Beautiful gardens, a national park, one of the three great castles of Japan, and a volcano. What more could you want on a day trip to Kumamoto? The area itself is surrounded by five mountains, and is an idylic escape from the city. Here are the top four things to do when you travel to Kumamoto:
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Daikanbo, which is located in Aso National Park, is an observation point on the highest peak of the northern outer rim of Aso at an altitude of 936m. From this point, you can get a view of the Five Mountains of Aso which resembles a sleeping Buddha called Nehanzo as well as the gigantic crater valley and the Kuji Mountains in Oita Prefecture so that it is the best spot in Aso for a 360-degree view. Access to Daikanbo is possible via car or tour bus around the area from Aso Station. The Aso Valley spreads out directly below the natural observation point where you can get the best seat for an unobstructed view of the Five Mountains. Looking at Nehanzo, to the left is Mt. Neko which makes up the face of the Buddha while to the right is Mt. Taka which makes up the chest. Meanwhile, Mt. Naka is the navel and Mt. Kishima and Mt. Neboshi are the knees. The most beautiful season is June and July when there is plenty of fresh greenery, but in November, when the variation in temperature during the day is great, you can witness a sea of clouds if you are lucky. The sight of the Nehanzo floating on this sea is truly mystical. Also, since the sight of the rising sun over the Five Mountains is awe-inspiring, an early morning visit is recommended. There is also a grassy plain that can be seen spreading out behind the observation point.
Nearby there is a tea shop at Daikanbo which serves fare specific to the Aso area and there is plenty of takeout. You can purchase items such as ice cream made from famous Jersey milk which is a specialty of Aso, kushiyaki with low-fat red beef broiled over charcoal, horsemeat kushiyaki from Kumamoto Prefecture, and Aso herb pork sausages, and enjoy a fine time on the bench at the observation point while taking in the superb view. If coming by car, you will want to make the extra effort to visit the giant rock, Oshito Ishi, nearby on the grassy plain, and Nabegataki Falls which is 9m high and 20m wide, and can be accessed from behind.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Daikanbo
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Daikanbo
- Tours of Daikanbo
(image by manyou-kumamoto.jp)
Kumamoto Castle is one of Japan’s Three Great Castles that was completed in 1607 after a 7-year construction process by the feudal lord of Higo, Kiyomasa Kato. Beginning with a large castle keep, 49 yagura turrets, 18 turret gates and 29 castle gates were incorporated into the castle grounds which measured about a huge 98ha and had a circumference of 5.3km. The interior is lush with gingko and camphor trees, and the castle is famous for its beauty with surviving remnants of a castle town all around it.
There are 4 gates with which to enter its expansive grounds, but for first-timers, coming in through the main gate of Hohoatego-mon is recommended. There are performers garbed as armored samurai in front of the gate along with volunteer guides. The Udo Yagura is a precious wooden turret that has retained its original structure and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. One characteristic of the turret is the linear uncurved gables and there is also its 3-layer and 5-story structure which goes all the way underground. The Kuragari (Darkness) Passageway is an underground passageway that goes to the official Honmaru Palace, something that is unusual even in Japan. The stone walls include items that were there right from the time of construction, and even traces of the fire from Seinan War can be glimpsed. The Honmaru Palace which was restored in 2008 had been the core for the castle with facilities such as living quarters and a kitchen for the daimyo (feudal lord), and at the time, it is said that it had as many as 53 rooms. The castle keep was situated on top of the 50m Mt. Chausu, and is a composite complex made of the large keep (3 layers 6 stories with 1 underground floor, 30m) and the small keep (2 layers, 4 stories with 1 underground floor, 19m). Much of the castle had been burned down in war, but it was rebuilt in 1960 so that from the top level of the large keep, a full view can be had of Kumamoto City. The restoration of the keep was faithful down to the numbers and rows of tiles, and it is a deeply aesthetic structure with an underlying tone of black. The interior has weapons and furnishings of generations of Higo daimyo as well as displays of documents of the Seinan War among other exhibits.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kumamoto Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kumamoto Castle
- Tours of Kumamoto Castle
Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
(image by photozou.jp)
The origin of the garden was a teahouse that was established in 1636 by the first feudal lord of the Higo domain, Tadatoshi Hosokawa. Afterwards, the third lord, Tsunatoshi Hosokawa, built a spectacular Momoyama-style strolling pond garden, but due to the political reforms in the 1740s, all of the buildings were removed save one, the Suigetsu-tei, leaving only a simple environment of trees such as pines. However in 1877, the area was burned down due to battles near Kumamoto Castle, so former retainers who were still greatly loyal to their lord and wanted to rebuild the town of Kumamoto gathered supporters and built Izumi Shrine within the grounds of Suizenji Joju-en which had a deep connection to the Hosokawa clan. Most of it was again burned down during the Second World War, but restoration of the garden was completed in 1973 and has retained its current condition.
