Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.