Mt. Aso – active volcano (Kumamoto)

I travelled to one of Kyushu Island’s active volcanos, Mt. Aso with my husband and 3 year old daughter in 2013.   I hired a car in Fukuoka and drove there using Kosoku highway.   The guide book says that it would take 2 hours and 15 minutes including the journey on non-highway road.  It took us around 3 hours as we took a break at services.  The toll fee was around 2600 yen.

My husband had been to Japan before then, but it was his first time traveling in Japan by car.  Overseas visitors often use trains to travel through Japan. It means that they mostly experience towns rather than mountains and villages.  My husband was surprised to see all those mountains and tunnels after tunnels that we drove through.    If you include hills over 300m high, 3/4 of Japan is mountain areas.    One thing my husband was really impressed by was the services on Kosoku highway.  The toilets were well-kept and there were even fresh flowers there.

Back on the road, thanks to satnav, we reached our rental house in Minamiaso Village.  There was nothing at all around the house.  It was in the farming field.  Very quiet. Here is the information on Aso City before you go there.

So we waited around the parking area a bit. There is a shrine there.  We liked the colours of the prayer decoration.

To kill time, we drove to nearby Kusasenri first.  What a wide open space!  Is this really Japan?

After a couple of hours, we went back to the volcano entrance.  Yes! it was open this time.  We parked our car and went up to the view points.  There was a strong smell of sulphur and other unfamiliar chemicals.  You feel the great power of nature there.  I wasn’t so keen to stay there long. My daughter was getting tired as well.  So after a while, I stayed in the car while my daughter slept.  My husband was walking around and being curious about everything.

We went back to the house and had dinner.  It was around 6:30PM.  My husband started to say that he had pains in his eyes.  Oh, no!  His eyes were bright red.  He rinsed his eyes but they were not improving.  I could see that we needed to see a doctor.  It was Friday and after normal opening hours of any doctor, let alone the eye specialist.  I phoned a couple of emergency tourist information numbers.  They told me there was no doctor (!) in the village where we were staying. The eye specialist visits the village once a week from Kumamoto City – 1.5 hours away….

In desperation, I called 119 (number to call for ambulance). I explained the situation and the local staff was most kind and helpful.  After going through the symptoms and first aids over the phone, they told us that there was no need to rush to Kumamoto Hospital that evening.  It was just an irritation caused by volcanic gas.  Phew!

I searched online for a reputable eye specialist in Fukuoka City that was open on Sat.  We found one.  We drove back to Fukuoka early morning to see the eye specialist.  Everything was fine after that.  We didn’t use travel insurance as it was cheap enough to pay 100% without filling up the claim form and paying excess etc.

In Japan, you don’t need to go to a GP first to be seen by a specialist doctor (i.e. eye doctor).  You as a customer choose which doctor you want to see.  Check the clinic’s reviews, price, location, opening hours, range of services etc and decide which one.  Most of the time, you don’t even need to book.  You just pay some percentage of the price if you live in Japan and have National Health Insurance. I don’t have National Health Insurance.  I pay the full price like other overseas visitors.  The full price is somehow same amount of money as claiming your travel insurance or maybe a little bit more.  I couldn’t be bothered to fill the claim form.  So I just pay 100%.

Don’t let the volcanic gas irritate your eyes when you visit Mt. Aso.  Glasses would be a good idea.

Kumamon character loved by people in Kumamoto