OverviewTaisenzan (大船山) belongs to the larger volcanic Kuju massif (九重山） in the center of the Japanese island Kyushu. Beside its neighbor summits in the massif of Nakadake (中岳) (1791m) and Kuju-san (久住山) (1787m) it is Kyushus third highest peak. The Kuju mountain area belongs to the larger Kuju-Aso National Park protecting the two active volcanoes of the same name which are located in Oita prefecture.
Towering over grassy highland, the trails in Kuju area attract hikers from the lower industrial centers of Oita, Kumamoto or Fukuoka. Especially during the azalea bloom in late spring the whole area appears as a giant Japanese garden.
Taisenzan is separated from the Kuju main massif by a valley and offers therefore excellent outlooks on the steaming fumarole of Hossho-san (星生山) (1762m). After being dormant for more than 200 years, the Kuju volcano erupted in 1995. Taisenzan itself is an extinct / dormant cone and 3 km apart from the active zone.
Getting ThereFrom 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 Hita bus towards Makinoto-toge (牧ノ戸峠) and get off at Choja-bara (長者原) (50 min).
There are several other possible routes. As there is also a bus connecting Beppu with Kumamoto the whole year around and stopping at Makinoto-toge.
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 see Taisenzan for the first time with the Bogatsuru valley in front.
Descend on the trail into the valley, where a small unpaved road leads you to the campground (2.5 to 3.5 hrs). Cross the campground and behind the old hut the climb for Taisenzan begins. In the bushes with low hanging branches you gain slowly altitude. The hike continues in the forest and becomes steeper. Occasionally, you have the chance to catch an outlook trough the dense branches towards the central Kuju massif with Kuju-san, Nakadake and the impressive fumarole of Hossho-san.
After around 90 min climbing the forest has changed into open scub slopes and one arrives at the saddle that connects Kitataisen with Taisenzan. There is a small torii as a way mark at the col. From here it is only 30 min to the summit along a narrow trail in the bushes. The last section to the summit is a little steeper and may involve some easy climbing.
Red TapeThe mountain is located in a National Park which should remind you to be as responsible as one should be everywhere. Currently (Apr 2009) there are no restrictions, but keep in mind that you hike in the area of an active volcano and the conditions can change fast.
Please use the links to inform yourself about current activity. This information will not be updated frequently.
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.
External LinksExcellent topographic online maps covering whole Japan and the corresponding map of Taisenzan
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
LiteratureLonely Planet "Hiking in Japan"