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 yen 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 yen, 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 yen.
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 yen. 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 yen 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
A convenient way of getting into Yufuin is by train. From Oita Station, the trip takes slightly less than 1 hour and costs 940 yen. If coming from Beppu, add 15 minutes and 150 yen to get from Beppu to Oita station. 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 yen each way. If you have a JR pass, you can use it on this train.
If you’re coming straight from Oita Airport, see our article on getting to Yufuin from the airport. You can also catch a bus direct to Yufuin from Fukuoka Airport. The trip from Fukuoka Airport takes just shy of 2 hours and costs 2,880 yen.