it is covered in grass and the crate at the top had sank.
3. Stop by at Sugi Yohoen to shop and get an ice cream
I spotted this place on my way to Aso Farm Village. The Sugi Yohoen (also known as Sugi Bee Garden) houses a small museum-like area that showcases bee, bee wax, honey and products made with honey. And of course, souvenirs and soft serve ice cream are available too.
Soft-served ice cream.
4. Stay in a dome-shaped inn at Aso Farm Village
Located at a 550-metre high ground is Aso Farm Village, a one-of-a-kind nature theme park in a beautiful landscape inside the Aso Kuju National Park. There are 450 dome-shaped guest rooms which offer a view of Aso’s volcanic crater. At this village, guests could enjoy a hot spring bath here while kids can enjoy playing at the playland and farm. This is a great place for family holiday. I and my family did not stay here but we dropped by to take some pictures of the cute dome-inns.
Unique dome-shaped inns.
Aso Farm Village Address: 5579-3, Kawayo, Minami-Aso-mura, Aso-gun, Kumamoto
5. Pray at Aso Shrine 阿蘇神社
Aso Shrine is one of the oldest and most prominent Shinto shrines in Japan. The two-story Romon Gate here is the most impressive structure of the shrine and is one of Japan’s three largest gates which have this style. This shrine is popular as worshippers come here to pray and get protection from traffic accidents, exorcism, blessings for marriage and studies.
It is believed that this shrine was built in 281AD, before the accession of the Emperor Jinmu. The deity enshrined here is Tateiwatatsu-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Japan’s first emperor – Jinmu, who was said the person who developed the Aso area.
I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the Aso Shrine before the 7.0 magnitude strong earthquake happened in April 2016. The Romon Gate and Haiden offering hall were collapsed and it may take years for restoration works to be completed. Even though it is still under restoration now, you could still visit the shrine and observe the restoration in progress.
Aso Shrine 阿蘇神社 Address: 3083-1 Miyaji, Ichinomiya-machi, Aso-shi, Kumamoto
Getting here: 20-minute walk to the north from Miyaji Station (JR Hohi Line)
6. Tour around Monzen Shopping Street
This is a lovely quirky old street dosed with lots of charm, situated just past the Aso Shrine. It is a great place to take a stroll and check out the Mizuki (a natural spring drinking fountain) that is placed outside many shops along this street. Besides that, this is also the place for you to get some souvenirs!
Mizuki, a natural spring fountain outside one the shop.
7. Slurp a hot piping bowl of ramen
We randomly popped into a ramen house – Aso Omoide Ramen阿蘇おもいでラーメンand had a very satisfying lunch. My bowl of hot piping tonkotsu ramen and tsukemen came with amazing slices of pork slices. The rich collagenous tonkotsu broth was also very delicious. However, I had to wait for a little while for my food to arrive as there was only a chef here when I visited this shop.
8. Catch the majesticManai Waterfall at Takachiho Gorge
Manai Waterfall is one of the best fine waterfalls in Japan. It is 17-metre high and is famous for its clouds of spray that rise up from the falling water. Located at the V-shaped Takachiho Gorge, you could take a closer look at the waterfall by taking a boat ride.
Other than the waterfall, there are also shrines nearby such as the Takachiho Shrine which was built about 1800 years ago, Aratate Shrine, Amanoiwato Shrine, and Amanoyasugawara Cave Shrine – where you get to see the stone piles on the Amayasu riverbank. Due to time constraints, I only managed to check out the Manai Waterfall.
9. Spend a night at a ryokan and enjoy onsen
When you are in Japan, you should spend at least one night in a ryokan or a Japanese inn, which have tatami style rooms and communal baths.
I spent a night at Shinwaen inn, located at Uchinomaki. It is a heart-warming ryokan housing eight regular guest rooms in the main building and four detached houses with private onsen in its premises. From the appearance of the building on the outside, it looks normal, but once you enter you will definitely be amazed by the warm and cosy ambience.
Three of us stayed in a room and each of us paid about ¥12,000 for a night’s stay. The package comes with unlimited onsen dips, a kaiseki dinner and breakfast. The price differs on whether it is low or peak season and weekdays or weekends. It definitely worth it to stay a night or two here.
Part of my Japanese kaiseki dinner.
Shinwaen Inn 旅館親和苑
Address: 1354 Uchinomaki, Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture 869-2301, Japan
Tel. no.: (+81) 967-32-0330
Overall, it was a satisfying and an enjoyable holiday at Aso. I and my family did have lots of fun and we look forward to come here again in the future, if possible.
As mentioned earlier at the beginning of this article, it is recommended to rent a car if you plan to visit this location. For your information, the train lines to Aso are still not available due to the damage from the Kumamoto earthquake, and restoration work is still underway. There’s no telling when it would be completed, so travelling by car would still be a good option.
If you plan to visit Kyushu or northern Kyushu, do drop by this place for the amazing scenery. You would not forget the amazing view you see here.
A girl who has wanderlust and love travel very much. She deeply falls in love with Japan ever since she stepped onto the "land of rising sun" in year 2002. She always wishes to explore more about Japan; the beauty of its art and culture, people and spirit, food and language. She finds that every prefecture in Japan is very unique and different from one another and always has a dream to visit all 47 prefectures in Japan.