In the Northeast of the third largest Japanese island Kyushu the Aso-Kuju National park protects the mountain areas of two active volcanoes. Due to its location surrounded by grassy highlands, Kuju's (九重山) forests, meadows and mountains attract a large number of nature enthusiasts. Especially the season bloom in spring changes the whole area into a giant natural garden. The Kuju area is also famous among Onsen (hot spring) lovers for the vast number of hot pools in the area. The most famous Onsen resorts among others are Kurokawa-onsen, Yufuin and Beppu. Therefore the area makes for a relaxing combination of hiking and soaking in a hot bath in one weekend.
Kuju-san (久住山) is one of the central peaks of the Kuju massif (九重山) and the most frequently climbed. Following the just 30 min distant Nakadake (中岳) (1791m) it is the second highest peak of Kyushu. Due to its proximity to other peaks in the area its worth to combine a tour with a climb of some of the neighbor mountains.
Kuju-san is one of the southern-most summits of the massif and the slopes to the south are falling down steeply opening a great view over the lower regions, the Aso caldera and the often strong steaming Aso volcano at the horizon.
To the North one has an excellent view on the steaming lava dome of the neighbor summit of Hossho-san.
Due to the steep slopes and a strong thermal lift the southern slopes are favored by gliders.
Be aware that Mount Kuju is a volcanically active area since the two centuries sleeping volcano awakened in 1995 again. Currently (2009) only strong fumarolic activity is observed and the access to the area is not restricted.
Kuju is located between the cities Kumamoto and Oita. The Oita expressway offers excellent access by car from these cities and Fukuoka.
From Fukuoka, Kyushus largest city, the fastest public transport is by Japan Rail (JR). Take the "Yufuin-no-mori" limited express train from Hakata (Fukuokas main station) until Bungonakamura station (豊後中村駅) (2 hrs). There is a bus from the train station to the trail head from spring to fall. Take the Nishitetsu bus towards Makinoto-toge (牧ノ戸峠) and get off at Choja-bara (長者原) (50 min).
There are also several other possible routes. As there is also a bus connecting Beppu with Kumamoto the whole year around and stopping at Makinoto-toge.
Due to its central location within the Kuju massif and the extensive network of hiking trails, Kuju-san can be climbed from all directions.
From Choja-bara via Bogatsuru:
From the starting point at the parking lot of Choja-bara head to the east crossing a field of Susuki grass towards the forested slopes. Before entering the forest you should pass a at least one wooden sign directing to Bogatsuru - just to be sure since an network of trails makes orientation a little difficult. Now the trail winds up in the forest along a valley. Just follow the main trail and after about 90 min you will pass the open meadows of Ama-ga-ike. At the end of the plateau you will habe a nice outlook on the Bogatsuru valley with Taisenzan. Descend on the trail into the valley, where a small unpaved road leads you to the Bogatsuru campground (2.5 to 3.5 hrs). You can stay here and do a side trip to Taisenzan (大船山)(1786m) or continue to the small group of houses of Hokke-in.
Follow the frequently used path behind the Onsen approaching the valley to the East beside the river. Climb in 30 min to a large plateau and you will join with the direct route from Choja-bara.
Direct from Choja-bara:
Follow a small paved road for about 2 km winding up to the smoking lava dome of Hossho-san. The road leads to a research station of volcanologists. At the end of the road a trail starts that climbs into a col with a protection shelter. From here you will see Kuju-san for the first time and orientation shouldn't be a problem et all under normal circumstances. Usually it is the summit with the most people atop - if climbing in a more busy season. Descend down into the plateau and follow the trail South. After crossing the plateau passing the steaming slopes of Hossho-san you start climbing a ridge that connects the highest summits of the Kuju massif. On the ridge, follow the path signs directing to Kuju-san (久住山) to the South. Be aware that clouds can come in very fast and may complicate orientation. Over some scree you will arrive at the rocky summit marked by a wooden post.
3 hrs from Choja-bara
The mountain is located in a National Park which should remind you to be even more responsible as usual. Currently there are no general restrictions for entering the area, but keep in mind that you hike in the area of an active volcano and the conditions can change fast. Some trails pass the active region very close and marks clearly show the prohibited zone.
Camping is allowed at the free Bogatsuru camp ground. There are toilets and drinking water is available. The hut some 100 meters beside the ground is in bad conditions and should be considered as an emergency shelter only. Another (but not free) campground is available about 20 min from Bogatsuru at Hokke-in. At Hokke-in a small Onsen offers a hot bath after the hiking day.
LiteratureLonely Planet "Hiking in Japan"
External LinksExcellent topographic online maps covering whole Japan and the corresponding map of Kuju-san
Japanese mountain database
Short article on Kuju on Hiking in Japan
for trains on hypedia or the JR Kyushu website and for Hita bus (in Japanese only)
Weather forecast of Japan Meteorological Agency
Up-to-date information about volcanic activity in Japan from Geological Survey of Japan
Two websites about the 1995 eruption: from AIST and Tatsuro Chiba