Massive volcanic explosions that started 270,000 years ago created Mount Aso, whose top later sank to leave a massive caldera basin that has attracted visitors since the dawn of history to the present day.
Strictly speaking, Mount Aso is now the collective name for five peaks within the caldera: 1,592-meter Takadake, 1,506-meter Nakadake, 1,433-meter Nekodake, 1,337-meter Eboshidake and 1,326-meter Kishimadake.
Aso was the first Japanese mountain mentioned in a foreign book--described as a "fire-spitting mountain" in a 636 Chinese book written during the Sui Dynasty.
Today, Nakadake is still active and it is possible to watch vapor rising from the depths of the Earth from a lookout point at the edge of the crater reached by a ropeway.
Except for the rugged craters, the gentle rolling plains within the caldera, surrounded by a mountain range around the rim, are covered in rich green grass, used to pasture cattle and horses.
Within the caldera, one of the world's largest with a circumference of 128 kilometers, are relics left behind by people who dwelt there in the dim, prehistoric past.
Naturally myths and folklore about deities connected to the mountain have been handed down through the generations.
The area within the caldera is still home to 50,000 people living in a city, a town and a village. They have carried on many traditions and festivals that pay homage to the gods of the mountains.
One of the more benign, productive gods is honored at Asojinja shrine. The shrine reveres the god Takeiwa Tatsunomikoto. Legend has it that the entire Aso area was once a large lake but the deity kicked open a part of the surrounding mountain range to drain the water so that the area could be turned into rice paddies and fields. He also conveniently taught the folks how to farm.
Of course, when there is a volcano involved you can be sure that hot spring resorts are not far behind. Aso is no exception. There are many of these inns for which Kyushu is renowned.
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From JR Kumamoto Station, take an express train to Tateno Station, which is a 40-minute ride: to Aso Station, an hour's ride; or to Miyaji Station, a ride of an hour and 10 minutes. The three stations are the closest to Mount Aso. Bus services are also available from Kumamoto Station.
To get to the crater of Nakadake peak on Mount Aso, take a 40-minute bus ride from Aso Station to Asosan-Nishi Station, and then take a 4-minute ride on the ropeway.
Asojinja shrine is a 15-minute walk from Miyaji Station.
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