Aso sightseeing update – after the earthquakes

The first thing to know is that Aso is a huge area of which a small area has been affected, this means that though there are still a few road closures, there is still a lot to see and enjoy and the stunning natural beauty of the region has not been affected. The second thing to know is despite the eruption of early October visiting Aso is safe, the volcano is closely monitored and a safe exclusion zone is in place.  The third thing to know is that by visiting Aso you will be playing a small but valuable role in the recovery of the region and the people’s lives there.

The Damage

earhquake-asoThe Aso area was hit badly particularly in and around the Tateno area,  the deep valley entrance to the Aso caldera from Kumamoto. In the second major earthquake a huge landslide took out the Aso Ohashi Bridge, which connected the northern and southern parts of the caldera and a section of the main road, Route 57 which runs from Kumamoto City into Aso, in the same place it also destroyed a section of the railway line that runs from Kumamoto to Oita. This has made getting to the Aso region a little more complicated see the Getting to Aso section.

 

Aso Shrine Romon Gateaso shrine post earthquakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Aso Shrine, a shrine with one of the longest histories in all Japan took a severe blow, the double storied gate, a National Treasure, collapsed as did the Haiden – the hall of worship. However, the Honden – the buildings that house the Kami (Shinto Gods) survived. Aso Shrine is very much a working shrine and the heart of the Aso community, it is famed for its unique festivals. Though the full restoration may take 7 years to complete, a temporary Haiden has already been built and is being used for the ceremonies, the shrine can be visited and you can see both the damage and also the restoration work in progress.

Mizuki StreetMiraculously Mizuki Street, the little shopping street lined with water springs behind the shrine escaped damage and the restaurants and shops are open as usual (make sure to visit Tanoshu Patisserie home to the best chou creams in Kumamoto.)

 

 

 

Sadly, Laputa Road, an iconic and much photographed Aso viewpoint is currently not safe to visit. See below:

Laputa Road post earthquakes

 

Many roads up to the much visited central Mount Aso peaks were also badly damaged. However, from mid September the Eastern Route up to central Mount Aso has reopened (between 7am and 7pm every day) which means Komezuka and Kusasenri can now be visited again and the best view of the live Nakadake volcanic crater can be seen.  The volcano has now returned to Level 2 as of Dec 20th 2016 after briefly rising to Level 3 from October after a volcanic eruption. Level 2 means that you can go as far as the ropeway station at the base of the crater but not up to the crater itself.

Komezuka after earthquakes

The Volcano Museum has partially reopened and most of  the restaurants and souvenir shops at Kusasenri are open.

aso kusasenri horses

Aso Geo Parks has a list of the condition of the 33 Geosites here.

You may be wondering what other things you can do and see in Aso if so take a look at Explore Kumamoto’s Around Aso tour itinerary to get an idea and also check out the Aso Section to find more detailed information about places. Due to the increased difficulty accessing and getting around the area post earthquakes a tour really is the perfect solution if you cannot rent a car.

Mount Aso - Nakadake from Kusasenri

Hiking – You are free to walk around the beautiful Kusasenri plateau which offers wonderful views of the steaming crater. However,  because of  the earthquakes and the recent volcanic activity many of the  longer hikes around Mount Aso can not be done at the moment. However it is still possible to take a 1.5 hour hike up to Eboshi dake from the Kusasenri area, and if you fancy something more strenuous the Kuju mountains are not far away. You could also take a stroll down the caldera wall on the old samurai road.

Getting to Aso

By car Aso can now be reached using a back road called the Milk Road (ミルクロード), a beautiful route which runs from behind Ozu City up and over the northern caldera wall to Daikanbo the top view point of the Aso caldera. If you are heading to Minami Aso (the southern half of the caldera) or Takachiho  you can either take the Green Road (グリーンロード) from Nishihara or come down the Futae pass from the Milk Road and then follow the signs to Takamori 高森 and Takachiho 高千穂.

On Dec 24th 2017 a faster route into Minami Aso finally reopened, it is Route 28 from Nishihara, which runs through the Tawarayama tunnel.

Click here for a very useful map in English and Japanese of the Aso area and current road closures. (Thanks to the Kuma Visit website)

Public Transport is a little more complicated as the train line was destroyed in one point. This means that the train line towards Aso now stops at Higo Ozu station. However during commuter times there is a connecting bus service from Higo Ozu to Ichinomiya (which is the station closest to Aso Shrine)

The times below are for Kumamoto Station departure and arrival at Ichinomiya

05:38 – 07:35    06:01 – 08:05   15:57 – 17:55   17:26 – 19:20   18:35 – 20:35   19:55 – 21:55

Return: Ichinomiya departure arrival at Kumamoto Station

05:00 – 06:56   05:40 – 07:20   06:45 – 09:06   08:10 – 10:26   16:00 – 18:06   17:30 – 19:46   18:40 – 20:47   20:00 -22:03

Another option is to take the Kyu San Ko bus from Kumamoto City to Kurokawa and get off at Aso Station – this needs prior reservation. Find up to date timetables and how to reserve your seat in English here.

Read an informative blog post about taking the Kyu San Ko bus here.

Use the map below to find out more about the sites around the region: