SMAC! Web Magazine

The Kumamoto Reporter #01 – Aso: The Land of Fire

Step inside Kumamoto’s most rugged and unique region!

Hey SILENT MANGA AUDITION® community members! SMA Editor Chase here as “The Kumamoto Reporter,” your eyes and ears in the captivating Kumamoto region in the southern island of Kyushu. Before I joined the SMA Editorial Dept. I was an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Kumamoto city, but to be completely honest, Kumamoto was unknown to me and was not my first placement choice when I first applied to become an ALT. However, I soon learned that being placed in Kumamoto was an incredible stroke of luck as I discovered breathtaking natural beauty, mouth watering food, and heartwarming people. I fell in love with Kumamoto, and my original plan of teaching English here for 2 years eventually changed to 5. As someone who has seen so much of Kumamoto and all it has to offer, I hope to share with you all the amazing places and secrets I’ve found during my time here!

Along with articles from The Kumamoto Reporter, “The Artists Village Insider” will give you an exclusive look inside the newest project from Tokyo-based manga publisher COAMIX Inc. called the “Artists Village Aso 096k.” With both series we hope to bring you the latest news about the Artists Village and the hidden wonders of Kumamoto.

This week’s issue of The Kumamoto Reporter is about the Aso region of Kumamoto and the home of the Artists Village: Takamori “manga town!”

Kumamoto is called “The Land of Fire,” and for good reason. There’s multiple famous volcanoes in Kyushu, but it’s safe to say that the largest (in Japan, too) is Mt. Aso. In ancient times it was a volcano of unimaginable size, but one day it erupted violently and collapsed in on itself, forming a colossal lake. Eventually the lake drained, and people started to live in the huge caldera that is the Aso region. Even today Mt. Aso’s size is imposing, with one of the best views of it being from “Daikanbo.” If you look closely, you can see why people say the five peaks of Mt. Aso look as if they are actually Buddha sleeping!

Thanks to its volcanic activity, a multitude of hot spring spas, called “onsens” are scattered throughout Aso. Without question, the most famous is Kurokawa onsen town, reaching the top of onsen lists in Japan every year. Here you can soak and spend the night in luxury at a Japanese inn called a “ryokan,” or you can buy a daytime onsen pass and hop from one unique onsen to another.

Another common sight of the Aso region are brown beef cows, called “akaushi.” They have healthy, lean meat and are a rare breed of cow, making up only 0.4% of the total Japanese beef population. You can spot them (and maybe even other four-legged friends) grazing when taking a scenic drive through Aso’s rolling green hills.

Speaking of green hills, Aso is known throughout Japan as a motorcycle paradise, attracting motorcyclists from distant prefectures who are itching to experience its breathtaking scenery for themselves. As a matter of fact, your very own Kumamoto Reporter was influenced to get a motorcycle after seeing riders barreling through Aso’s scenic roads! There’s countless motorcycle routes in Aso, but perhaps the most famous is “Kenny Road,” a favorite of motorcycle racing legend Kenny Roberts. Be sure to check out the nearby “Kenny’s Cafe” if you have time, too.

And of course, no trip to Aso is complete without visiting Takamori “manga town,” home of our Artists Village. A charming town filled to the brim with kind people and great places to eat at, you can snack on Takamori’s famous pickled mustard leaves called “takana” and a type of slow-grilled food called “dengaku.” Takamori is also lucky enough to be home to a historic sake brewery which produces the highly awarded “Reizan” sake.

At the heart of Takamori town is Takamori station, known for its charming appearance and statue of ONE PIECE character Franky. Just one of many ONE PIECE statues found throughout the prefecture, you can step inside the train station to buy a coke to share with Franky. Inside you can also find messages from Japanese manga artists and a special SMA display, and if you’re lucky you might be able to spot the manga train rolling by.

Speaking of trains, do you know the story behind Takamori Yusui Tunnel Park? It was meant to be part of a train line, but during construction water suddenly sprang out of the ground! Now, it’s a charming tourist attraction with decorations changing throughout the year. Another unique aspect of the Takamori Yusui Tunnel Park is that it always stays at a naturally comfortable temperature, no matter the season.

The uniquely shaped Mt. Neko and Camel Mountain (Rakudayama in Japanese) are easy to spot from almost anywhere in Takamori, but it’d be a crime to miss a visit to Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine. Located deep within a forest of tall cedar trees, it’s moss-covered stone steps and tori gate seem like it’s straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie. If you can’t wait to check out this beautiful, mysterious shrine in person you can catch it in Kumamoto manga artist Yuki Midorikawa’s one-shot manga and anime “Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light.”

I could go on and on about Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine and so many other marvels in Takamori and Aso, but I’m afraid we’d be here all day. Aso and Takamori truly are unique and special places, even among all that Japan has to offer. In the coming articles I’ll be diving into even more beautiful places in Kumamoto and Kyushu, so I hope to see you next time! Be sure to also check out the articles from The Artists Village Insider for the inside scoop on this ambitious project from COAMIX.