Mt. Aso, which is located approximately 30 miles just north of Kumamoto City, is one of the symbols of the Kumamoto Prefecture, once known as Hi no Kuni or the Land of Fire.
It is also the largest active volcano in Japan, with its peak, Taka-dake, measured at 1592 meters above sea level, and one of the largest in the world. It has one of the largest caldera as well, which is said to have resulted from an explosion roughly 100,000 years ago, spanning a circumference of around 75 miles. Apart from Taka-dake, Mt. Aso has four other peaks – Eboshi-dake, Kishima-dake, Neko-dake and Naka-dake which has regular volcanic activity.
Naka-dake can be reached by car, on foot, via a helicopter ride or via the Mt. Aso Ropeway cable cars, which is recommended, although it is not always open for viewing because of the regular emissions of ash and fumes. When open, the crater can also be visited at night, during which it transforms into an even more awe-inspiring sight, the lava seeping out of its fissures creating fiery streaks in the dark.
The outer rim of Naka-dake, in contrast, is very peaceful, like that of the other craters, coated with grassy plains where cows and horses graze, and where visitors can take a relaxing stroll or have a family picnic. There are designated camping grounds, as well.
Kusasenri, on the slopes of Eboshi-dake, is one of the most popular plains, where visitors can enjoy the views atop a horse from March to mid-December.
There is also a ‘mini-volcano’ on the northern slopes of Naka-dake called Komezuka, which is a symmetrical volcanic cone as verdant as its surroundings, which visitors can walk around.
There is a museum in the vicinity of the volcano, as well, detailing its history, along with various hot springs, many of which are surrounded by traditional Japanese inns. Shops and restaurants abound throughout the area, as well.