Bicycle touring Kumamoto Prefecture

Even though it’s been over three years since a series of earthquakes rattled Kumamoto, the devastation is still readily apparent.  As a reminder that we’re in a seismically active area Ferda and I started our Kumamoto tour by slowly bicycling up the rim of the huge Aso Caldera, “one of the largest calderas in the world” according to the Aso UNESCO Global Geopark literature that we picked up in the town of Aso.  From the high point on the road we dropped quickly and steeply into the caldera itself.

Here’s a view from that descent looking down on the farmland in the caldera.  The opposite rim of the caldera is in the far right of the photo while the peaks in the center of the caldera start to be visible in the left of the photo.

Looking down into the massive Aso Caldera by bryandkeith on flickr

To try and get an idea of the enormity of the caldera also consider this photo, taken from the slope of the mountains in the caldera’s center looking toward the rim of the caldera.  The mountains in the background are outside the caldera, but it’s easy to see the caldera’s rim shown as an unbroken horizontal band of green all the way across the photo.

IMG_20191106_150745 by bryandkeith on flickr

Our first stop was Aso Shrine, in the town of Aso down in the caldera flats.  Two of the shrine’s main buildings were completely destroyed in the earthquakes, and the site is still closed for reconstruction.  We couldn’t get any photos.

There are various mountains and volcanic cones within the caldera, and a road goes much of the way up the still-fuming Mt. Nakadake.  I wanted to check it out, but Ferda didn’t feel like climbing an extra 600m so we split up for the afternoon.  Despite the difference in elevation we ended up with surprisingly similar photos:

IMG_20191107_134320 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191106_151213 by bryandkeith on flickr

I was able to get up to about 1150m and take this photo:

I cycled to about 1200m here, the highest of the trip by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s a road that climbs higher, but it was closed because of the smoke.

This might be Kijimidake:

IMG_20191106_153409 by bryandkeith on flickr

This is Komezuka, a typical scoria cone:

IMG_20191106_161409 by bryandkeith on flickr

At 3000 years old, it’s one of the newest of Aso’s volcanoes.

Ferda and I met up that afternoon, camped in the caldera, and expected a downhill ride out of the caldera the following morning.  Well, the earthquakes caused lots of landslides and wiped out the highway bridge that we had planned to use.  We were rerouted up and around on narrow roads with too much traffic (because of course all traffic is using these smaller roads till the new bridges are complete).

It felt good to get out of there and onto pleasant roads for the flat ride to Kumamoto, the prefectural capital.

IMG_20191107_120308 by bryandkeith on flickr

Everyone’s checklist for Japan ought to include at least one garden.  Ours ended up being Kumamoto’s Suizenji Jojuen, seemingly unaffected by the earthquakes.

IMG_20191107_152511_6 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_153005 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_153055 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_153737 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_154537 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_161907_13 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191107_153841 by bryandkeith on flickr

Wow, that was nice!

Kumamoto has a large beautiful park where we ended up camping for two nights.

IMG_20191107_172415 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191109_074652 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191108_074848 by bryandkeith on flickr

We had a fun full day in Kumamoto with a visit to a shrine, the castle, an onsen (hot springs), and an evening at an izakaya (a Japanese style pub).

The shrine is dedicated to the king who built the castle and is famous for the hundreds of stone lanterns leading up to the main building.

IMG_20191108_124312 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191108_123505 by bryandkeith on flickr

I knew before visiting that the castle was closed because of earthquake damage so I was pleasantly surprised by just how much we were able to see.  Like in Nakatsu our visit was made memorable by the volunteer guide, Meiko, who showed us around and tried to answer anything we asked about.  She’s the source of some of the Shintoism information that I mentioned in a previous post.

Meiko (?), our guide, and Ferda by bryandkeith on flickr

There was much damage to the walls.

IMG_20191108_105617 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191108_110030 by bryandkeith on flickr

Meiko explained that the wood overhangs the steep walls so defenders could drop stones through the gap onto attackers.

IMG_20191108_094723 by bryandkeith on flickr

Into the onsen:

All the sento/onsen we went into in Japan were sex-segregated by bryandkeith on flickr

and on to the izakaya:

Our first izakaya by bryandkeith on flickr

If there’s one word to remember from Kumamoto, I hope it’s not “earthquake”, but “basashi“.  Basashi is Kumamoto’s famous culinary specialty of thinly sliced raw horse meat enjoyed with soy sauce and minced ginger.  The fattier cuts were tastier.

basashi (raw horse meat) at our first izakaya by bryandkeith on flickr

Don’t worry, it wasn’t all raw meat.

IMG_20191108_164228 by bryandkeith on flickr

We ended with a huge oyster and fuzzy heads.

A huge oyster to finish off our early izakaya evening by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191108_113108 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191108_105328 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day was easy flat pleasant riding to Yatsushiro.

IMG_20191109_143000 by bryandkeith on flickr

And more food, of course.  This time raw fish:

IMG_20191109_123355 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191109_123952 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191109_131637 by bryandkeith on flickr

The full day ride through the gorge from Yatsushiro to Hitoyoshi was another unexpected gem.  As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of great riding to be found in Japan.

IMG_20191110_121844 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191110_113042 by bryandkeith on flickr

Another unexpected (and great!) cycle path in Japan by bryandkeith on flickr

In Hitoyoshi we found a nice campsite and a hint of fall colors.

IMG_20191112_150140 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191111_121902 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191111_121400 by bryandkeith on flickr

From Hitoyoshi we climbed to about 600m to reach the tunnel to Miyazaki.  We had actually chosen a smaller road at first, but a dead end forced us back to the highway.  I had seen the tourist signs for “Hitoyoshi Loop Bridge” and saw from the map that the highway looped over itself to gain elevation.  I’ve seen similar infrastructure in South Dakota and Monaco and didn’t figure it’d be so exciting.

Here’s perhaps the best photo I have to illustrate what I’m talking about.  We came up the lower road from left to right, looped around the photographer, and then up the higher road from left to right again, arriving to where I took the photo.

IMG_20191112_112754 by bryandkeith on flickr

It’s just highway infrastructure to gain elevation, right?  Well, yes, but during construction this was an ugly industrial mess, I’m sure.  For post-construction beautification a variety of bushes and trees were planted, making the whole thing stunningly colorful during the fall.

IMG_20191112_111526 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191112_111305 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191112_111457 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20191112_112030 by bryandkeith on flickr

A Japanese garden within a crazy highway bridge.  Amazing Japan.

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One Response to Bicycle touring Kumamoto Prefecture

  1. Mike Painter says:

    Nice! The only time I experienced “looping” was in an airplane, flying out of the San Jose (California) airport. With Oakland and San Francisco not too far to the north, I guess that’s the only way they could get any altitude.

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