We had to return the car by noon, since there was still time we headed for a lookout that looked over the township.
Only we we had to quickly turn back to Ryu no Hige since I had forgotten to return the sewing kit we borrowed. Created some confusion since they were readying the vans to drive the other guests to Yufuin station and the road was narrow. After that we were truly on our way.
The lookout was a short way up the side of Mt Yufu. Unfortunately it seemed to have been damaged in the earthquake and was cordoned off, so we could only park on the side temporarily and look down from the entrance to the lookout area. The grey township was sandwiched between checkered rice farm paddies, the crop had been harvested so it was all a little grey and brown, in the other seasons the contrast will be brighter. This was supposed to be a good spot to view the morning fog that often shrouds the town, at this hour late in the morning however the view was clear.
The side of Mt Yufu was covered in a thick tall fields of silver grass. The white tails wagged and danced, a expanse of gentle wilderness.
We drove back down to return the car. The Budget Rental in Yufuin is also the petrol station they suggested we fill up on before returning, quite convenient (I believe the rule was you had to show receipt of having filled up within 5k of the return location), while the tanks were being filled up the Budget Rental staff was already inspecting the car. Before I had even paid the petrol the car was already signed off and returned with lightning efficiency. With the full insurance package there really wasn’t the need for the staff to do more than make a cursory look, any scratch and damages were their responsibility. (But if you knowingly had an incident/accident you still had to call them, otherwise insurance doesn’t apply, it’s just for minor stuff that might have been sustained without you being aware need not be argued over)
Kind of sad to see the car leave, it was a trusty and comfortable drive and stored our luggages well no matter where we went, like we had to worry about now. We drop off our luggage at the store in front of the station (3 pieces for 1100Y) and begin our tour of Yufuin.
Yufuin is another onsen town that avoided Japan’s lost decades (though it made most of it during the bubble era and slowed to a more gradual growth afterward, whereas Kurokawa made most of its growth after). The town adopted strict building codes such as height limits, which prevented construction of large hotel complexes. Sizes of ryokans were kept small (but not as small as Kurokawa) and the town evolved into a Karuizawa like feel to it, with the main street lined with all sort of cafes, sweets, snacks, trinket and craft shops. The town is also home to a number of art galleries, giving it a claim of having an air of refined taste.
Together with Kurokawa, the two onsens form a symbiotic relationship due to their close proximity (about an hour apart) and similarly small town feel. Though Yufuin is much larger, has access to train line, expressway, closer to Oita a major city; it sees four times as many visitors(~4million) and a magnitude more spend per person because it has so many more shops.
Yufuin is a paradise if you’re into shopping or trying various foods (or hell, from a different persective). I’m not too into snacks or desserts so we mostly browsed, stopping occasionally for dad to do some sample tasting. Even though there are many shops, most of them maintained a visually unobtrusive, harmonious profile. There are little nooks and alleys, hidden shops and cafes tucked away behind the busy main street for the adventurous.
The yummy sweets offered at Ryu no Hige is from Akashikashiho (赤司菓子舗), its main store is just opposite the bus centre near the train station. It also has a second store further along just before crossing the stream that runs through town. We leave the buying till later to not burden ourselves.
Though the main street is impressive by themselves, there are two blocks worthy of mention. The Yu no Tsuba Yokochou (湯の坪横丁) which is a small loop alley with shops built uniformly in the style from the Edo era, and the Floral Village which mimics the looks of a some small British town with low buildings adorned with flowers, retro signages and facades. In the Floral Village there is also an Owl forest where one could see owls up close and supposedly dress up in a wizard robe (I didn’t go in though).
主街已經很夠看了，不過還有兩個區域值得一提。一是湯の坪横丁，一個繞U字一圈的小巷，全部的店皆仿造江戶時期的風格建造。另一是仿英國小村風的Floral Village，一間間用花點綴的矮小屋子，復古的招牌和外貌裝飾。在Village中還有一個貓頭鷹森林，裡頭可以近距離觀賞貓頭鷹，好像還可以穿巫師袍過過癮 (我沒進去)。
The 1.5k walk to Kirin Lake took us about an hour and half. The lake was so named because both cold spring water and hot onsen water wells up from the bottom, this temperature difference causes a glittering effect with the sunset.
We have lunch at the Marc Chagall cafe on the lakeshore. The burger was okay. There were plenty of restaurants in Yufuin but it would have required backtracking and joining long lines.
After lunch I split up with my parents, each off to explore on our own. I decide to check out the Marc Chagall gallery upstairs. On display was a collection of painting with the theme of circus. Chagall had a slightly modern style, using rough brush strokes and large exaggerated features, almost newsprint comic like.
By Lake Kirin was the Shitanyu, a mixed gender public onsen where one could take a dip for just 200Y. On the southern shore was a shrine with a torii in the lake, reminiscent of the torii of Miyajima in Hiroshima.
Our cake reservations with B-Speak had to be picked up before 3:30. I took a detour through the backstreets of Yufuin on my way back, Yufuin’s ryokans and hotels tended to be situated away from the main street, dotted amidst the rice paddies. Juggling development while keeping the farmland feel is a top concern for the local government.
