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This is Kumamon.
Kumamoto's beloved mascot.
Cute, cuddly, friendly; he's worth a billion dollars to the local economy.
And he's also quite hot.
Don't touch him on a sunny day.
I must say, I feel a sense of betrayal.
I've travelled the length and breadth of Japan, visited numerous places
that boldly claim to have the best view in the country.
And yet, all of these places seem pitifly insignificant when compared to this.
The largest active volcano in Japan,
and one of the largest volcanoes on the planet, Mount Aso.
What does a billion dollar teddy bear,
a recently destroyed castle,
raw horse meat sashimi,
and a real life smurf village all have in common?
Well, they're all in one place,
which we're going to journey our way through today.
Kumamoto lies on the west coast of the island of Kyushu.
In 2016, it received global attention for all the wrong reasons,
when a devistating magnitude 7 earthquake struck the region,
killing 50 and injuring 3,000 people.
3 years later, whilst the city has recovered from the disaster,
it's left it's mark on historic structures such as Kumamoto Castle,
which looks like it's been in a recent battle.
But equally as worrying as the threat of the earthquakes
is the spectre of Japan's largest volcano,
the Aso Caldera, which lies just on the outskirts of the city.
For those of you that play Zelda, this is essentially like being in Hyrule.
When you come to places like this, you see where Japanese game designers
get their inspiration from.
As beautiful as this place is, there is a sinister undertone to it all,
especially when you look at the summit of Mount Neko in the distance over there.
The Aso Caldera covers a huge area, with a circumference of 75 miles.
And it's geographically chaotic landscape consists of no less than 5 peaks.
Classed as a super volcano, fortunately, the last major eruption of the Aso Caldera
took place 90,000 years ago.
Though, the last minor eruption took place in just May 2019.
So, the region is still very much active.
One of the crators is a popular tourist spot.
Although it's often closed due to high levels of carbon and sulfur dioxide.
So, if you're planning to visit, be sure to check in advance
as nobody wants their holiday ruined by sulfur dioxide.
But, the geology of Kumamoto hasn't just shaped the landscape.
It's actually influenced the way people live here; in smurf houses.
Genuinely, I'm not making that up either.
I can't make up my mind to what this looks like.
Tellytubby land, Smurf village, or bedrock from the Flinstones.
Either way, it's quite the sight.
480 polystyrene domes stretched out before me.
A village in it's own right, it's off peak season so nobody's here at the moment.
This is Aso Farm Village and it's basically a resort town
comprised of hundreds of domes.
It came to national prominence in 2016, after the earthquake, the magnitude 7
earthquake, rocked the region.
Because not a single dome here was damaged by the earthquake
due to their sturdy, polystyrene design.
I actually remember reading about this place in a British newspaper,
such with it's reputation at the time.
Who knows, maybe this is what the future of mankind will look like,
lots of domes.
It does look rather picturesque.
Smurf land, I mean, Aso Farm Village, played an important role
after the 2016 earthquake.
When over 4,000 buildings were destroyed and 600 people affected by the disaster
took up shelter at the dome houses,
within the safety of the 20cm thick polyurethane foam walls.
Each home is 7 meters in diameter with 40 square meters of space,
en suite bathrooms,
and thankfully, airconditioning.
The village even comes equipped with it's very own, cleverly branded smoking area.
It's not quite tobacco,
it's not quite a cottage,
it is, you guessed it, Tabaccotage.
Which does quickly become my favourite word.
All domes are created equal
but some domes are more equal than others.
This is the royal, the "royal," section.
The royal dome section.
I love the effort and detail that's gone into these places.
Look at this, look at the walls
Real stone.
That sounds a bit weird
But often walls in Japan, they look like rocks, but just plastic.
This is real stone.
This is so weird.
I would quite like to stay here actually.
I think it would be quite fun for one night,
or two.
My only concern is that the domes are very close together,
so I don't really know if you have much in the way of privacy,
especially with the thin walls.
Other than that, yeah,
I think it would be fun for one night.
I finally found the one that I want, Royal 74.
It has a very large, very nice, elaborate Japanese style garden.
It's large by the standards of the gardens dome village.
Now to try and find my way out of this neverending dome nightmare.
No sooner have I arrived in the city of Kumamoto, I find myself
coming face to face with a slightly unnerving character,
who's quickly gone on to become Japan's most ubiquitous and wealthiest mascot.
This is Kumamon;
Kumamoto's beloved mascot.
Cute, cuddly, friendly, often ranked as the most popular mascot in all of Japan,
he's worth a billion dollars to the local economy,
and he's also quite hot.
Don't touch him on a sunny day.
Kumamon everything.
So, apparently there's 2 reasons for Kumamon's success.
Number 1: he's rather cute.
Look at his little face
Although, to me, I find him utterly terrifying.
The second reason though is Kumamoto prefecture
is very smart when it came to licensing Kumamon.
Anyone can use Kumamon on their merchandise
as long as its promoting the Kumamoto region.
So, with that in mind, lot's of companies sprung up across Japan
exploiting his cuddly, little face.
In recent years, it's brought in as much as $100,000,000 a year... merchandise alone.
Kumamon's wide spread fame is without question,
Look, here's Kumamon talking to a child on a bridge.
Here he has talking to a famous French actress.
