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Kyushu: The Land of Fire

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Kyushu is appropriately called the “Land of Fire”, as gigantic caldera volcanoes are omnipresent on the island. The entire island comprises 5 major caldera areas where volcanoes are located, stretching from Aso in the north to Ata in the south. All of these volcanoes can be visited (either up close on foot or seen from the air); however since almost all of these are active, check on their updated status before visiting.

Mt. Aso

The vast Aso-Kuju National Park stretches across Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, and is one of the best places in Japan to hike or drive through dramatic volcanic landscapes. Located roughly in the centre of the park, Mt. Aso is an active volcano complex with one of the world’s largest calderas, stretching 25km in diameter.

View of Aso caldera from Daikanbo

View of Aso caldera from Daikanbo

Within the caldera limit sits not only three towns (and countless hot spring villages), but also several resurgent domes and a central plateau that consists of five mountains (known as Aso Gogaku) – the most active of these is Naka-dake, whose crater continuously billows with volcanic gas.

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The crater lake of Naka-dake taken from helicopter

Naka-dake (1,506m) is accessible via hiking trails as well as a ropeway, making it the only place in Japan where you can see an active volcano – with its beautiful turquoise caldera lake and billowing fumes – this close. However, the volcano last erupted in November 2016, and due to the damage, a 1km no-entry zone is in effect until further notice.

While the peak is currently inaccessible, you can see the smoky cone up close from the lower ropeway station or opt for a sightseeing helicopter tour. Numerous operators run helicopter tours around Aso, giving you an aerial view of the crater (view it here).

View from helicopter

View from helicopter

Kirishima

Located south of the Aso caldera is Kirishima, an active volcanic mountain range located between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, containing volcanic cones, caldera lakes, gorges, and hot springs. You can visit Kirishima Geopark from its base in the Ebino Highlands, where you can access volcanoes and crater lakes via scenic hiking trails. There are 2 main gateways into the park – the Ebino Eco Museum Center, and the Takachihogawara Visitors’ Center.

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View from hiking trail

A popular hike is the 12km trail (6 hours to complete) from Mt. Karakunidake (1,700m), which is the tallest in the area, to Mt. Takachiho-no-mine (1,574m) at the other end of the park. The trail traverses several peaks including the ridge of the active Mt. Shinmoedake which recently erupted, so the trail is closed until further notice and officials are warning people to stay away from Mount Shinmoedake; while the entire hike is not possible, you can still climb Karakunidake and Takachiho-no-mine separately.

In addition, you can also hike to several beautiful crater lakes, including Onamiike (a large lake famous for its aqua blue colour and fall foliage), Rokkannon Miike and Byakushi.

Sakurajima

Located along the northern shores of Kagoshima Bay (or Kinko Wan) in Kagoshima Prefecture is the Aira caldera, which is home to the impressive active volcano of Sakurajima. This stratovolcano that is home to three peaks: Kita-dake (northern peak), Naka-dake (central peak) and Minami-dake (southern peak), which is currently active as it billows smoke constantly, and minor eruptions often take place multiple times per day. Because of its volatility, the volcano is under constant monitoring – you can check its current status at the Sakurajima Visitor Center.

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On the island itself, you can view the steaming peak of Minami-dake from observatories like Yunohira, Kurokami, and Arimura; or you can take the 3km-long Nagisa Walking Trail which cuts through a lava zone created by the 1914 eruption.

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Although Sakurajima is connected to the mainland via a small isthmus, most visitors take the scenic ferry ride to the island which has frequent connections from Kagoshima, taking 15 minutes.

Just south of Kagoshima is Lake Ikeda, the biggest volcanic lake in Kyushu, with a circumference of 15km and a depth of 200m. The lake is also a watersports centre where you can participate in a variety of activities including FlyBoarding, HoverBoaring, and Wakeboarding – all with a view of the cone volcano of Kaimon-dake, nicknamed the “Fuji of Satsuma”, in the backdrop.

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Flyboarding at Lake Ikeda

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