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Kumamoto Prefecture

Renting a car will allow you to explore the great diversity of onsen, resorts and natural wonders located in Kumamoto Prefecture. Japan-Guide.com (link) (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4500.html) offers a lot of detail on exploring the area.

For those traveling via public transportation, however, the major sights are centered in two hubs: Kumamoto City, and Mount Aso.

Kumamoto City highlights:

  • Kumamoto Castle: this attractive and popular castle is a reconstruction of the 1600s edifice. It is surrounded by hundreds of cherry trees, and is a very popular hanami spot in the spring. Inside the castle is a historical museum.
  • Suizenji Garden: designed in the 17th century exactly as it looks today, this is a beautiful circular strolling garden.

Mount Aso highlights:

Mount Aso is one of the largest volcanoes in the world, and ranked as a top 100 hike in Japan. Located in Kumamoto Prefecture, it is a great spot for a day trip, especially combined with a visit to Kumamoto City and Castle.

  • Hiking: You can spend hours hiking through the Aso mountains, or you can head straight for the top. Mt. Nakadake is the largest and only active crater, accessible by paved road or ropeway. Ask for a hiking map at the JR Aso train station. (Note: Because Aso is an active volcano, the peak is often closed when winds are strong. There are various hiking trails in and around the mountain, however, so you will still find great views and beautiful scenery even if the crater route is closed.)
  • Note: getting to Mt. Aso by train is a little lengthy, so you may consider combining it with an overnight stay in Kumamoto City. Transfer at JR Kumamoto to the JR Hohi line. The local train to JR Aso takes about 1.5 hours, while the more expensive express gets there in just over an hour. Once in Aso you can catch a bus straight to the mountain for 540 yen, and then continue to the peak on foot or via ropeway.