MOUNTAIN FUN IN YUFUIN
We took a day trip up into the mountains today to visit the quaint little town of Yufuin. We had great weather, spectacular views and enjoyed some good touristing in an awesome location, as you can see…
We explored a bit more of Beppu last night and decided this town is a concrete monstrosity. We try to make the best of things and find the uniqueness where ever we go, but Beppu is just tacky, touristy and not at all the nice beachside town we initially mistook it for. The main part of town where we’re staying was built to cater for mass tourism sometime in the 1960s, with minimal foresight and respect for the natural beauty of the area. Walking around town yesterday all we saw were 24 hour pachinko parlours, bars, and hideous hotels from the era when brutalist architecture was all the rage. Even the view from our hotel (described as “an ocean view”) is like something out of a bad movie. In all honesty we couldn’t wait to get out of town today!
And so we did – we caught the bus up into the mountains just behind Beppu, stopping firstly at Tsurumidake (i.e. Mt Tsurumi) to catch the cable car up to the top for a photo stop. At 1,300m Mt Tsurumi is one of the smaller peaks in the area, but a good place to start for views of the area. It was a little hazy this morning when we were up there, but apparently on a clear day you can see all the way to Shikoku!
We did the short walk that was marked out at the top of Mt Tsurumi, stopping to check out the small shrines up there and admiring the last few sakura (i.e. cherry blossoms) still in bloom around the peak*.
*It’s noticeably warmer here in Kyushu and there are no cherry blossoms left anywhere down at sea level. The humidity alone lets us know we are heading down towards the tropics.
From Mt Tsurumi we continued on to Yufuin, Beppu’s much prettier inland sister town. Set against the majestic backdrop of Yufudake (i.e. Mt Yufu), this small resort town makes for a great day trip.
Like Beppu, Yufuin is famous for its hot springs; many people come here to soak in the warm alkaline waters of its many onsens. Unlike Beppu, however, Yufuin is beautiful. There are no big concrete hotels, just small ryokans set in perfectly manicured Japanese gardens. The main streets in Yufuin were lined with small shops selling hand-made crafts, cafes, restaurants, and boutique art galleries. Great for a stroll!
Built along the banks of the Oita River, Yufuin has a reputation for being a hub for “artsy” types (hence the shops and art galleries), and a spiritual centre for the region. There are 2 sacred sites in particular that we wanted to see: Ogosha-ji and Tenso Jinja shrine.
Ogosha-ji is a small temple built in a forest of cedar trees a couple of kilometres out of town that is dedicated to a nature spirit that is believed to inhabit the area. The temple is most well known for its giant cedar tree. The tree is more than 1,000 years old and immense. It was wonderful sitting under its boughs, enjoying the cool shade and listening to the birds and the babbling brook beside us.
Tenso Jinja shrine, on the other hand, is located on the shores of Kinrinko (i.e. Lake Kinrin), one of Yufuin’s buesier tourist spots. The lake is tiny, but very picturesque; and the temple is similarly under-stated but cute. The lake is fed by a fresh, underground spring and was once the main source of fresh water for the village. Today it’s a good place to stop for a coffee and watch its population of swans get fat from tourists throwing them treats.
After exploring a bit more of Yufuin we jumped on a train and got back to Beppu in time for dinner and a much-needed hot shower. Chatting to the reception staff here at the hotel we found out you can climb Mt Yufu (Yufudake), which would make for another great day trip. Unfortunately, with onwards travel beckoning, we’ve had to put that one on the list of things to come back to Kyushu for. Tomorrow we’re off to Fukuoka, the biggest city on Kyushu and our home base for a couple of days. Sayonara until then blog fans!
Blog update: So….. we had an interesting conversation tonight that explained EVERYTHING. Turns out Beppu has a reputation for being an onsen town FOR MEN – it has an (in)famous red light district and is known for its casinos, pachinko parlours, etc. Yufuin, on the other hand, was established as a family-friendly onsen town; “a cultured, clean and healthy place” we were told, compared to Beppu. Ha! Great – we’re staying in dodgy town! Oh well – we’re outta here tomorrow….