Yufuin: 湯布院, 由布院

continued from Part 1.

湯布院  or 由布院 Yufuin has 2 versions of its name, one is for the district and one for the town, but I have the impression that no one differentiates between the two anymore.

On the third day of our trip, we rented a car. First thing in the morning after breakfast, we went to see plum blossoms (ume 梅) at Minami tateishi park 南立石公園. It was a gorgeous day, and they were flowering quite nicely.

Next, we drove to Yufuin. Warning: Yufuin is NOT as rural or quiet as you may be led to believe! We were a bit surprised how busy it was (not in the least bit rural like many people claimed), but rather a bit touristy… but again, it was still fun, and it was nice to see it so lively. We walked around for a bit and then went to Cafe Duo, where your coffee drinks come with latte art– so cute! I got a Hello Kitty, my husband a bear. They even give you the design tool so you can add your own bit at the end.

We continued walking the tourist streets and around to the lake, Kinrin 金鱗湖. Along the street I got some sort of crunchy manjuu, which was wonderfully tasty. For lunch we decided to try the soba restaurant by the lake, where we split a soba, tsukemono (Japanese pickles) assortment plate and some yuzu inari. Very good, indeed. While Yufuin town was nice albeit not what I was expecting, I did not want to deal with an overly crowded onsen, so we decided to head out of town a bit and see what we could find. After all, we are in a famous onsen area, I want to try something a bit more local.

We came to Tsukahara onsen 塚原温泉, a highly acidic (pH 1.4!) onsen in the mountains, supposed to be good for skin disease. The onsen itself is called kako-no-izumi. Now this was a quiet and secluded place, for local-type tourists. My husband was asked by a gentleman who happened to speak English in the bath how we came to find the place, as it is well-known to Japanese, but not necessarily most foreigners. Honestly, we just noticed it on GoogleMaps as we were leaving Yufuin and as I remembered hearing the name before (probably in the Japanese magazine about Oita), we decided to give it a go.

You could choose the inside or outside bath; the fee 600yen for the outside (you could get a combo ticket for both). No soaping/etc allowed here, just rinse and get in. This is because of the high acidity. Again, the changing area was small and had a few baskets to hold your clothes and personal effects. The view surrounding the bath was amazing, and more of what I expected to see.

Tsukahara onsen was discovered by Minamoto no Tametomo in the Heian period while he was hunting deer. They steam eggs here as well, so definitely try them. You can also visit crater for an additional 200 yen.

After feeling refreshed, we visited the last 2 hells in Beppu. Since we already had paid for our pass, it was quick to go through.

It was time to return the rental car, which was luckily right next to our hotel as well. From here it was dinner time so we checked out an izakaya down the street from the station. This one had a nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink) plan for a reasonable price. The food was actually really good, much better than the night before, so we left very happy.

Sadly, on the 4th day, it was time to return to Fukuoka and catch our flight back home. We bought some omiyage お土産 at the Beppu train station before the 2-hour ride. Back at Hakata station, we had some time for shopping and a lunch at an Italian restaurant on the 9th floor called Esse Due, which turned out to be very good. Overall, we have had some really good food in Fukuoka (and Kyushu for that matter)!



Beppu: 別府

Another trip to Kyushu! This time we headed to Beppu 別府 in Oita prefecture 大分県, famous for its onsen. Again, Fukuoka is the biggest airport (also with direct flights from Okinawa) so once again we touched down in Fukuoka, with a 15 minute train ride to Hakata Station. From Hakata station the train goes direct to Beppu, taking about 2 hours.

Before boarding the train to Beppu, we decided to pick up an ekiben 駅弁 (eki bento 駅弁当), a train station packed lunch (駅 eki means train, 弁当 is bento), and some beers for the 2 hour ride. I noticed a place called Evah Dining selling macrobiotic vegan bento, and they all looked really good. It was hard to choose but in the end I went with the one labeled “ladies bento.” After all, I am a lady. My husband picked up some sort of pork katsu bento, but in the end was jealous of mine because it was so tasty.


We arrived at Beppu station in the early evening and checked in to the hotel just 1 block away, the Beppu Daiichi hotel (it was very cheap, included breakfast, but no onsen on site). After we dropped our luggage in the room we headed out to the Takegawara onsen 竹瓦温泉.

The outside has a traditional facade.  Inside is typical of a small local onsen, so you didn’t get the impression it was just for tourists, but visited by the local population. The entrance fee was very cheap (since there are no amenities). Bring your own soap/etc and towels! You can also purchase a souvenirs towel there (which we eneded up doing even though I brought my own). They also had the sand baths for an extra fee, but we decided not to go for it.

