130505kumamon

Japan: Kumamoto

Manai Waterfall

Manai Waterfall

Kumamoto is the capital city of Kumamoto Prefecture. The city’s most famous landmark is Kumamoto Castle, a large and extremely well-fortified Japanese castle in its day. Originally fortified in 1467, the castle was burned after a 53-day siege during the famous Satsuma Rebellion. Today, the central keep is a concrete reconstruction built in the 1970s, but several secondary original wooden buildings remain.

During the Satsuma Rebellion, the tradition of eating basashi (raw horse meat) originated. Basashi remains popular in Kumamoto and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Japan, though these days it is usually considered a delicacy.

Kumamoto has a prefectural mascot, Kumamon. He was first created in 2010 for a campaign called Kumamoto Surprise to draw tourists to the region after the Kyushu Shinkansen line opened. The character subsequently became nationally popular, and in late 2011, was voted first in a nationwide survey of mascots, collectively known as Yuru-kyara.

Mount Aso, which is located approximately 30 miles north of Kumamoto City, is a symbol of Kumamoto Prefecture. It is the largest active volcano in Japan, with its peak, Taka-dake, measuring at 5223 ft. above sea level. Apart from Taka-dake, Mount Aso has four other peaks: Eboshi-dake, Kishima-dake, Neko-dake and Naka-dake, which exhibits regular volcanic activity.

The fourth peak, Naka-dake can be reached by car, on foot, via a helicopter ride or via the Mount Aso Ropeway cable cars. However, it is not always open to visitors due to the regular emissions of ash and fumes. When open, the crater can be visited at night, where one can see 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 in the area as well.

Finally, located about 12 miles north of Mount Aso you will find Kurokawa, one of Japan’s most attractive hot spring towns. The town’s landscape is dominated by natural colors and materials, wooden buildings, earthen walls and stone stairs. The town center, located in a forested valley is compact and can easily be explored on foot. Kurokawa is known for its outstanding rotenburo (outdoor baths) and its ryokan (inns). Visitors not only have the opportunity to enjoy their own ryokan’s baths as often as they would like, but along with many day trippers they can explore any other bath in town during the daytime hours and engage in what is known as Rotemburo Meguri (tour of outdoor baths).

So whether it’s just a day trip or an overnight stay at Kurokawa, Kumamoto is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a place to relax, enjoy great food and just get away from it all.

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Basashi

Basashi

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Naka-dake

Naka-dake

Views from Naka-dake

Views from Naka-dake

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A typical ryokan

A typical ryokan

 

PHOTO CREDITS: SHIGEO TORII

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