Mount Aso would make the perfect location for filming of a space adventure. It was as close as I could imagine walking on Mars would be, with nothing green, but a sea of reds, whites, blacks, golds, and browns.
In our quest to get as up close and personal with the volcano as safely possible, we decided to take a hike up her North face, away from the main tourist track. On parking up, we realised that the walk would be challenging, as the route was covered with large warning signs about building works to repair the damage done by a large 2016 earthquake in the area. Naturally, we ignored the signs, feeling safe to do so by the site of other walkers in the distance.
Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves in the centre of a rather active building site. Having lived in Japan for a few years, I felt pretty flabbergasted to be met with cheery smiles by the workmen, who ceased work to allow us to climb over the drills, holes into the earth, and dangerous looking machinery. It was a health and safety nightmare, and I couldn’t help wonder how we had been allowed to walk through, whilst feeling grateful we had been!
At the top of the site sat a once-beautiful Buddhist temple. You can see the temple from our campsite, and the surrounding valley, but we had no idea it was abandoned until this point. It had clearly suffered damage, with tiles and pieces littering the floor, but it still sat there proud and mysterious.
Further up from this we came across number one of two abandoned rope-way stations. This one was pretty secure, with only a few things missing, and chained up, so clearly a no-entry point. It marked the start of the steep path up the mountain, which followed the ropes of the former rope-way.
The climb was only 1.5 km, but it was steep and rather uneven, as you would expect from an active volcano. It also passed by some caves of death, which were omitting strong sulfur smells and made us both choke a little on the way up and down. As we ascended, life began to vanish, being replaced by dark rocks, lethal looking cliff edges, and tired looking hikers. Only a few of the latter mind you!
An hour or two later, we arrived at the top rope-way station, which was clearly in a much greater state of disrepair. We ventured forward to peer into it. Dan turned to me: “It is so creepy, it still sounds like it is moving and has people in it.” Que sharp intakes of breath all round as a man poked his head out and waved to us! Another curious hiker, who signified to us it was safe enough to go inside and explore a little further.
Haikyo is the hobby of exploring ruined buildings in Japan. It is a reasonably popular hobby because there are so many to enjoy, from large famous ones like Gunma Island in Nagasaki, to smaller lesser-known locations like this one! Entering this building was pretty unique, as we both knew it hadn’t been destroyed by time, but rather by the volatile natural environment that surrounded it…still…Nevertheless, we enjoyed exploring, looking at the rope-way cars, ticket office, and checking out the sulfur covered machinery in the engine room.
The descent down Aso was a little more painful on the knees. Still, after a long day hiking we enjoyed a relaxing Japanese bath and rest, and that night, we both slept like babies in our tent! It was a pretty special hike, and one I’m not likely to forget…