Once we paid, we went to our separate baths. In the ladies, there are no lockers, just baskets, and the area is very small. I undressed and grabbed my soap and towel, heading down the stairs. I admit I was a bit surprised to not see the usual (more modern) shower stations… there was simply the bath itself, a cold tap, some wash buckets and a stool. So this means you go old school: to rinse yourself off before entering the bath, take one basin, fill with some cold tap water, take it over to the small area, fill another basin with warm onsen water, mix them together (outside the bath). Clean yourself using this water and your soap. Once you are clean and rinsed, time to soak. Despite the simplicity, this was a really nice place for an authentic onsen bathhouse experience, plus it was a very cheap entrance fee (200yen I think).


After a nice soak, we walked about the area and through the shopping arcade, though it seemed most things closed pretty early. We saw the Yayoi tengu やよい天狗, I bought a retro-design towel at one of the souvenir shops and then headed back to the hotel.


The second day, we toured the Beppu hells (jigoku 地獄) in Kannawa. Touristy but fun, there were lots of interesting sites to see. The combo ticket for the 7 main hells was 2000yen per person, and there were a few smaller ones with separate fees, if you so choose. We only did one of the smaller ones since otherwise the fees add up very quickly. Most of the hells have foot baths and snacks for purchase, so plenty of opportunity to take a break and relax. There is also a stamp rally!

Full Stamp Rally Sheet!

After touring the 5 main hells in Kannawa 鉄輪 (we went to the other 2 on our combo ticket the next day since you needed a car to reach them), we headed to Myoban 明礬. This was quite a walk, ALL up hill…. but the bus was inconvenient and we were feeling genki 元気. Of course, one of the number one stops… Okamotoya 岡本屋 for jigoku mushi purin 地獄蒸しプリン– pudding/flan steamed by onsen! It was so delicious, we ended up getting a second later. My husband also got toriten とり天 (chicken tempura, famous in Oita) and onsen tamago 温泉卵 (egg boiled by onsen steam). After this we headed to the hut bathes, where we rented (literally) a family onsen bath in an outdoor hut for an hour; it was awesome! Since it was a private family bath, my husband and I bathed  together. A rather interesting area, with good food and views and a unique chance to experience a hut bath.

On way back towards Beppu, we also stopped at Hyotan onsen ひょうたん温泉. This onsen was busy and much more touristy. So the good news is, yes, foreigner friendly, but… crowded, so I don’t particularly recommend it as a must-see. The baths were okay, overall, and there were minimum amenities, but again, bring your own towel. There was a mixed “sand bath” area (which also came with yukata rental), but probably was not worth the extra 300yen on top of the 700yen entrance fee. In my opinion the price was a bit high for what it was; I have been to a lot more remarkable onsen for less. That being said, in the common area they did have a steam-cooking area (for eggs and such), a small food stand, as well as an area to sit and have you throat steamed. It was an interesting experience.

Back at Beppu station, I hadn’t had enough onsen purin, so I tried a purin dorayaki– basically 2 pancakes with a frozen purin in the middle. It was pretty good.

Dinner time was a so-so izakaya, Watamin, not too far from the station. The food was okay but the beer prices were a bit steep, so we ended early and had some more beer from the Family Mart in the hotel room.

Part 2 continued in the next post.

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Huis Ten Bosch: ハウステンボス

Post-Christmas, pre-New year was a quick trip to Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park town outside of Fukuoka (somewhat close to Sasebo). Kitschy? Yes. Bizarre? Yes. Fun? Yes. Cheap? … no.

On Boxing day, we flew from Okinawa to Fukuoka, one of my favorite cities. Being pre-New year and arriving into Hakata station (luckily only 15 minutes from the Fukuoka airport), crowds were a bit crazy to be honest. There were no available coin lockers to found, so we ended up hauling our small suitcases with us to grab some lunch before getting on the train to Huis Ten Bosch. Luckily, for our first stop we already knew where we were headed, straight to the Hakata Bus Terminal building, 9th floor… okonomiyaki! It was just noon on a Monday before New Years, but we were lucky and the wait was not too much when we arrived; Fukiya restaurant’s okonomiyaki is extremely popular with locals, businessmen, and even Japanese tourists. We went to the server, ordered and waited for a table to become available. Once the table was available, a few minutes later our okonomiyaki arrived and we chowed down. As before on our last trip to Fukuoka, this place was awesome and cheap.

After lunch, we purchased our tickets and got aboard the ~2 hour train to Huis Ten Bosch. We reserved the green car tickets (assigned seats! lots of leg room!). Overall the train ride was fairly uneventful, and no snack or drink cart, so it was a good thing we brought our own tea and beers for the ride.

