The stratovolcano Karakuni-dake (韓国岳) is with 1700m the highest peak of the beautiful Kirishima (霧島) mountain range. A view from the summit at the crater rim offers an excellent view of the smoking volcanoes within the area as well as to Sakurajima in the South and even Aso to the North. The crater has a diameter of about 500 m and a depth of 300 m. Its rim is open to the northeast.
There has been a hiking trail circumventing nearly the whole crater but currently it is blocked - probably due to instabilities of certain parts. Fortunately, this has no influence on the usually used hiking routes from the west and the east and a traverse can be undertaken without restrictions. A hike to Karakuni is often combined with the climb of some of its neighbor peaks or a visit to one of the surrounding crater lakes.
The Kirishima mountain range as a part of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park is located in the southern part of Kyushu 200 km south of Fukuoka and 50 km northeast of Kagoshima. Many volcano enthusiasts refer to Kirishima as the finest volcano range in Japan.
More than twenty volcanic cones and a dozen crater lakes form an exceptional area worth a multi-day visit. In the lower regions dense forest covers the area like a green carpet. The main reason is the high precipitation since the Kirishima range seems to catch any passing rain front. The annual rain amount is twice as high as that of Kagoshima just a few kilometers apart.
Due to the weather conditions some rain protection should always be a part of the gear. Kirishima can be visited the whole year around but the rain season from around mid of June to July is better avoided. Trails might become muddy and some slopes and descends can even turn dangerously slippery.
The Kirishima area is also well know for its onsens (hot springs). A visit in one of the numerous baths within the area is the best end of a hiking day.
The closest trailhead to climb Karakuni is Ebino Kogen (えびの高原). From Fukuoka the fastest and cheapest public transport is by highway bus. Take one of the buses to Miyazaki (宮崎) and get off at Kobayashi (小林) IC. Close to the highway bus stop one can change to a local bus to Ebino Kogen. Unfortunately, this bus coming from the Kobayashi train station is running very infrequently. Therefore, one can also start hiking from here towards the Ebino plateau or hitchhike. Since the most people heading to Ebino are also hikers, it is not a big problem to catch a ride.
There seems to be a bus connection from Kagoshima to Ebino Kogen. Any comment about this is highly appreciated.
Timetables for the highway buses either via Nishitetsu or the Raku bus
The Ebino Kogen trailhead is located at a height of 1200 m. Due to this, a climb of Karakuni from Ebino Kogen is finished in about an hour only. Most people combine this hike with a climb of the neighbor peaks of Shishito-dake (新子戸岳), Shinmoe-dake (新燃岳) and Naka-dake (中岳) while traversing the central part of Kirishima towards the other trailhead at Takachiho-gawara (高千穂河原).
The hike starts at the road above the center of Ebino Kogen and climbs the the western side of the cone towards the summit on the southern side of the crater rim. The hike consists mainly of stairs, is well marked and contains no difficulties.
Currently (May 2009) there are no restrictions. But the close active crater of Shinmoe-dake can change the situation quickly. The last eruption occurred on August 22nd 2008.
LiteratureLonely Planet "Hiking in Japan"
External LinksExcellent topographic online maps covering whole Japan and the corresponding map of Karakuni-dake
Japanese mountain database
TomB's blog entry on Kirishima
The website of Ebino city
Weather forecast of Japan Meteorological Agency