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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...

  • ...in 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...

  • ...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.

  • But...

  • ...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.

  • Wow

  • 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