Japan destinations – Yufuin, Kurokawa Onsen and earthquake

The title was meant to be Yufuin, Kurokawa Onsen and Aso. Obviously, the Aso part didn’t happen. Read on to find out more.

There are practically only two attractions in Yufuin – Kinrin-ko lake (pictured above) and Yunotsubo Kaido, the food/shopping street. OK, my son kept begging for me to let him take a horse cart ride, which he saw on a tourist map, so that might count as a third plausible attraction.

I set the GPS location to a car park next to the restaurant where I had intended to have lunch, since our expected arrival time at Yufuin was a little past lunch time. The place was packed. I also found out that they did not accept a credit card for payment. This was important, because we underestimated the cash needed for the trip, and i didn’t bring my ATM card along. So here’s an important tip for travelling in Kyushu – Tip #1 Bring LOTS of cash. Only the more upscale restaurants accept credit card, so dining at these restaurants became our strategy for conserving cash, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In particular, our lunch in Yufuin was upgraded to a fine dining experience that was totally worth the price.

Since we were parked next to Kinrin-ko lake, it didn’t take long before we found our way into the Yunotake-An restaurant in the Kamenoi Bessou Onsen resort complex, located just next to the lake.

Appetizers for the Japanese set
Appetizers for the lunch course set meal
Quite a few items are included in the course
Quite a few items were included in the course
Spanning a very wide spectrum of Japanese food..
Spanning a very wide spectrum of Japanese food.. and every item was very well done. The bean curd used in the miso soup was the smoothest i’ve tasted. Quite a steal at only 2860 Yen for the lunch course.
The Wagyu set
The Wagyu set, also 2860 Yen (which the menu mentions is a discounted price compared to dinner)

I was so glad i had my lunch here, and little did i know that the breakfast for the next morning, which i had planned for in my itinerary, was the cafe upstairs – Tenjosajiki.

A really pretty view of the stream that flows into Kinrin-ko lake, from the bridge leading to Kamenoi Bessou
A mesmerizing view of the stream that flows into Kinrin-ko lake, from the bridge leading to Kamenoi Bessou. This is an unmissable view in Yufuin.
Kinrin-ko lake takes its name from the scales of fishes in the lake, like this one, reflecting sun rays
Kinrin-ko lake takes its name from the scales of fishes in the lake, like this one, reflecting sun rays
These looked like tasselled Daisies
These looked like tasselled Daisies
You might spot these ducks near the lake
You might spot these ducks near the lake
Beautiful flowers around Kinrin-ko
Beautiful flowers around Kinrin-ko
Natural is best. Beautiful on its own.
Just another small stream (or drain). Naturally decorated. Beautiful.

After lunch, we moved on to strolling Yunotsubo Kaido, where the main thing you’ll be doing is snacking! There are quite a few snacks that are worth the calories, one of which that gets unanimous endorsement is Kinsho croquettes. The other one which has pretty good reviews is Hanakouji Kikuya. We also came across Milch and could resist trying the cheesecake (basically pure cream chesse).

Dorayaki with pudding filling from Hanakouji Kikuya
Dorayaki with pudding filling from Hanakouji Kikuya. I’m not a huge fan of Dorayaki, which is the confectionary item with equal weightage to mochi, but the pudding filling is quite nice.
Day 12DSC_0108-01
Milch cheesecake. The Japanese are experts when it comes to cheese.
By 5pm, Yufuin becomes quite deserted, as most tourists only come here as a day trip
By 5pm, Yufuin becomes deserted, as most tourists only come here as a day trip
Not sure if this is called the Yufuin river, but this is another showcase of how the streams and rivers in Japan are minimally reconditioned to become recreational spaces
Not sure if this is called the Yufuin river, but this is another showcase of how the streams and rivers in Japan are minimally reconditioned to become recreational spaces

I’ve had to change my dinner plan, as the restaurant i originally wanted to go to doesn’t accept credit card. The restaurant where i eventually had dinner is nothing to write home about, but i was able to try beef tongue here, which i won’t need to try again ever.

