Onwards from Sakurajima: I took the train from Kagoshima to Kumamoto and spent the evening in town. Historically, that’s an interesting combination because of Saigo Takamori. He was an important figure in the Meiji Restoration, during which Japan restored contact with the rest of the world and consolidated government power under the emperor as a constitutional monarchy (same system as Canada, more or less.) But then he unsuccessfully led Japan’s last civil war agaist the government he helped found and ended up committing sepuku. Nevertheless, he is mostly revered in Kagoshima. Not so much in Kumamoto – the castle there is the one he burned down as part of the rebellion! Anyway, an interesting figure and I now want to see The Last Samurai, a movie (based on or about?) his life.

My purpose in Kumamoto was to rent another bike and ride north to the onsen (hotspring) town of Yamaga along a cycling path. This was an excellent ride with gentle hills mostly through farmland. The only unfortunate part was I only had time to visit one onsen while in Yamaga. The spa facility wasn’t that great but the water was wonderful!

Yamaga Cycling Path

After Kumamoto I was thinking of heading to Kirishima-Yaku National Park, but after a few phone calls decided that this would be too difficult and risky (in terms of not finding a place to sleep) in the off season. I’d like to go at some point and climb a few more volcanoes, but during the summer with a tent and maybe a bicycle.

Instead I took the train to Aso, another active volcano. I took the bus up part of the mountain, climbed a minor hill near the volcano museum, ate lunch, then waited. This active volcano vents sulphur dioxide, a poisonous gas, so parts are occasionally closed for days or hours. Fortunately, I only had to wait about 40 minutes before they gave the all clear and let busloads of tourists (and me) ascend to the viewing area where you can see the active Nakadake crater. But then more waiting: one of the areas I wanted to hike through was closed! I eventually asked one of the rangers if there was anything I could do and he outlined a route on my map that avoided the closed area and pointed me at it. So that was fine and off I went.

Aso-san venting gasesWalkway & shelters

I ended up climbing two peaks: Nakadake and Takodake. It was a really fun and scenic climb. The only bad part was hiking through the sulphur dioxide field. It was apparently weak enough to be considered “safe” even by the cautious Japanese authorities, but it wasn’t _pleasant_ to breathe. That was only 15 minutes or so of the hike but enough to give me a really runny nose for the rest of the day.

Nakadake Summit

On the way down I was able to see craggy Nekodake in the distance. Luckily I was wearing my Ceiling Cat tshirt because Nekodake means Cat Mountain! I’d like to come back sometime and climb Nekodake because it looks fun (and because Cat Mountain!) I need rope, gear, and a partner though :)

Cat Mountain

After the climbing I just had time to soak and sauna at Yume-no-yu, the local onsen, before getting on a train for Beppu. All in all another great day but I’m looking forward to some relaxation in Beppu.

Originally written January 30, 2010