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Hiking Trails at Aso Kusasenri

Home to more than 8000 mountains, Japan is a wonderful destination for hiking trail lovers, but perhaps the best place in Japan for hiking is Kyushu. Its warm subtropical climate allows for an extended hiking period so outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy mountaineering in different seasons. For a unique Japan hiking experience, consider Mt. Aso. The Aso caldera is centrally located on the island of Kyushu in Kumamoto Prefecture. Mt. Aso is the second highest volcano in Japan at 1592m as well as being one of the largest calderas in the world, enclosing a total area of 380km2. Within the caldera are the five peaks of Mt. Aso: Takadake, Nekodake, Kishimadake, Eboshidake and Nakadake. Adding to the stunning view of the area are volcanic cones formed on the caldera floor. 


The unique topography of Mt. Aso was formed by volcanic activities over the past 270,000 years and by a great eruption that took place about 90,000 years ago. This last eruption was so powerful that a 15cm-thick layer of volcanic ash reached all the way to eastern Hokkaido, a distance of over 1400km. Thanks to the volcanic activity and geology of the area, the Mt. Aso region is blessed with quality hot springs, fertile soil for agriculture, and excellent hiking trails. I couldn't wait to see it in person. 

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While the view of the seven craters of Nakadake is a popular sightseeing spot, including a colorful hot water pool in the first crater, I was encouraged, based on online reviews, to take advantage of the hiking by exploring two other recommended courses: Kishimadake and Eboshidake. It is possible to hike both mountains in one day, even if you come to Mt. Aso by bus and don’t have a full day to explore. 


The morning course begins with a hike to the top of Kishimadake, which is the shorter and easier hike of the two. My guide, Kawahara-san, was very considerate and gave me the latest trekking map which he himself made. Even though I don't do a lot of mountaineering, I had a pleasant hike to the top as parts of the path are paved, with easy-to-climb stone steps.
Normally, from the parking lot, it takes only about 40 minutes to reach the top, but it took us longer as I took frequent stops to enjoy the majestic scene before me. 


I noticed, in addition to the vast grasslands, an incredible number of cedar trees. My guide said that farmers planted the cedar trees seventy years ago in order to boost the local economy through logging and other industries. The combination of grassland and cedar trees seems like a scene out of The Lord of the Rings. We finally reached the summit (1.4km) and the panoramic views of Kusasenri-ga-hama, Nakadake, and Eboshidake were simply breathtaking.

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After replenishing my energy with an outstanding Akaushi beef bowl for lunch, we then started our hike to the top of Eboshidake. It's 1.9km to the top and the route is not as well paved as Kishimadake, so you will have to be in moderately good shape to make this climb. I took a couple of brief stops to catch my breath, but those brief stops were part of the highlight as my guide patiently shared interesting information about the area. The trail to the summit can be challenging depending on the weather, so I recommend that you bring your own hiking boots.


The view from Eboshidake's summit is different from the one I saw earlier at Kishimadake but both were equally magnificent. In addition to a view of Kusasenri, I was able to look out over Nakadake's crater and a ravine that cuts through the caldera. I couldn't quite see down into the crater, but I did see the backside of the rim, which isn’t possible from ground level.

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If you are going to Aso for the first time, the wonders of the region will leave a strong impression. Kishimadake and Eboshidake are just two of the many lovely hiking trails in Aso that you can explore, but whatever you choose will not disappoint.

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Riz

Riz

Riz is a freelance writer, photographer, and adjunct university lecturer. He once mistook wasabi for matcha ice cream. Having lived in Japan for 20 years, Riz no longer makes this mistake. He is happily married, has 3 children, and one skittish cat.

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