Combo platter for grilling
Combo platter, including pork, beef and chicken, for grilling. Beef is still the best.
At least the sake was quite nice
At least the sake was quite nice

Yufuin isn’t cheap when it comes to accommodation, so i chose to stay in a Minshuku some ten minutes drive away. The trade-off staying in one is having to put up with the inconvenience of not having an ensuite bathroom, but i was pleasantly surprised that there was a natural hotspring bath available! And so this became our maiden Onsen experience, a private bath in a private home, no less. I infer that many homes around the Oita region get to enjoy the luxury of owning a private Onsen.

Private Onsen bath
Private Onsen bath

As planned, the next morning, we had breakfast at Tenjosajiki. No credit card accepted here.

The very nice ambiance in Tenjosajiki
The very nice ambiance in Tenjosajiki
The breakfast set came with many items. Very good value.
The breakfast set came with many items. Very good value.
Cheesecake. Flawless as well.
Cheesecake. Flawless as well.
Another irresistable photo of the very pleasant stream flowing into Kinrin-ko lake
Another irresistible shot of the very pleasant stream flowing into Kinrin-ko lake

Kurokawa Onsen is just a short drive from Yufuin. The plan was to have Onsen completely struck off my bucket list. This Onsen town offers an Onsen hopping pass that allows you to try 3 different Onsens at a discounted price. I was initially worried about what to do with the kids while we the adults have a go at the Onsen, and i had in mind taking turns to do so. The Japanese showed us how they do it – they bring their kids (even babies) along!

Ryokan Wakaba. It is not cheap staying in any of the Ryokans but the service is truly unrivalled.
Ryokan Wakaba. It is not cheap staying in any of the Ryokans but the service is truly unrivalled.
We managed to loan Yukatas for the kids from the Ryokan to have this photo taken
We managed to rent Yukatas for the kids from the Ryokan to have this family photo taken
The Ryokan are all centred around the river
The Ryokans are concentrated next to the river
Teahouse on a bridge, how cool is that
Teahouse on a bridge, how cool is that

To conserve cash, I chose to do lunch at Sumiyoshi Shokudo, a family run “canteen” that offers Japanese staples. Other than churning out dishes that are a tad salty (and therefore tasty), it did the job admirably.

Beef Soba
Beef Soba
Katsudon
Katsudon
Fried rice set
Fried rice set

Here’s an important tip i want you to know about Kurokawa Onsen – Tip #2 All the Onsen Ryokans are accessible by car. There are not many travelogues or forum postings about Kurokawa Onsen, and of those available, i don’t recall any of them mentioning about getting to Kurokawa Onsen by car (bus is the only other way). To get around, they had to walk! I therefore had the wrong impression that walking was the only way. Driving made things SO much easier, especially when having to bring kids around.

Again, not a lot of information about which Onsen is the best and very difficult to narrow down the choices, but of the little information available, Yamamizuki stood out. There is a nice view of two streams converging to form a waterfall from the pool. No photo to show since photography isn’t allowed for obvious reasons. Next we went to Hozantei, probably the Onsen that is the furthest away. It also had a view of a stream (pretty much all the Onsens have some kind of view of a stream or river), but was much less impressive than Yamamizuki. Nevertheless, since it was so far away, and this was the low season, we (each) had the pools to ourselves! I was able to snap a photo of this pool since there was no one else around.

Hozantei Onsen
Hozantei Onsen

While soaking in the pool, i saw three ducks waddling their way upstream. Later i found out that they were resident ducks of the Ryokan. I must say, this was an ingenious way to entertain guests!

