Mt. Kuju (九重山)

Mt. Kuju is not only a majestic volcanic wonderland filled with luscious greenery, steaming gas vents, and serene lakes – it’s also the highest peak on the island of Kyushu.

The hike: From the parking lot, take the trail that starts to the left of the souvenir shop. It should take about 20 minutes to reach the Kuju ridge line up the concrete-lined path. If you’ve come in early summer, then you should find a sea of beautiful azalea in bloom and literally hundreds of people. The next 40 minutes to Ogigahana (扇ヶ鼻) is relatively easy going, where you’ll find a 4-way junction. You can either climb to the top of Ogigahana, head left to the summit of Mt. Hosho (星生山) or continue straight towards Mt. Kuju. The steam vents just behind Mt. Hosho are wonderful, and a reminder that you’re on an active volcano! After another half hour or so, you’ll reach the saddle just below the peak of Kuju, where you’ll find a small emergency hut. There are lots of different trails that branch off in all directions, so I recommend climbing over to Naka-dake first (中岳) first, and hitting Mt. Kuju on your way back to Mi-no-koshi. Naka-dake is the tallest peak in Kyushu, and reachable in about 40 minutes. You’ll pass by some fabulous volcanic lakes, which make for a great place to relax and enjoy your lunch (if the weather is nice). After reaching the summit of Naka-dake, you can loop back to the saddle below Kuju. Head up to the peak and then all the way back to the parking lot or continue traversing the ridgeline of Mt. Kuju via Hokke-in hot spring (法華院温泉), which has a nice campground.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got some crampons. The peak does get its fair share of winter snow, so make sure the road to the mountain pass is plowed and open before venturing out. The azaleas bloom in early to late May, which brings huge crowds. Autumn is also a great time to visit and winter is seeing increasing crowds as of late, due to the winter hiking boom in Japan. Click here to see the winter scenery and be careful of white-out conditions.

Access: From Hakata station (博多), take a JR “Yufuin no mori” limited express train and get off at Bungonakamura station (豊後中村駅). The train takes about 2 hours and costs 4290 yen. A local train is half the price but takes a whopping 4-1/2 hours. From Nakamura station, take a bus bound for Makinoto-toge (牧ノ戸峠). Buses only run on weekends from late May to late October. Click here to access the schedule. Click on “時刻表”, “ローカル時刻表”, and then “森町〜牧ノ戸線” to download the .pdf file. Another more convenient option might be to take the bus that runs from Beppu to Kumamoto, which stops along the way at Makinoto-toge. For example, if you take the overnight Osaka to Beppu ferry, there’s a direct bus leaving directly from the ferry terminal at 7:07am, arriving at Makinoto at 9:26am. This bus does not run in the winter however, which means between December and March you’ll need to take a bus from Beppu Bus Center (別交通センター) at 8am. Click here for that bus schedule. If coming from Kumamoto, the bus stops at Mt. Aso first before completing the 3-1/2 hour ride to the trailhead. Click here for the bus from the ferry terminal to Makinoto-toge. Sorry if it’s confusing but there are 2 different bus companies that provide bus services.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m).

Distance: 9.6km (3 to 4 hours)

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15 Comments on “Mt. Kuju (九重山)”

  1. Love the sky in that photo – the lake below Tengu-no-shiro?

    There’s another nice line up Kuju from the south if you have a car and fancy a bit more of a climb (and less crowds). Starting from the Soumi (沢水) campsite, head up to Naruko-yama (鳴子山) and do the loop around Naka-dake, coming back down the Nabewari-zaka (鍋割坂). The descent from Shirakuchi-yama takes a while though, and after heavy rains turns into an interesting mud-shute..

    The campsite at Soumi is one of the nicest I think I have been to in Japan in terms of the view out over the clouds in late autumn towards Mt. Aso. It is badly signposted, but stands at the end of the Honzan-tozanmichi (本山登山道).

  2. wesu Says:

    thanks for the alternative route info.

    yep, it’s the lake below Tengu-no-shiro. I climbed in the autumn 5 years ago and chose this route because I hitched from Mt. Aso.

  3. TomB Says:

    Mt. Kuju really is a beautiful mountain and the views are tremendous.
    I just went there last weekend and there’s actually a bus which runs between Beppu and Kumamoto(?) all year round. I got on at Yufuin and paid a reasonably expensive 1300yen to Makinoto-toge… The times change according to season.
    Happy New Year!

    • Judith Ricken Says:

      Thank you so much for that comment! It really encouraged me to try to go this winter. I ended up phoning them, there is a bus from Beppu Station to Makinoto-toge. The current phone number is:
      096-325-0100 I spoke in Japanese, not sure whether they speak English. The reservation has to be made separately on 096-354-4845
      The bus runs from Beppu to Aso via Makinoto-toge, so you can continue from Makinoto-touge to Aso.
      08:05 Beppu – 10:01 Makinoto-toge
      14:41 leaving Makinoto-touge in the direction of Aso, arriving in Aso at 16:13
      15:41 leaving Makinoto-touge in the direction of Aso, arriving in Aso at 17:13
      That gives you seven hours to climb Kuju-dake!

  4. Elaine Says:

    Mt. Kuju looks pretty. It convinces me to make a decision hiking in Japan with my travel mates. :)

  5. J Mack Says:

    Mt. Miyanoura is the highest peak in Kyushu, as Yakushima is part of Kagoshima which is part of Kyushu. Perhaps a rephrasing would fix the error. Something like “Naka-dake is the highest peak in MAINLAND Kyushu”

    • wes Says:

      Kyushu is Kyushu, and Yakushima is Yakushima. Yakushima just happens to be part of Kagoshima Prefecture, which is part of Kyushu, but technically Yakushima is not on Kyushu as it’s a separate island. Thanks for your concern anyway.

