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3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Kumamoto - Aso - Yufuin

Kyushu

3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Kyushu / Kumamoto - Aso - Yufuin

Kumamoto is currently one of Japan's political and economic hubs, but it once thrived as a castle town. I boarded one of the quaint streetcars that serve as the primary means of transport for the people of the city, and set off to visit Kumamoto Castle, one of the Three Great Castles of Japan.

Kumamoto Castle is a strong fortress that was built over seven years at the beginning of the 17th century. It covers an area of 98,000 square meters. It was built in a period when there were many feudal wars, so if you look you can see all sorts of contrivances designed for war. These show the impressive level of knowledge possessed by people at that time. For example, the stone walls supporting the castle are called "warrior stoppers", and are curved back in such a way that enemies cannot clamber up them. Inside the castle grounds there are lots of ginkgo nut trees in order to provide food if the castle is under siege. The current castle tower was rebuilt in 1960, and if you go inside it you can look at the historic artifacts on display. The top of the castle tower is a view spot, and the view of the city from here is wonderful. It is worth climbing to the top even if you lose your breath in doing so.

After looking round the castle, I first went back to Kumamoto Station, and headed by a regular sightseeing bus for Beppu on the other side of Kyushu. After leaving Kumamoto, the first place the bus goes to is Aso. Aso is rare even on a worldwide basis: it contains the world's biggest caldera, three cities, towns and villages are enclosed by an outer crater with a 128 km circumference. It has a large meadow and great natural beauty, and is one of the greatest sightseeing spots in Japan. The surrounding area has lots of leisure facilities based on sports, hot springs or nature, and it is busy on weekends and during the tourist season from spring to autumn.

Mt. Aso-san is the name given to the five Aso peaks, Mt. Naka-dake, Mt. Taka-dake, Mt. Kijima-dake, Mt. Eboshi-dake and Mt. Neko-dake. It is the world's largest double volcano. Mt. Naka-dake is currently active, but you can climb near to the volcano mouth by ropeway. The bus arrives at Aso-san Nishi (West Mt. Aso), the departure point for Naka-dake ropeway. The bus stops here for an hour, so I went quickly up to Mt. Naka-dake's volcano mouth. It took about four minutes by ropeway to go over the craggy lava and reach the summit. The volcano mouth was thick with the smell of sulfur, and made me feel I was smelling the earth's breath. The volcano mouth is 600 m in diameter and 130 m deep, and when you look at it from close up and see the smoke rising, it has a frightening intensity, as if it was about to erupt again. After seeing this, I returned to West Mt. Aso by ropeway, and from the window could see the beautiful green of Kusa-senri in the distance.

After this, I continued the journey by bus, so I could enjoy the pastoral scenery of Kusa-senri from the bus window. Kusa-senri is a rich pastureland stretching to the north foot of Mt. Eboshi-dake. Sometimes you can see cows and horses that have been put out to pasture as they quietly eat the grass there. After this, the bus came off the scenic Yamanami Highway, so I could enjoy the drive through the plateau to Yufuin, where I was planning to spend the night. Yufuin is a summer resort in the plateau at the foot of Mt. Yufu-dake. It is especially popular with ladies, for its scenes of mist rising in the morning and its variety of galleries and art museums. It is blessed with rich hot springs, and is second in Japan only to Beppu in terms of its number of hot springs, and has the third largest amount of water of any hot spring in the country. This day I decided to slip slowly into a hot spring at Yufuin and soak away the tiredness from my journey.