Welcome to the second article in our series introducing what the people who actually live in Aso doesn’t want you to miss for the world! Last time we visited Aso city(hotlink), and this time we set our sights on Takamori town! Takamori town has a population of about 6000 people and is known as a place of beautiful nature and overflowing spiritual energy!

Our informer this time around is…

Yukako Sakamoto-san! Yukako-san has been working at the town hall in Takamori town for 4 years. She is passionate about the area and is even certified as an interpretation guide in Aso, making her the perfect candidate for this series.

When thinking of Takamori, many people immediately think of the local cuisine “Dengaku”, or the Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine, which became widely known through the anime “Into the Forest of the Fireflies’ Light,”, but let’s have a look at what Yukako-san has in store for us!

Recommendation nr.1 – Takamori Aso Shrine

This shrine is neatly located in the middle of the town. It is far from what you would call a tourist attraction, but that is also why it’s great. The solemn atmosphere creates a very calm and relaxing spot which you shouldn’t miss if you’re in the area.
Old traditions, festivals, and rituals are always centered around this shrine giving it a vital role in the lives of the Takamori people.

The shrine is surrounded by sacred Japanese cypress trees, a grafted species that only can be found in Japan. Their splendid appearance as they reach for the sky is truly humbling. You can’t help but get the feeling that they watch over the people who visit Takamori Aso Shrine.

There is no public transportation close by so you will need to walk for about 20-30 minutes from Takamori station before you reach the shrine. But hey, who says no to a nice stroll in the beautiful nature during the vacation?

Takamori Aso Shrine
Address: 354-2 Takamori, Takamori Cho, Aso Gun, Kumamoto Pref.
Telephone: 0967-62-0372
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/cTZmu4yWoqLvcfXQA

Recommendation nr.2 – Kusakabe Yoshimi Shrine

Apart from being said to have been established 288 BC(!), there is something about Kusakabe Yoshimi Shrine that makes it a very rare shrine. This picture gives you a hint, but can you figure out what it is?
In Japan, a visit to a shrine almost always includes ascending a staircase to reach the main shrine building. This comes from the Shinto religions respect and reverence for the mountains. Kusakabe Yoshimi Shrine is one of the three, so-called, “Kudari Miya”, which are extremely rare shrines where you actually descend a staircase to reach the main building.

If you continue further down on the right side of the hall of worship you will find a small lake of natural spring water.
This water is said to possess magical powers and is used by many people as drinking water and for cooking. Make sure to bring a bottle and fill up!

Kusakabe Yoshimi Shrine
Address: 2175 Kusakabe, Takamori Cho, Aso Gun, Kumamoto Pref.
Telephone: 0967-64-0355
Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/1EBJt5PG72HeSUUe7

Recommendation nr.3 – Local specialties of Takamori
Lastly, Yukako-san wants to recommend two mouthwatering local specialties of Takamori.

First, we have “Tsurunokoimo” which literally translates to “baby crane potato”. The shape might remind you of a bird’s head but don’t worry, this is 100% a potato!
As mentioned earlier, dengaku is a part of the local cuisine in Takamori. Among the dengaku ingredients, you often find this potato which is a local variety of the common “satoimo(=village potato)”.
Compared to the normal satoimo the texture is stickier and the flavor is deeper.
But Yukako-san’s favorite way to eat tsurunokoimo isn’t as dengaku. It might be slightly unexpected, but apparently, tsurunokoimo is completely irresistible to eat as french fries!

Next, we have another local variety.
This is “Higomurasaki”, a local variety of eggplant with a naming that roughly translates into “the Kumamoto purple”.
Takamori’s higomurasaki is known for its deep dark color and round plump body which can be enjoyed to the full of its potential from July to the middle of November.
The juicy and meaty higomurasaki is often cut and consumed as a vegetarian steak! Have you ever tried an eggplant steak? No? Then it’s about time!

There are also restaurants where you can enjoy the full flavors of higomurasaki boiled down into a delicious soup which Yukako-san also warmly recommends.

There you have it! A few exciting and slightly unusual recommendations on how to enjoy Takamori like a local!
A big thanks to Yukako-san for her tips and I hope to see some foreign-looking people biting into juicy eggplant stakes in Takamori next time I go there!