  6. jennymkoss Says:

    I’m planning on going up Mt. Kuju in the next few days for an overnight trip, and completed Mt. Yufu recently. For Yufu, I ended up taking the trail to the right instead of the left at the fork, and I ended up with quite a few ropes and chains to climb up! Not to mention feeling a bit out of my depth with the exposure that trail had. I was wondering if the Kuju ridge trail was particularly exposed and if it had any ropes or chains to get up.

    • Luke Durrer Says:

      Hi Jennymkoss,
      How did your hike up Mt. Kuji go at that time of year? I am interested in doing it in early April and am curious about what kind of clothing and gear I should pack for it at that time of year.

      • jennymkoss Says:

        Hi Luke-

        I encountered a bit of snow in mid-March going up the back side of the mountain, near the onsen (I camped there the night before) due to a recent snowstorm. But my main thing was all the mud I encountered when I descended to make my way to the main parking lot! There were kilometers of it due to the snowmelt! I would definitely recommend bringing some extra socks, sunscreen and a hat. It is pretty exposed to the sun, and I ended up getting a nasty sun and wind burn – the views were worth it though! When I went, it was ~0°C in the early morning and warmed to 12° C or so. As long as you pack a couple of layers, you should be fine.

        Enjoy your hike!

  7. jennymkoss Says:

    Hi Luke-

    When I went in mid-March I encountered a bit of snow on the back side of the mountain, near the onsen (I camped there the night before). I mostly forget about the snow since a lot of my descent was dealing with a ton of mud! The mud was from recent snowmelt, since the morning started ~0° C and warmed to 12°C or so. Other than that, Kuju is pretty exposed to the elements, so sunscreen and a hat are a good idea (in addition to extra socks). Don’t be like me and get a nasty sun and windburn. As long as you have a couple of layers to adjust throughout the day, you should be good to go!

    Enjoy your hike, Kuju is a really great one and more than worth it!

  8. Sean Benward Says:

    Your justification as to the tallest mountain by parsing Kyushu island as a distinct island is splitting hairs and confusing. Yeah, you got to get on a ferry to get to Yakushima, but Miyanoura is the tallest mountain on Kyushu with includes Kagoshima which includes Yakushima. The next tallest mountain is Mt Nakadake by 5 meters compared to Kuju. Mainland Kyushu would be less confusing with an explanation. However, I find your articles useful and appreciate the time you take to write them. Thanks

  9. FTY Says:


    First off, thank you for publishing the book on the Japanese Alps. I bought it and it helped immensely with my Minami Alps traverse in 2019.

    Now I am contemplating going to Mt. Kuju and its nearby peaks this mid December. Have some questions:

    1) I found from the Chojabaru Visitor Center website(, that the Sanko Bus company runs 1 bus a day from Beppu to and fro Kumamoto( Do you think I can just hail the bus and get a seat, especially on the return after hiking?

    2) I should be able to get a place to sleep in Hokke-in sanso by walking in without reservation?

    3) Any advice on the weather for mid December and what to look out for?

    Thank you again!

    • wes Says:


      Many thanks for purchasing the guidebook. I’m glad that it has been useful (even if the current information is always changing due to COVID)

      To answer your questions:

      1) I’ve taken that Kumamoto to Beppu bus before and reservations are required. I’m not sure if boarding without a booking is allowed. Perhaps you could have someone call the bus company directly to inquire (ph: 096-354-4845). There are currently only 2 buses a day so you would need to time your hike accordingly.

      2) I believe that advanced booking is also required at the hut. It’s a very popular hut since there’s a hot spring inside. It was full when I climbed in last February 2020. If you go on a weekday it should be less crowded, but I think it’s better to call the hut a few days before to inquire about staying there, especially during the pandemic when they might limit capacity.

      3) The weather can be unpredictable in December. I had blizzard-like conditions when I climbed in late December one year, but the snow melted quickly a few days later. Kyushu is a surprisingly cold place so expect temperatures below freezing at night.

      I hope that helps. Good luck with the planning.


      • fty88 Says:

        Hi Wes, thank you for your fast reply, much appreciated! Any plans to release new books on other treks in other parts of Japan?

        I was thinking of camping at Hokke-in sanso, but compared to the Kita and Minami Alps traverses, where I got to camp multiple nights, it makes less sense for me to lug my camping gear all the way from overseas(I am a tourist!) just for the one night.

        I have previously hiked in Kuju mountains in the third week of November, starting from Makinoto Pass. Only made it to Ogigahana (扇ヶ鼻) before turning back due to lack of time(started out in mid-late afternoon). Weather was chilly but got quite cold when the sun set. So am concerned about the weather in early-mid December.

        I am also thinking of going to Kagoshima, rent a car and driving to Kirishima and hike to Mt. Karakuni (韓国岳) and also Mount Takachiho-no-mine (高千穂峰) separately, if time permits. I understand that the traverse trail has been closed due to volcanic activities. Is the hassle still worth it, or should I just stick to the Kuju mountains?

        I will be based in Osaka before coming to Kyushu, any mountains or Hyakumeizan worth hiking around that region?

        Again, thank you for your replies and maintaining this site!

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