December 30th 2018:
Early start at the station. Intrigued to spot an item in the vending machine I hadn’t seen before – alongside the hot coffee, hot soup in cans! Morning train: Aso Boy! Finally get to ride this one. Nice livery, but a fairly old diesel unit – but this made sense as we progressed, as it runs on a single track lime with passing spots, not electrified. Sadly, due to some Google Translate failures on this resort train’s website, the name of the train shows up in one spot as “Express on the tragedy!”, and on another page simply as “Motherfucker!”. Ahem.
The train’s mascot, Kurochan, was everywhere, kawaii as hell. One car is specially for families – cute double seats with one for an adult the other for a child. Also a ball pit with wooden balls made from local sandalwood. Saying the password ‘Aso!’ to one of the staff or the conductor got you a free gift of a pack of postcards. The observation carriages at each end had a fantastic wide angle view, since the drivers compartment was raised up above each of these. Should have booked a seat specifically in one of these, but people were coming and going pretty much the whole time anyway. Got a photo with the train sign – the guy sitting behind me will be significant on the next post…
It was a fairly slow run, covering 110km in 2hrs15mins, but always climbing – peaked at about 770m then speeded up as we hit the descent. Downhill into a tunnel through the caldera rim, then views opening up – soon at 560m.
Amazing views over the caldera floor (‘Aso valley’), nestled in the 128km circumference ring of peaks. 5 peaks here, with one still volcanically active. This was formed from four major pyroclastic flow events which occurred between 90,000 and 270,000 years ago. Amazingly fertile farmland due to the rich volcanic soil.
Dropped luggage at locker and hopped a bus straight away for Mt Nakadake. Unfortunately, due to shifting wind conditions the loop bus was suspended and the crater was too dangerous to visit – this happens quite often (and indeed had repopened by the time I got back to Aso city). Instead, walked back to the volcano museum, on the way spotted the helicopter that offers flights over the crater, but decided not to drop £35 for 4 minutes Plus I’d have had to wait in the open for 40 mins, and it was bloody freezing!
Bus back in to Aso, and late lunch/early dinner at the station café. Cutlet donburi – bowl of rice topped with a panko breadcrumb pork cutlet, with egg mixed with onions and soy sauce poured over – egg barely cooked enough to hold together. Delish.
Aso Base Backpackers was a lovely little spot for the night, £45 for a nice double room, dorm also looked good at just £20 a bunk. Chatted with an Australian couple who were living in Shikoku teaching English – more food for thought there. Got some photos from the railway bridge on the main road – the landscape here is truly epic, I think a hiking and cycling tour one day would be a seriously good idea…
They also had a kotatsu, a low table with built in heated blanket, very popular in Japan in the winter months! Finished the evening with a sake from their selection.