Day 12: Amazing Kurokawa onsen and foggy Aso

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Aso Base Backpackers

Flag of Japan  , Kyushu-Okinawa,
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We decided to come to Kyushu island to experience japanese nature and countryside, especially the volcanic regions. We thus came to Kumamoto which is a good starting point to go to Aso region, the largest caldera in the world, with a still active volcano in its center, Mount Aso.

We rented a car in Kumamoto, in a Budget office very close to the Dormy Inn Hotel. The car they gave us was a Toyota Vitz equipped with a GPS…in japanese only !

For the record, almost all cars in Japan are equipped with GPS, and it is absolutely necessary since there are no real addresses like in western countries. The adress is sometimes a road, but most of the times a series of number making reference to the neighborhood, the block, the building…etc.

And numbers in a street are attributed according to the time of construction of the building and not its position in the street…
Anyway, every conditions are reunited so that you get lost !

But GPS is you savior with a very nice application: you give it the phone number of your destination, and it finds its way ! Very easy to use at the end.

For the record again, you drive on the left side of the road in Japan, and most of the cars are automatic ones.

We finally reached Aso very easily, in less than an hour from Kumamoto. But the weather was very cloudy and we could not see the top of mountains… Not very reassuring situation. We made a stop at the information center, and the lady showed us a live webcam pointing to the center of the crater : fog and more fog !!
Our hopes to make a hike today started to vanish…

We then made a quick stop at our hostel, Aso Base Backpackers. It is a brand new hostel in Aso city, which opened in November 2009. A very nice, clean, and friendly place to stay. The guy also told us the weather conditions would not allow us to hike today. He suggested that we went to Kurokawa onsen, a nice village very famous for its hot springs. We had planed to go there anyway during our stay in Aso, but we had not imagined we would go there because of bad weather…

Before driving to Kurokawa, we decided to drive up to Aso mountain, to see what we could see with our own eyes ! The first part of the journey was fine, but we soon entered a thick fog, and when we reached the top of the mountain, we could barely see farther than 10 meters away…
We gave up for good our plans of hike, and drove to Kurokawa.

It is a 60 minutes drive to reach Kurokawa ("Black river"), which is a small village nested in the mountains, and very famous all over Japan for its beautiful outdoor hot springs.
Actually there are more than 20 ryokans in the city, all of them having their own onsen. Those ryokans are pretty expensive accommodation for a night stay, but the tourism office created a pass which is really a bargain: for 1200 yens, you can enter 3 onsen of your choice. The pass is a piece of wood with a necklace, and you just show it at the entrance of each ryokan, and a stamp is put on your pass.

According to the websites we checked before coming and to the suggestions made by the guy at Aso Base Backpackers, we chose the following ryokans : Shinmeikan, Ikoi, and Yamamizuki. 
Shinmeikan ryokan has a very original and incredible onsen since you have a huge rotenburo (outside bath near the river) and other baths inside caves ! The water inside the caves is pretty hot and it not so easy to enter it, but the experience is definitely unique!
Ikoi is a very traditional ryokan, in a nice wooden house, and it provides nice outside baths with "cascading water" coming from bamboo trees.
Eventually Yamamizuki is a bit out of the city center, and is an amazing ryokan, with a HUGE rotenburo close to the river and its cascade. It looked all the more like heaven than we were just the two of us is that incredible place !

For the record, japanese love onsen, and there is a usual way of taking it. See day 7 post on Koya-san for details.

In between to onsen, we had lunch in a fantastic little restaurant called "Restaurant café Warokuya". They serve an incredible curry with fried chicken and an amazing cheese-cake for dessert... A must-go !

We finally drove back to Aso, encountering foggy conditions once in a while.
We went to bed hoping the next day would offer better conditions for hiking...

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