Finally, we arrive at Huis Ten Bosch… it was raining a bit, so not perfect, but honestly stepping out of the train station took my breath away a bit. Before me was a rather European feel (we could see the Hotel Okura across the bridge where we would be staying), and it was a little amazing. Cheesy, I know, but it really was quite pretty even in the rain! So we hustled across the bridge to get out of the rain and checked into the hotel. We settled in, refreshed ourselves, checked out the hotel. Inside our hotel we had an onsen, a FamilyMart, a bakery, restaurants, and of course a souvenir stand.

We bought the 1.5 day pass to the park from the hotel lobby (includes after 3pm admission the first day + 1 full day the second) and headed just a few meters to the entrance of the park; at this point it was about 5pm. It was still raining a bit, which put a damper on things, but we trooped onwards. The illuminations were just starting up, so we got some warm coffee beverages and wandered past windmills, flowers, lights, etc. The sit-down, eat-in restaurants in the park are a bit spendy we learned, and while being decent were a bit overpriced; luckily the next day we stuck to smaller snacks/light meals and were much happier. We ended up eating a small dinner at one of the restaurants which was okay, but definitely tourist prices. We went up the tower and continued to looked around at the light-ups to get a feel of the park as it was raining, but after a bit the rain got to be too much and we headed back. It was very beautiful though, and I quite enjoyed the atmosphere despite the rain. Once we got back to the hotel, I changed into onsen jinbei clothes and went straight to the onsen baths! The chilly rain had gotten to me, and I need to warm up.

The onsen itself was not terribly remarkable, but it was clean and warm. There was a sauna, an indoor bath and an outdoor bath. The outdoor bath was only somewhat protected from the rain, and yes, I went into it anyway, but it was sort of romantic with rain drops and hot onsen water. But the feeling passed after a few moments of being pelted with cold rain and so I headed back to the indoor bath.

The next day, my husband must have been very comfortable because he slept in past sunrise (this never happens!). A quick morning soak in the onsen, then our choice of the “western” breakfast buffet or the Japanese morning set meal. We ended up at the western buffet, since after all, this is a Dutch themed park! While it is called “western,” it is in reality a mix of some western foods and Japanese foods– not to worry, still miso soup, rice, fish, natto, and other Japanese favorites were offered. We ended up choosing this buffet both mornings even though we discussed trying the other (much smaller) restaurant in the hotel for breakfast. Normally we might just choose FamilyMart for breakfast, but the hotel came with breakfast both mornings, and Japanese (actually most Asian) hotel breakfasts are typically very good, unlike their American counterparts. Anyway, this breakfast was in fact quite good, with a beautiful view of what turned out to be private residences designed to mimic a (wealthy) European housing neighborhood.

It was not raining for our main day in the park– yay! We went to the park and boarded the boat which would take us down the canal to a point further into the park. The park is divided into various zones, with different themes and such. Anyway, to keep it short, we enjoyed almost all of it, especially the “palace” which was a museum and gardens; the current displays were Da Vinci and also orchids. The best part was it came with a multiple entry, so we could come back at night to watch the music and light show (which by the way was very much a highlight). There were various “attractions” (museums, shows, activities) that were included in the park pass, though some things like foods and bicycle rentals, that were extra money.

As for the strange parts of the park: the “Horror” zone… yes… zombies, haunted houses… it was very creepy, and they had multiple haunted house attractions (one even required a couple, either male-female or both female, but not male-male… umm). We skipped most of these since there were lines, and to be honest… I am too much of a scaredy-cat for some of those. There were even haunted bathrooms. I went inside the womens, mostly out of curiosity, but it was really creepy and dark. I didn’t stay long. At night-time there was a projection mapping/lights and music show here, which to say the least was odd… entertaining but confusing (at least as a foreigner).

During the day, we ate our way around the park; since it was just after Christmas there was a “Christmas Market” tent with spiced wine and foods, as well as some heaters to keep you warm. We shared a raclette (cheese) meal and some wine here, and my husband enjoyed some grilled sausages on a stick. There were various food vendors and restaurants scattered throughout the park.

Overall a fun day, meandering and pretending we had visited a more European-style place. We took a break between our day-time park walking and night-time illuminations back at the hotel (after all it was only a few meters away from the park), so we could be fully charged for the illuminations. At night, the park is truly spectacular; lights everywhere. We wandered through all the various night-time shows they offered before collapsing back at the hotel.

The next morning, we ate in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed one last onsen bath before getting on the train back to Fukuoka and the airplane ride home to Okinawa. Overall, a successful trip, if not a bit odd at times.. probably not a typical stop for the average foreign tourist, but if you have been living abroad in Asia for awhile, I think it is a welcome reprieve to enjoy some actually almost European/Westernized atmosphere. The winter illuminations were gorgeous, the park town interesting, and some pretty good food.

Huis Ten Bosch, Kyushu