If you look online or in guidebooks you can find heaps of tips on recommended spots and tourism information. But what do the locals who actually live in Aso think? In this series we let the true experts step forward and recommend the spots that they truly want you to experience at least once!

And the one to shed light upon the hidden gems of Aso city is this person!

Franck!
Franck works at the roadside station, Michi-no-Eki, in Aso city where he provides information and helps visitors find their way around Aso.
Franck was born in France but has been living in Aso for 5 years! He lives together with his Japanese wife and their child.
Franck can provide valuable insight both as a foreigner and as a local which makes him the perfect person to act as our informer!
Let’s introduce Franck’s top 3!

Franck’s recommended spot nr.1! Simplicity is the best, Daikanbo and Nakadake crater!
Firstly!

The symbol and heart of Aso scenery, Daikanbo.
Here you can truly feel the vastness of the caldera and enjoy the spectacular view of the five peaks of Mt. Aso that towers in the distance.
Depending on the weather and time of day you can see the mystical sea of clouds filling the caldera, and you can even enjoy activities such as paragliding.
Franck thinks that this should be the starting point for anyone who visits Aso.

Next…

Aso Nakadake crater.
This is one of the rare spots in the world where you can look down into an active volcano! Depending on the status of the volcanic activity, access to the crater is restricted (see link below), but if you have the chance, this is a must-visit!
To be able to see and feel the breath of the earth with your own two eyes is a truly mind-boggling experience.
Franck also says that even if you can’t go up close to the crater, there are helicopter rides that will let you see the crater from the sky instead!

Daikanbo
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/7ffrGYtYNedKRUP2A

Aso Nakadake crater
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/6m6YgPY4x4ypRgpi7

For information on the current status of the volcano
https://www.jma.go.jp/en/volcano/map_6.html

Helicopter rides
This attraction is accessible from inside the zoo, Cuddly Dominion.
Address: 2163 Kurokawa, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2225
Telephone: 080-8390-4143 (Helicopter company), 0967-34-2020 (Cuddly Dominion)
Website:http://www.cuddly.co.jp/12504125221246712503124791254036938352393913134892.html (Scroll down for information in English and make sure to read the specifics about flight conditions!)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/c5D8hjxHHV6ez9cA9

Franck’s recommended spot nr.2! A relaxing walk. The cobblestone path of Sankin Kotai and Mato-ishi tea house.
Let’s head straight to Franck’s next recommended spots!

During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the Japanese Lords, or Daimyo as they were called, were forced to do regular processions to the capital. This system was called Sankin Kotai (参勤交代) and this road paved with cobblestone is the path that the Daimyo used on their long trip to the capital. The pathway is more or less left untouched letting you feel the history of Japan as you walk surrounded by Aso’s beautiful nature.


Since the trip to the capital was long and tiring, different resting spots were used during the Sankin Kotai. Mato-ishi tea house was one of these. The tea house itself is not in use anymore but the ruins remain and are definitely worth a visit.
Inside the grounds, you will find beautiful gardens, crystal clear spring water, and even a small shrine where the god of scholarship is enshrined.
In autumn you can enjoy the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, in summer you can watch as fireflies play over the water, and during winter you can experience the garden turning into a white winter wonderland. No matter the season, you can always enjoy a visit to the Mato-ishi tea house!

Cobblestone path of Sankin Kotai
Address: Muta, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2233
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/APb32vQPxuuBMzv79

Mato-ishi tea house
Address: 536 Matoishi, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2237
Telephone: 0967-34-1600 (Aso City Tourism Association)
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/yr4upMWUdFSGTLur8

Franck’s recommended spot nr. 3! Must-visit! Mt. Ogi and Ogi shrine!
The last place Franck recommended is apparently his personal favorite!

This unique, but beautiful angle of the five peaks of Aso can be seen from Mt. Ogi Observatory! A place that I visited for the first time thanks to Franck’s recommendation.


The location is to the far east of Aso city which gives you quite a stunning view of the huge and impressive caldera.

The road here can be a bit narrow and confusing at times but it’s worth it!


As you get closer you will find yourself driving along winding mountain roads lined with trees. You might doubt yourself at some point, but don’t worry, you are on the right path!


After a while, you will arrive at this neatly maintained parking space.

And once you step out of your car…

360 degrees of breathtaking Aso scenery stretching out in all directions!
Of course, you can clearly see the five peaks of Aso to the west, but also the Kuju mountain ridge to the north, and the beautiful Mt. Soba to the south-east.
If you look down, you can see small mountain villages and during this season, a carpet of pampas grass spreading out before you. The green of spring will certainly offer a magnificent view as well!

There are few places in Aso where you can enjoy a panoramic view of this quality!!
Around the observatory, there are many pathways and roads for walking and exploring as well. If the weather allows, take some time to investigate the surrounding area!


I also got a few bonus-recommendations on where to drop by on my way back.

Ogi Shrine can be found along the road that leads to the observatory.
About 1400 years ago this shrine was established at the top of Mt. Ogi, but at some point, during history, it was rebuilt in its current location.


After entering the shrine through the Torii gate, you will cross a small bridge before reaching the main shrine building.


The shrine itself is small and humble but the sight of the evening sunlight filtering through the trees to reflect of the yellow leaves covering the ground was truly beautiful.

In the spring, during the cherry blossom season, they perform traditional Kagura dance at the Ogi shrine which attracts many visitors!

Mt. Ogi Observatory
Address: 2699 Namino Oaza Nakae, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2805
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/TVQbSq11nnSn66m87

Ogi Shrine
Address: 2593 Namino Oaza Nakae, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2805
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/bksFpRixDKPxZ6hv9

There you have it. Franck’s recommended spots!
I guess the classics, such as Daikanbo, have become classics for a reason. But we also got information on a few lesser-known spots such as Mato-ishi tea house, and even one that was completely new to me as well, Mt. Ogi observatory!
No reason to wait, get out there and explore the spots that have captured the heart of our local informer Franck!

And if someone wants to get more information from Franck, visit him at the tourist information at Michi-no-Eki Aso.

Michi-no-Eki Aso (Roadside station Aso)
Address: 〒869-2225 Kumamoto, Aso, Kurokawa, 1440-1
Telephone: 0967-35-5077
Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00
Website: https://www.aso-denku.jp/category/english/
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/XFLQhGDT8QYkK634A