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Mt Aso – vulcanism & tourism combo

Where else in the world would there be a tourist ropeway leading up to a pungeant, steaming, and very live, volcanic crater?  At least there are concrete emergency shelters installed for the rare occasion when the volcano goes bang.

Mt Aso is in north-central Kyushu (Kumamoto Prefecture), and is a series of peaks located in a very large, ancient caldera.  The tourists (myself included) come to Naka Dake, which is where the central live craters are located.  There’s a carpark here for those who don’t want to get out of their cars at the ropeway station below.  The observation decks up here are frequently (at least partially) closed due to wafting toxic volcanic gases emerging from the crater.  There were some roped off areas on the day I was there.

Naka dake crater

Naka Dake crater

The above two photos are panoramas, so click on them to enlarge them.

This is the road leading up to one of the Mt Aso peaks.  Some of the slopes are now covered in fine looking grazing land.  I guess volcano reared dairy cows must give good milk.

One of the peaks of Mt Aso from the road

Before arriving at Naka-Dake, the road passes through an old crater, which now looks like an alpine plain.  It’s called Kusasenri, which loosely translates as Thousand Grass Acres.  (Yes, I know a “ri” is a unit of distance, but in this context, it must be referring to area?)  This is where tourists can ride horses, go for a walk, and buy souvenirs at the long row of omiyage shops.  I guess there’s no other way to spoil a good volcano other than building a row of tacky souvenir shops.  There seemed to be more people on this plain than there were at the summit crater, and it was explained to me that for many Japanese people, volcanoes are a more an everyday part of the landscape than wide open spaces like this, which are the real novelty!  There was a traffic jam at the carpark too.

Kusasenri - an old volcanic crater on Mt Aso.  Now a mecca for tourists who want to ride horses and visit the open plains. The tourist shops at Kusasenri - an old volcanic crater on Mt Aso.  Now a mecca for tourists who want to ride horses and visit the open plains.

This jinja is at the foot of the ropeway.  Have a quick prayer here that the volcano doesn’t go bang before going up to the summit.

Jinja at the foot of the Mt Aso ropeway. Pray that the volcano doesn't go bang when you're up there.

The emergency shelters on top are intended to keep people safe in case of an eruption.  But I guess they could also be picnic shelters on a rainy day.  Would be quite a spectacular place for it, although the entrances (for obvious reasons) all face away from the crater, so perhaps the view is the wrong way.  Apparently people have died up here due to volcanic activity, and back in the 1970s, a different ropeway running up a different face of the mountain was destroyed by an eruption.

Emergency shelters next to the crater on Mt Aso, just in case the volcano goes kaboom when you're up here.

Mt Aso crater

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