Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo

Aso Part I: Getting to High Places

Yamanami Highway

About a month ago the wife and I took a trip to Aso, an area in Kumamoto Prefecture famous for mountains and volcanoes.

Looking at Kyushu from afar, this is the number one image that comes up, the lush green mountains and steaming volcanoes of Aso. Aso is close to the border of Oita Prefecture where I live, and is one of the main reasons why I chose this location. Though I’ve been here for over half a year now and have had many different chances to see the sillhouette of Aso from afar, finally we took our chance to get on top and inside of it all.


We spent the night which gave us two full days to enjoy the area. From Nakatsu we took the toll roads to Kuju and then got on to the famous Yamanami Highway which runs through the Kuju-Aso National Park area. The drive through the forests and mountains of Kuju is beautiful, and once you cross over the mountains of Kuju you pass into Kumamoto Prefecture where the Aso area begins.


It’s a really strange area of green flowing hills. No trees, not many roads, cows roaming here and there, it really is as picturesque as they say.


This drive takes a little less than an hour until you get into Aso Town.

Below is a map of northern Kyushu, and the route of someone driving from Beppu along the Yamanami Highway into Aso from north to south. We started from Nakatsu (中津), directly north of Aso in the center of the bay. Basically we took the same route but added the extra distance it takes from Nakatsu.


The Aso area is a giant ring created by a massive volcanic explosion many many moons ago. The outer ring is mountains, while just inside, surrounding the still standing volcanoes in the center, lay the towns of Aso. (Check the map below). We came from the north east, circled around to the left, and went down into Southern Aso (Minami Aso). Our plan for the day was to hike 1337 meter high Mt. Eboshi [Eboshi-dake (烏帽子岳) ] and get to our accomodation in Southern Aso.


Below is a relief map that gives a good image of the area.


So we got to the trailhead which is located between two onsen, Jigoku Onsen and Tarutama Onsen. From there the trail begins as steep climb through forest for about an hour.


But aside from just sharing our time in Aso with you, there’s something else I really want to talk about, and that is getting to high places.


We are all different, as humans I mean. In fact, we are so independently significant that we really are our own special snowflakes, as corny or beautiful as that sounds.

I have always been me, expressing my own inner characteristics, but it’s with time that I come to understand this all a little bit better in the scope of the conscious human mind.

I want to get to high places. I love high places. I need high places. If I don’t get to high places I feel sick. Down in town too long I numb softened by a lack of power. I need these high places. Maybe there are some of you that feel the same way. Until we reach the ultimate peaks, there is no satisfaction. We share the same desire for the pinnacle, yet how we get there expressess our own individual spines.

I awake in town at the bottom, and everyday I begin climbing towards high places.

After emerging from the forest, the path runs flat along green pastures full of Aso’s famous red cows … a delicacy I hope to enjoy one day soon in the form of yakiniku bbq.

“High places”.

What do I mean by this? Where are the high places in our daily lives?

First of all, they are at the simplest, physically high places located on the tops of mountains. I see mountains and immediately want to climb them. I remember hearing about a famous mountaineer who when asked, “Why do you climb mountains?” replied, “Because they are there.” … or something like that. This feeling is just that simple. Painful are the sunny days I ride my bike to work gazing at the hills before me. But it’s not just that, I want to be on top of them, and I want to get there starting from the bottom. I want to sweat and try. I want my body to be so engaged that all I can think of is the next inclined step before me. I want to be so tired that when I rest the curtains of heavy air around me fall like rain as I catch my breath. I want to be so entranced by the peak that I am drawn to it like a magnet ever up.

I need to get to these physically high places, and it’s only when I come down that I can truly relax.


But it’s not just that.

I want the “high place” of physical health, so I wake up in the morning and run and push and stretch. Straight from the bed to the shoes and outside in the weather. The work comes first, the peak attained later. On that higher ground is where I want to live, and everyday it requires effort.

The path is beautiful around with the volcanic peaks of Aso around us. However on the path below are the flapping bushes reacting to snakes and other critters. The unknown made us walk a little faster. I let Satomi go first 🙂

But that’s not all.

I want the high place of knowledge, and I find this through the study of the Japanese language. I remember when I first started I had heard it was one of the, if not the most, difficult language to learn in the world. Perhaps I was inspired by the challenge, but couldn’t fathom how one language could be so much more difficult than any other. Now after 10 years of studying and 4 and a half years of living here in Japan, I still cannot see the end of the word called “fluency”. Everyday I practice writing kanji Chinese characters for forty five minutes, study from a textbook on trains, and try to read the magazines and books and signs around me in the time between.

Learning Japanese is a high place, and I suppose any foreign language is. It is hard, humbling, and often cruel, but it is one of my high places. I have to climb this, not just because I have to, but because I love to.


Then there’s kyudo, the practice of traditional Japanese archery.

Though a giant mountain in the realm of martial arts, it’s often overlooked by its lack of practical application, emphasis on ettiquete and rituals, and seemingly slow execution. However it’s steep climb is black diamond.

It’s like sparring full on all the time. Every arrow requires your extreme effort in order to overcome the cold opponent of yourself and the target. Maybe that’s why there’s so many other things involved in kyudo that don’t directly relate to shooting an arrow, in order to take off some of the heat.

Kyudo is a high place one attains through their own great effort.

Soon the peak of Mt. Eboshi appears in view, and the ascent along it’s left side begins.

These are the physical climbings of my envisioned “high places”:

Climbing mountains, physical health, studying Japanese, and practicing kyudo.

Everyday they call and I attempt to answer keeping the grabbing skeletons of my daily life at bay.


The rare call of a predator in the wild.

The tallest peak in a high mountain range.

A warrior’s victory in combat.

These are the images of a “high place.”


High places, big quests, epic goals … actually now I’m getting a little tired of them.


Maybe they don’t need to be everywhere all the time.

Eboshi Dake

There’s a lot more to life than these “high places”. They just happen to be where my mind looks to more often than not.


Other than just “high places” though, it’s from ourselves maybe that we need time away from.


Lucky for us we have others around us, whether we like it or not.


“Whether we like it or not” … what we like seems to have little effect in the world. Who cares about what we want? We’ve got lots of things to do, and lots of things not to do.


Perhaps my epic obsession with “high places” is my infantile reaction to not getting what I want. As the world takes away and replaces with an abundance of things we don’t want, I grip down harder on what is mine, that over-size luggage of “what I want.”


I think I want. I think I don’t want. I think I think I think …

“And  think I think too muuuuuuch

Thank you Stone Temple Pilots.


The top of the mountain!


Amidst the chaos of the climb, we find ourselves in high places and enjoy. These pictures are from the top of Mt. Eboshi, and man were they epic.


These aren’t the biggest mountains in the world, or even in Japan, but they will certainly impress.

Where are your high places? Do you avoid them? Do you even care?

If not you’re probably saving yourself a lot of stress.

Jigoku Onsen

After the climb down we went into the Jigoku Onsen and it happened to be arguably the best I’ve ever been in. The place had four separate bathing areas (all of which you had to change back into your clothes to get between, but if you don’t mind that hassle it’s heaven in your hands), beautiful natural outdoor baths, and by far the stinkiest onsen water I’ve ever been in (that’s a good thing!). If you have the time, get yourself to Aso, climb a mountain, and get into an amazing onsen.

Thank you for reading.


4 thoughts on “Aso Part I: Getting to High Places

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