One of the resident ducks
One of the resident ducks
The other two
The other two
There is keen competition among the Ryokans, and one way they compete is to make the entrance to the Ryokan as welcoming as possible. This is the Hozantei entrance.
There is keen competition among the Ryokans, and one way they compete is in making the entrance to the Ryokan as welcoming as possible. This is the entrance to Hozantei. Impressive.
Decorative water wheel and a spring water pool for drinking
Decorative water wheel and spring water for drinking
There is something picturesque lurking in every corner, in macro or mega sacle!
There is something picturesque lurking in every corner, in macro or mega scale
Something pretty in every corner, like i said
Something pretty in every corner, like i said
Jackpot!
There was some kind of lucky draw organized by the joint Onsen association, and my wife hit jackpot! This paid for the rental of the kids’ Yukatas
Many of the Ryokans have a fireplace like this one at Ikoi
Many of the Ryokans have a fireplace, like this one at Ikoi
Eggs cooked in hot spring at Ikoi
Eggs cooked in hot spring at Ikoi
Not a lot of choices for dinner during the low season at Kurokawa Onsen. Yamatake specializes in Taro and chicken. The chicken is very good, has a unique texture. The Taro is a part of Japanese cuisine that i cannot understand. Cold and slimy, had no idea how to eat it.
Not a lot of choices for dinner during the low season at Kurokawa Onsen. Yamatake specializes in Taro and chicken. The chicken is very good, has a unique texture. The Taro is a part of Japanese cuisine that i cannot understand. Cold and slimy, had no idea how it was to be consumed.

Heavy rain ruined my sightseeing plans the next day, but thankfully the main objective for the day was simply to get to Kirishima, where I was going to catch a flight to Yakushima the following morning. When I got to Daikanbo, the visibility was probably no more than a few kilometres.

Not much of a view from Daikanbo
Not much of a view from Daikanbo

I scrapped the plan to visit Shirakawa Suigen and adjusted the GPS to head to Kirishima, but then i felt i had to at least see one more attraction for the day. I decided to head to Mount Aso, the most prominent volcano in Kyushu, thinking that I could at least see the foot of the mountain. This was when things started to turn interesting. The GPS led me to make a turn, and then I saw something startling.

The road that the GPS was guiding me into was broken into two!
The road into which the GPS guided me was broken into two!

I had second thoughts and decided against going to Mount Aso. I’m not sure why, but thereafter, the GPS kept leading me to the hardest hit areas of the recent earthquake around Kumamoto. There was one particular road that had someone stationed there to block entry. I’m guessing that the road is normally open for access, but due to the danger of landslide from the heavy rain, it had to be closed. Anyway, this was the first time I saw, first hand, the devastation wreaked by an earthquake, and I suppose this would count as an “attraction”. It was eye opening indeed. I truly admire the attention to details of the Japanese in ensuring the safety of the public.

Some of the houses that were completely destroyed
Some of the houses that were completely destroyed
The photo does not show it clearly, but beyond the traffic light is a huge landslide area
The photo doesn’t show it clearly, but beyond the signboard is a huge area hit by landslide
Because i skipped Shirakawa Suigen, i passed through the part of the Kyushu expressway that collapsed
The part of the Kyushu expressway that collapsed

I had to study the map to override the directions given by the GPS navigation. After driving over a mountain pass, probably the only one that was open for access, I was on my way to Kirishima. My earlier than expected arrival meant i had a chance to visit Kagoshima, the largest city in southern Kyushu. This could be one of the few places in the world that regularly experiences volcanic ash spew, from the neighbouring Sakurajima volcano. In fact, the TV weather forecast includes a section forecasting ash fall.

We walked around the Tenmonkan shopping district before dinner. Yakitori seems to be popular in Kagoshima, and we have never tried Yakitori in Japan up till now, so it’s now or never. The restaurant i had initially selected via tabelog didn’t accept credit card for payment even though tabelog said it did, so we opted for the restaurant just 2 doors away, Toritetsu. It was OK (we actually enjoyed the non-Yakitori items more). Given the little time i had for research, it was difficult to find a really good place for dinner. The area around Tenmonkan is full of eateries, by the way.

Kareage, crispy
Kareage, crispy, pretty good
Mini crabs
Mini crabs
The cheese coated mochi was the best item among these
The cheese coated mochi was the best item among these
Pan fried dumplings served on a hotplate
Pan fried dumplings served on a hotplate

 

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