B-Speak is Yufuin’s most famous cake shop, operated by Murata, one of the 3 most famous ryokans. Its cakes (at least the ⅓ portion ones) are usually sold by before noon, without prior reservation obtaining a cake can be close to impossible.
Our train departs at 3:50pm, we went to check out another dessert shop close to the station, recommended by the young lady from Ryu no Hige, but everything were already sold out. Even in winter Yufuin is packed with people, the place must be absolutely swamped in summer when people come into the mountains to escape the heat and have ice creams of which Yufuin has plenty.
We arrived at the train station before the crowd showed up, each trailing behind them a large luggage filled with souvenirs and sweets.
The station’s waiting room also doubles as an art gallery. To be honest despite Yufuin’s claim, I very much feel its artistry claims were overshadowed by its sweets and desserts. Only a very small percentage of its visitors were probably interested much less visits one of these art galleries. I was certainly the only one there inside Marc Chagall despite the cafe downstairs having a long queue.
The Yufuin no Mori is one of the first tourist trains by JR Kyushu back in 1989, now the rail company operates a dozen tourist trains throughout Kyushu to boost patronage for lines that would otherwise see very few passengers.
The Yufuin no Mori has elevated seating level and large windows to allow passengers to enjoy the scenery outside. The interior makes use of wood to give the whole train a forest like feel. The first generation trains also sports a lounge area with bench seats facing the windows directly and space for one to stand around, chat with a friend, all while enjoying a drink bought from the shop the next car down. (The second generation trains are newer, has brighter interiors but forgo the lounge space for more seats)
The onboard shop sells a limited ekiben only available on the train, other snacks and drinks such as Aso milk. B-Speak rolls are also available, if they haven’t sold out already.
As the whole train is reserve seat only it can be hard to get a ticket if one walk up to the counter on the day, or even a few days before. The train we took was completely sold out at least 3 weeks earlier (I booked the seat the moment they went on sale a month prior to departure). The 3:50 train is one of the most popular one as it is the most convenient after a day of sightseeing. The later train that leaves at 5pm still had some seats when we left.
Note that to reserve a seat in advance one must do so online and pay with credit card at time of booking. If one wishes to use a Kyushu JR Pass, then one can only try their luck after entering Japan and go up to a counter in person. Even if I had a schedule that could have saved by using a pass, I probably would still have booked the seats online, paying that extra to have a peace of mind.
The train was not that impressive, but perhaps it was due to me being tired at the end of the day and also the fading lights making the interior a little dark. The lounge car was a definite plus and I question the decision to forgo it in the generation 2 Yufuin no Mori.
During the trip an attendant comes around with a signboard with today’s date on it for passengers to take a photo with it to show they’ve been on the Yufuin no Mori. In the shop carriage there were little train master uniforms for kids to try on and have photos taken.
Overall JR Kyushu definitely tried to make the train ride as unique an experience as possible. Thoughts had also been made with regard to the target audience’s needs; there was wifi on board (speed questionable) and luggage space was plenty at the ends of the carrages.
The train reached Hakata at about 6:10pm. We navigated the maze that is Hakata station and out the east gate in good time, the benefit of having been to a place before.
Our stay this time is Richmond Hotel, about a hundred metres out and to the right after exiting the station east side. After complaints from my parents about the last trip, this time I went with a little pricier choice. The elevators and rooms are accessed by cards, and each room was spacious (for a business hotel) and had their own aircon control. Power sockets were plentiful and USB chargers were also available. Definitely more comfortable than my usual choices.
After check-in, as I had ekiben on the train already we decided to split up for the night. I brought my parents to the ramen street in Hakata station (note: 2nd floor Deitos on the north east side). I was going to take them to the new KITTE 0101 (note: it’s pronounced Marui) B1 restaurants where I’ve identified a few choice restaurants. My fault for not explaining what the choices were I guess, dad said he wanted ramen and ramen we went.
Check-in後，我在車上已經吃過便當了還不太餓，於是決定分頭行動。我帶爸媽到車站的拉麵街(東北角二樓Deitos)。原本是想帶他們去新開的KITTE 0101 (註：發ma-ru-i)的B1餐廳街，有幾家看來適合的餐廳。不過一開始沒解釋清楚我的計畫，老爸說吃拉麵就好所以就去吃拉麵了。
I helped them order from the ticket machine (ramen ordering machines can be intimidating at first. Can I choose more than 1 item at once? What do I press to get the change?)
Then I’m off to the christmas market in front of the station.
It has always amused me how Japanese do western holidays better than many western countries. Halloween in Australia is barely alive with a smattering of kids dressing up, as we saw last time Japanese put out Halloween themed products everywhere, cakes, drinks, pumpkins in every displays, people dressing up. Valentine? They love it so much they’ve made it into two days, they also switched it around by making it customary for the girl to give the chocolate, and if the guy wished to reciprocate, give something back on white valentine.
Christmas is no exception. The christmas jingles were on repeat in the shopping streets, department stores tries to outdo each other with decorations, and a big christmas market with wine and beer and food in the station’s courtyard.
It was almost 8:30pm, I scored a strange roll of sushi for cheap from the stalls below the station’s department store and headed back to the hotel, grabbing a carton of milk from the 7-11 on the way. Japanese milk is awesome.
A late dinner of sushi, milk and B-Speak rolls for dessert.