But, if like me, you still find Kumamon's fame to be something of an enigma,
I interviewed a Japanese mascot expert,
to gain a greater understanding of the character's widespread appeal.
Whatever you think about Kumamon, whether you love him or hate him,
there's no denying he's a masterclass in the art of commercialisation.
Say Kumamoto to any Japanese person,
there's always one dish that springs into mind.
Raw horse meat, known as basashi.
Now, admittedly, I don't eat a lot of horses given it's a taboo meal in the U.K.
as it is in the U.S.
even though it is widely eaten across Europe and Asia.
2 years ago though, I made a video tasting a horse meat barbeque in North Japan.
And as expected, it didn't go down too well with everyone.
Nevertheless it's the meal of Kumamoto, and even if I didn't want to eat it,
I have to do it.
Because it's Youtube, innit?
It's time to eat the local dish of Kumamoto, the most famous dish by far,
raw horse meat.
Or, if you want to be more elegant about it, sakuraniku; cherry blossom meat.
Because it's pink, like cherry blossom.
But still raw horse meat.
So, to most of the world, raw horse meat is something
we wouldn't dare to dream about eating.
However, it's actually quite good, tastes good,
it's good for you, high protein, low calories.
Because the fat has a low melting point and it has a kind of a sweet flavour to it,
it tastes really nice raw.
I dont eat it that often,
but when I do eat, I do enjoy it.
Here we go.
It's really good.
If you close your eyes and eat it... tastes a bit like having tuna,
which is my favourite fish.
So it's not really a surprise that I enjoy it
We have 3 different cuts of horse meat here.
The only bit I'm not so keen on eating is this white stuff.
This is the horse mane, the neck of the horse.
But, it's a little bit tough, a little bit hard and chewy.
Interestingly, the consumption of horse meat isn't a particularly historic
addition to the local culture.
From the 6th century up until the 1860's, consumption of all four legged animals
within Japan were strictly prohibited in accordance with Buddhist practices.
It was only in the 1960's when motorised vehicles meant
horses were no longer needed for transport and agriculture.
Kumamoto's overabundance of horse farmers presumably went,
"wait a minute,
dinner time".
And today, Kumamoto leads in the consumption of the delicacy
across all of Japan.
Eating their way through 20% of nations annual 7,400 tonnes of horse meat.
Obviously, when you eat it raw, it is cold.
So it does come with things like garlic, onions,
hot foods that kind of spice it up a bit.
If you barbeque it, it tastes a lot like beef, but, in my view, it's better than beef.
I had a horse barbeque with Ryotaro, I think, last year...
...and it's some of the best meat I've ever had, honestly.
A lot of viewers weren't very happy at the prospect of eating a horse,
and I can understand that.
I mean...
...when I first found out about this 6 years ago, I was horrified as well.
...I've grown to love it.
I don't eat it often.
I eat it, maybe,
3-4 times a year at most.
What's the verdict though?
I'd give it an 8/10.
Highly recommended.
Kumamon would love it.
If he was real.
Never seen anything like this.
So, this is Kumamoto Castle, one of the main 3 castles in Japan
along with Himeji castle and Matsumoto.
We actually saw Himeji castle a few weeks ago on this trip.
Now, it looks like the castle has been in some kind of battle.
The walls have collapsed and the tower's crumbling.
This is actually damaged by the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake. *music*
The garden is one of the most impressive castles in Japan
and stood in the centre of the city since the 1600's.
Geez, thats a lot of illiteration.
Visitors won't be able to go inside until 2021,
when the reconstruction work is completed.
That being said, I'd argue that witnessing the destruction
has given the castle something of a unique edge.
At first, it may look a bit unpleasant because of the reconstruction work,
but I think it's quite a powerful sight.
Because, usually, Japanese castles have been renovated to perfection
and they're kind of pristine in appearance.
Whereas this, there's something beautiful and organic
about the walls being crumbled...
...and caved in and the tower collapsing.
There's a sense of this invincible, impenetrable structure
really isn't so invincible after all.
Because of the damage and the current repairs,
you can't actually go in the castle.
But, to be honest, it's an architectural marvel
best experienced from afar and appreciated from the grounds.
Like most castles in Japan, I don't really, between you and me,
I don't really enjoy going in the Japanese castles, towers themselves.
I find them...
They've been renovated so much, they've lost a lot of historical value.
But, for Kumamoto castle, it's best enjoyed on the grounds.
It's the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy the incredible architecture.
Well guys, what a splendid day it's been.
We've seen the largest active volcano in Japan,
we've eaten a horse,
and we've been to Tellytubby land.
It's been a rather randomly exciting day, I've really enjoyed my time in Kumamoto.
On this Journey Across Japan, I've been listing off various places I want to revisit,
and Kumamoto is definitely one of them.
I feel like there's so much to do here, we barely scraped the surface.
But, hopefully from our time together, you've got a picture of what it's like here.
Tomorrow, I'l be joined by my final guest,
who is a girl and a vlogger,
and she'll be joining me as we travel from Kumamoto
to our final destination of Kagoshima.
We're almost there guys, I can't believe it
It's mental, it's crazy.
But anyway, no matter where you might be watching from
out there in the big wild world guys, thanks for watching,
thanks for being apart of the Journey Across Japan.
I'll see you right back here to do it again tomorrow.