Suizen-ji Joju-en which expressed the scenic route of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido from the Edo of the Edo Era to Kyoto has a Momoyama-style strolling pond garden which makes it one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. There is a walking trail that leisurely goes around the 10000㎡ pond which is fed by a spring from Mt. Aso, and the garden has received national recognition as a cultural property and as a historic site of scenic beauty. The spring within the garden has also been selected as one of the Top 100 Sources of Water, and the holy water in front of the shrine is known to grant long life. The place within the garden that has the most beautiful view is a thatched-roof building, known as the Kokin-Denju-no-Ma, which was transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. Currently used as a teahouse, you can enjoy the view of the lovely garden in harmony with mountain and water as you relax on the zashiki. The temperature of the spring water is kept at 18 degrees Celsius, so the difference between the water temperature in winter and the air temperature brings about a good amount of steam, with the mist creating a mysterious atmosphere. You will want to enjoy that leisurely stroll as you lose track of time while viewing the beautiful spring pond and the greenery.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 400 / Child: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
- Tours of Suizen-ji Joju-en Garden
Mt. Naka Crater at Mt. Aso
(image by kumamoto.photo)
The entirety of Mt. Aso includes the five peaks of Mt. Taka, Mt. Naka, Mt. Eboshi, Mt. Kishima and Mt. Neko, and the outer rim. Of the five peaks, Mt. Naka has the only active volcano which can be accessed by car or bus and which can only be sightseen during dormant periods. It’s recommended to take the Mt. Aso Ropeway from the terminus of the mountain bus, Mt. Aso Nishi Station. Being the first ropeway in the world to reach an active volcano, it spans an altitudinal distance of 108m from Mt. Aso Nishi Station to Higuchi Nishi Station at the crater rim, and you can enjoy a one-way trip in the air that takes 4 minutes. On board the large gondola that has a capacity of 91 people, you can view from its large windows the grand landscape and crater of Mt. Aso. You can then head from Higuchi Nishi Station on foot toward the closest point possible to the crater.
At Mt. Naka Crater during dormant periods, rainwater and spring water fill up in the crater lake which is turned into a lovely emerald green due to the inclusion of sulphur and iron, and the lake is heated close to 90 degrees Celsius where you can see the steam rising. By the lake, there is also a concrete shelter in case of emergencies. There are times when entry to the crater is limited because of periodic shifts in the wind and gas concentrations due to poisonous elements in the volcanic gases that spew from the crater which means that there are times when visits are not possible, so conduct based on regulation information is essential. In addition, there is Higuchi Nishi Observation Point from where you can view areas such as Mt. Eboshi and Mt. Kishima so that it is the perfect spot to view 360 degrees of the landscape of Mt. Aso. If you go along the trail from Higuchi Nishi Station, there is the sandy field of Sunasenri. Except for the trail, the entire area is black with volcanic ash, and here and there, volcanic projectiles from eruptions roll all over. After a rain, steam rises up from the surface which can be seen as something quite wondrous.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Mt. Naka Crater at Mt. Aso
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Mt. Naka Crater at Mt. Aso
- Tours of Mt. Naka Crater at Mt. Aso
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