A lot of stunning places remain unknown in Japan, especially from western tourists. Yufuin is one of them and one of the 100 View of Japan (Heisei era) that we plan to make you discover.
Updated : August 2018.
Located in Oita prefecture, 15 miles west from Beppu, Yufuin is a tiny spa resort and city. We were there as wwoofers for three weeks between September et October 2015 volunteering for an organic cafe and restaurant. Unfortunately Yufuin was hit in April 2016 by the earthquake that shaked the whole region. The inhabitants have had a hard time but managed to get through it thanks to solidarity. Since then we came back in November 2017.
Yufuin an organic and cultural city
One thing will probably strike you after reaching Yufuin. While the tourists are already numerous in the tiny train station – just getting down from the classy sightseeing Yufuinnomori – very few westerners could be seen (often none of them). The spa resort is really famous among Chinese, Korean and, of course, Japanese, but seems to be still unknown from European and American travelers.
As many Japanese touristic spots, Yufuin has some museums. And more than one can imagine at first sight. At the foot of Yufu mount stands the Marc Chagall museum, that one can observe from the kirinko lake.
Painting then, but also local craftworks are displayed in the Folk Craft Museum. History has also an important part with the Showa Retro Park where Showa era’s antique shops and houses have been recreated. Spirit of that time and also an impressive work of collecting stuff can be observed at the Iwashita Collection. Many daily life products and toys from the previous eras are displayed, and an impressive number of old cars and motorcycles.
Finally and not the least, Yufuin seems to be a place to think organic and local. In Harappa cafe, 原っぱカフ, the food is always local and made by shifting team of chefs. The community restaurant is held by several families of the city. They produce an organic rice. The cafe is also a place for meeting among generations and it welcomes concerts and different kinds of local events. During last april’s earthquake special meal trays were shared out to isolated old people.
Yufuin’s onsen and souvenir shops
As an onsen resort Yufuin has many ryokan – these traditional and Japanese style hotel with private hot spring baths – whose are famous among Japanese people. For us, the city was the first place back in 2015 where we could really have a long-time onsen experience (bathing everyday in the private neighborood onsen)
Besides the thermal experience, Yufuin is more and more known for its shopping streets as the main Yunotsubo Kaido where cute stuff, local specialties as Yufuin’s roll cakes and other yummy things attract young girls and families. Matcha ice cream eaters are numerous but here the best bet seems to be the Snoopy one ! Also, do not forget to stop by the souvenir shops full of Totoro items and other Studio Ghibli’s tie-in products !
Not far from these streets, the Yufuin Floral Village is definitely the most kawaii place of Yufuin. Tiny cottage-like shops are dedicated to Ghibli heroes or Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland. Back in 2015 we were attracted to the family of owls (tied up of course) – but also squirrels, rabbits, hedgehogs and ducks – that inhabit the Owl’s forest but it seems to us now that it is a very sad place after all. This sort of amusement park seems to us a bit artificial, so we did not come back there in 2017.
Enjoying Yufuin Beautiful Nature
First of all, to enjoy Yufuin’s nature, one must just wander about the streets in the center and then near the river, where most of spa resorts are. Then walking along this river, from the beginning of the main road at the station, it leads to Kinrinko lake. The walk around the lake offers a nice view of the mountains. One of the best season to admire that place being definitely Fall.
Hiking in Yufuin
Few steps out the station and one is immediately pleased by the surroundings of the charming city. Yufuin may be well-known as a spa resort but it is also a shelter of nature where one can enjoy hiking to reach the Yufu mount. The mountain is known for its particular shape made of two peaks. By bus from the center one can access to the beginning of the path. Then different levels of difficulty are available.
It took us between 3 and 4 hours to hike up and down. We chose the easiest one (that leads to the lower peak) to be sure to catch the last bus around 5 pm.
Yufuin Secret River Valley
For the more adventurous (and those who have a car), there is a place to discover : the Yufu River Valley. An hour-driving is necessary to get there but it is worth the trouble. Stuck between rocks, the river coming from the spa resort flows at the bottom of the gorge. It is better to take a pair of boots and to wear something warm as the light and the heat are scarce down there.
Yufuin through B&W film camera
Throughout our three travels in Japan (one year and a half in total) I (Aurelie) enjoyed to shot sometimes with my old canon film camera (and holding my digital material at the same time !). So there is the city of Yufuin through that lens and in black and white film when we first came there, in 2015.
How to get there ?
Several connections exist by plane from Tokyo (Narita and Haneda) or from the Osaka area (with the Kansai International Airport) to reach the Oita airport (in Kunisaki), the closest to Yufuin. From there it is possible to take a direct bus. The bus connection exists also from Fukuoka, Beppu, Aso, Kumamoto and Kurokawa. By train, one can reach Yufuin with the JR Main Kyudai Line from Oita or Hakata. Or for an unusual trip, just try the Yufuin no mori (accessible with the JR Pass total and pass JR Kyushu) from Hakata.
A huge number of beautiful trains reaching Yufuin are uploaded on Youtube by Japanese enthusiasts.
Some bloggers have been spending some time in the tiny spa resort. Amond them, the travelers from Travelandbeyond.