Yufuin is how Japanese onsen (hot spring) resort towns should be. Too often they’re industrial in scale with enormous parking lots and tour buses blowing your hat off as they roar past on too narrow roads. Yufuin is the resort town built for humans—quaint, walkable, quirky and relaxing.
Nestled in a valley at the foot of Mount Yufu, Yufuin offers a range of things to do if soaking in geothermal water and eating delicious traditional meals at one of the large number of ryokan is not enough for you.
Yunotsubo Kaido is a road lined with shops and restaurants that leads from Yufuin Station through the town to the picturesque Lake Kinrin.
From the station to the lake is about a 30 minute stroll—although it might take you a lot longer with all the distractions and side streets on the way.
Although I didn’t see any actual cats on Yunotsubo Kaido, there are a large number of stores with cat merchandise, knickknacks and clothing—including Neko Yashiki (“Cat Mansion”), a large store with anthropomorphic cat statues outside and slightly disturbing dancing mechanical cats greeting you on the inside.
Judging by the small number of shoppers and price mark downs at “Dog Mansion” directly across the road from its feline counterpart, the cats are winning the popularity contest paws down.
Shops selling colorful parasols and zakka (assorted items) also feature frequently along the trail to the lake.
There are lots of refreshment options along the way, but without a doubt the most popular item for keeping cool in the hot Kyushu sun is ice cream. With a little exploring, you can find some more interesting varieties than your typical vanilla and chocolate.
Yufuin Food Station, a small souvenir shop on a side street from Yunotubo Kaido has some particularly interesting flavors, including the black takesumi (bamboo charcoal) vanilla flavor pictured above. Other flavors include black bean kinako, tofu milk, strawberry sherbet and black sesame. The unusual varieties were picked by proprietor Yumi Yoshihara who will charge you ¥350 per cone.
Another store worth checking out is the nearby Yufuin Green Tea Factory—a distinctive shop on your right just after the Yunotsubo Kaido branches off towards the Oita River. For ¥350, you can grab a green tea ice cream cone with a matcha Kit Kat poked in the top. If the weather is a bit cooler, they have cups of thick matcha for ¥270.
Lake Kinrin isn’t much bigger than a large pond, but it’s pretty and tree lined with park benches and picnic tables for taking a tranquil break after running the souvenir and ice cream gauntlet.
If you really want to take your relaxation to the next level, there is a public onsen Shitanyu on the north side of the lake. Entry to the onsen is ¥200. Unusually, this is a konyoku onsen (“mixed bathing”). Effectively, that means female bathers are rare. Bring your own towel.
Looming over the town is the towering 1,583 m (5,193 ft) peak of Yufu-dake—Mount Yufu. Although the mountain peak is relatively high, the elevation of the starting point is quite high too so shouldn’t be too challenging for someone of average fitness.
There are a number of routes for getting to the top. A central route, an eastern route and a western route. To climb the mountain using the popular central route, catch a bus from JR Yufuin Station to Yufudake Tozanguchi bus stop. From there, follow the sign posts. The whole trip including transport should take about 4 1/2 hours. If climbing the mountain during the cooler months, listen to local advice about appropriate clothing.
The bus costs ¥360 each way and departs hourly from JR Yufuin Station with the last bus leaving at 11:15am. Return buses from the mountain start running after 2pm and continue until the last bus at 7:01pm. Make sure you check the bus times in advance.
Onsen/Ryokan in Yufuin
Despite the pretty little lake and the quaint village atmosphere, the ryokan and the onsen baths within are still the main attraction of Yufuin. A couple that we managed to take a tour of were Hinoharu and Mebaeso. Normally, these places are a little pricey, but at the time of writing the Visit Kyushu campaign was providing a hefty discount. Another option is Sankoen, looking down into the valley from the nearby hills.
Getting to Yufuin
Coming from Beppu or Oita
From Oita Station, the trip by train takes about 1 hour and costs ¥950. If catching the train from Beppu, you need to get to Oita Station first and then catch a train to Yufuin. The journey from Beppu takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes and costs ¥1,130.
A slightly faster, and cheaper option from Beppu is to catch a bus. Their is a once-per-day express bus from Beppu (departing at 8:02 a.m.) that takes just 58 minutes and costs ¥1,100.
If you’re coming straight from Oita Airport, see our article on getting to Yufuin from the airport.
Coming from Fukuoka
From Hakata Station in Fukuoka, there are three Express Yufuin no Mori trains that run to Yufuin each day. The trains leave at 9:24am, 10:25am and 2:35pm and each takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach Yufuin. Because it’s an all reserved seating express, the tickets are pricey: ¥8,020 each way. If you have a JR pass, you can use it on this train.
Buses from Fukuoka Airport take just shy of 2 hours and cost ¥2,880 for an adult ticket.
Coming from Kumamoto
If coming across the island from Kumamoto, there are buses which depart from Kumamoto Station at 7:33 a.m. and 12:13 p.m. each day. The 4 hour 20 minute journey can be booked online and costs ¥4,600.