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Tour de Nippon Minami Aso

The Aso caldera is one of the largest volcanic features of its kind, measuring 25 km north to south, 18 km east to west, and 128 km in circumference. It stands in Aso Kujū National Park in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. Its peak is 1,592 metres above sea level. The valley is a global rarity home to fertile land, human communities, a national highway, and even a railway. Join us as we explore Minami Aso Village and experience the power of nature.


Bubbles of Water Stay Cool Under Mt. Aso

Kumamoto is known as Japan’s greatest “groundwater city,” where groundwater provides 100% of the drinking water for the 740,000 residents. The blessing of the volcanic Mt. Aso is even more concentrated in Minami Aso Village, where as many as 11 springs—including Shirakawa Suigen, selected as one of Japan’s 100 Excellent Waters—serve as community water sources. Rain falls to the ground, infiltrates into the deposits left by pyroclastic flows, replenishes the subsurface river over a long course of time, and returns to the surface as springs. The clear, clean and nutrient enriched water is a blessing.

Mt. Aso comprises five peaks: Takadake, Nekodake, Nakadake, Kishimadake, and Eboshidake. This central cone group and the surrounding grasslands blend into the captivating beauty of the caldera landscape. We explore the water sources and the Kusasenri Geosite with Kazumi Nakajima, chair of the Minamiaso Guide Club. His favorite bag is filled with reference materials including a relief map of Aso. Mr. Nakajima strolls and pauses at rhythmic intervals, each burbling spring musically accompanying his commentary as he takes us this February through Kusasenri’s patches of unmelted snow, inviting us to honor the eternal passage of time on Earth.

We spend the night at Socket, where the window commands a view of the people living with nature in the caldera. Renovated from a cowshed that fell into disuse for over 20 years, the guesthouse opened in 2019. The first floor is an open-air kitchen, the second floor a guest room.  The unique design of a large and spacious guest room and an outdoor kitchen and dining area make one feel as they are living like a local. And the well stacked selection of wines and dry foods adds an additional level of pleasure and delight. We spend our time cooking in the kitchen and strolling to the hot-spring bath nearby.

The next morning, we say goodbye to the Maehata family, imagining the day we’ll return to the local smell of fresh air, and the large views of Mt. Aso and joy of cooking outdoors.

*”Papersky Tour de Nippon in Aso” which was scheduled to be held on September 26(sat) and 27(sun) has been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. We are sorry about the inconvenience. Thank you for your understanding.

Papersky’s Tour de Nippon project is about finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts, their inhabitants, nature, culture and food. We travel to various prefectures and ride bicycles. Traveling via bicycle allows us a clean and healthy way to explore Japan’s rural areas.
Take a self guided tour of Papersky's Tour de Nippon in Minami Aso using the Strava route map and be sure to join the Papersky Club as well. You can sign up by searching ‘Papersky’ in the Explore menu ➡︎ Clubs section.
text | KaO photography | Akiko Yamaguchi