We visited Mt Aso during a 2 week tour around Japan and were very happy we went. How often are you going to get to stand on the craters edge of an active volcano?! We have written this review primarily to provide tips and info, rather than a review of the volcano itself.
We travelled to Fukuoka to Kumamoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and then changed to a local train from Kumamoto to Aso. Both trains are JR lines so they were covered by the brilliant JR Pass and it took around 2 hours from departure to arrival. The bus up to the cable car station (which takes you to the craters edge) stops right outside the train station. Note that you do not have to buy a ticket before getting on the bus as you pay when you get off; the fare varying depending where you get of. It is ¥650 per person, one way from Aso bus terminal to the cable car station. Whilst we were waiting in line at the bus terminal by the train station, quite a few locals rushed into the bus terminal to buy a ticket from the machine inside. We're not sure why they did this as there appeared to be no benefit – the ticket price is the same whether you buy on the bus or at the ticket machine. We thought it may reserve you a seat on the bus if there are more passengers waiting than the bus can take i.e. passengers with tickets will get a seat over those who are just waiting to pay when they get off the bus but this didn't seem to be the case. The key thing is to get in the queue quickly to ensure you get on the bus as there will always be more people wanting on than the bus can take.
On arrival at the cable car station we found that the cable car as not running due to maintenance so the operators had mini-buses driving up to the craters edge instead. These were the same price as a trip on the cable car (¥750 per person, one way or ¥1,200 per person, return). You buy the cable car / mini-bus ticket from the ticket booth in the cable car station. Alternatively, you can walk from the cable car station to the craters edge for free. We considered this but then thought better of it given it was probably about 0 degC and the wind was blowing pretty hard making it feel even colder (you are at approximately 4,000 feet above sea level). Be aware that you may have to wait at the cable car station for some time if the weather conditions are bad at the crater or if the wind is blowing the volcanic gases in the direction of the public areas at the craters edge. When we arrived at the cable car station, the craters edge was closed but within 5 minutes it was open and we were quickly on the bus on the way up.
On return to Aso train station we tried to book a limited express train back to Kumamoto; however it was fully booked. Therefore, we'd recommend that you reserve seats for the return train you want back out of Aso either the day before you travel to Aso or, at the very latest, when you get off the train at JR Aso Station on your way to Mt Aso.
With some time to kill until our train out of Aso, we ventured into the centre of the town (walk out of the train station, go straight ahead until you reach the main road and turn right) and got some lunch. After walking back towards the train station, we stumbled across a lovely bakery serving all sorts of cakes and pastries. To find it, walk out of the train station, go straight ahead until you reach the main road, turn left and head towards the baby blue building on the right hand side of the road. Continue along the main road and look for the pink 'Heartfelt Sweets' sign.
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