Rocky slops of Nasudake

Nasu – Tochigi Prefecture

  Nasu is a hot spring area at the edge of the Kanto plain where the utterly flat and heavily built up land rises and arches into green mountains. The tallest of these, Mt Nasudake, is actually an active volcano with several hiking courses leading around the crater in the centre past steaming vents, which are locally and optimistically known as Eternal Hell. The small town of Yumoto is the nearest to the summit of Nasudake, with several onsen, including one at a scalding 53 degrees C.
Transport

Bus from Tokyo you can take the JR Kanto bus from Shinjuku to Yumoto. It has several stops in and around Yumoto, but you will need to take a seperate bus if your hotel is beyond here.

Bullet train The Yamabiko Shinkansen connects Omiya and Nasushiobara, then change to the Utsunomiya line. The full journey from central Tokyo takes about 2 hours and costs around 5500 yen

Local train The Utsunomiya line runs via Akabane and Utsunomiya to Kuroiso station. It’ll cost around 3000 from central Tokyo, and takes 160 minutes… so take a book.

Although a lot of people drive to Nasu or rent a car there, a good way to travel around the Nasu area by public transport is to take a bus that goes from Kuroiso to the Nasu Ropeway. Its uphill all the way from Kuroiso so I wouldn’t recommend cycling it! A 2 day pass was about 2000yen. Their website hasn’t been updated for a while so all the times were about 40 minutes out.

Small shrine near the Nasudake crater

When? 

Theres a few ski slopes and lifts so it might be popular for snow sports in winter. North of Yumoto is an area called Tsutsujio, azalea flower. Take a trip there in late May and you`ll find out why – a large park dedicated to azalea bushes are in full bloom around then, with vivid pinks and purples stretching as far as you can see. It is also popular to visit in autumn to see the leaves change colour. The Nasudake Ropeway is closed in winter, but is a great place to start hikes from the rest of the year.

We visited in late May and saw azaleas in bloom in the valley, caught some sunshine on the slopes of Nasudake, and found some lingering snow from the previous winter too

Where to stay

Yumoto has several hotels and onsens you can stay at but they don’t come cheap. Smaller hostels lie outside Yumoto but be prepared for a bit of a walk to bus stops or attractions.

We stayed at a very cheap hotel in the south of Yumoto.The area was extremely quiet, with no drinking places and only a couple of restaurants. Luckily the steak restaurant was really good and not too expensive. Some roads are not illuminated and go through think forest, so take a torch if you’re going out at night

Last traces of snow near Nasudake

Things to do
Mt Nasudake (1915 metres)

Ropeway This takes you up near the summit of Mt. Nasudake in 5 minutes, although at weekends you might be queuing for 40minutes to get in the car. From the top of the ropeway its a short but steep climb over uneven rocks to the top, we took about 40 minutes with some breaks to admire the views. There are several routes around and from the summit of Nasudake to other ridges or down into the valley. These are well marked with yellow paint so its hard to get lost but the rocks can be loose so tread carefully. One path spirals down from the summit past several steam vents, where the sulphurous gas pouring from the dormant volcano and strange rock colours earned it the name `Eternal Hell`. The ropeway costs 650yen for a single trip, or about 1000 for a return ticket. It’s just opposite the final  bus stop and a car park
The cars can get very crowded – not good if you’re scared of small spaces and heights!

To avoid queues at the ropeway stations, you can hike all the way from the bus stop. It’s about 3km and half of that is pretty heavy going, although it levels out nearer the summit. Again the paths are clearly marked in yellow paint

Volcanic gas clouds

History and Legends – Murder stone

This large rock vents poisonous volcanic gases. A legend says it is the body of an evil 9 tailed fox spirit, who transformed into a beautiful woman and caused chaos while she travelled from China to Japan. She was eventually killed here, with her body transforming into a huge rock. A monk prayed for days to calm her spirit, and the rock shattered.

There are also legends of monks disappearing or being sucked down into Hell in this area.

The murder stone is at the edge of Yumoto, you can walk up from the town or take a bus for a few minutes

Azalea garden

Azalea garden

Also on the bus route and easily accessible from Yumoto, this large garden of narrow winding paths and full-grown azalea bushes is beautiful in late Spring when the flowers are in full bloom. There are viewing platforms to get a bird’s eye view of the garden or to the distant mountains

Heisei no Mori

Walking trails lead through forest that was once owned by the Japanese royal family. Particularly good to visit in autumn, when the leaves are changing colour.

Nearby –  Shiobara Onsen

This small town has several onsen, including some mixed or open-air baths. If you’re feeling more active there`s a popular walk which goes past 3 waterfalls. Shiobara is hard to access by publ;ic transport directly from Nasu, but  you can take a train from Kuroiso down to Nishi-Nasuno, then a bus to Shiobara.

Food 

During my trip there wasnt a lot of choice. It seemed most places were closed, I’m not sure whether they are closed over summer and open during the ski season, or simply closed down. I`d recommend finding out whether your hotel offers meals, and bring some snacks with you just in case

Links

Train Times – http://www.hyperdia.com

Accommodation – http://www.hostelworld.com

General information – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6300.html