The rural hot spring town
Yufuin is a small thermal station in Japan at the bottom of Mount Yufu, about ten kilometers from Beppu in the Oita prefecture on Kyushu Island. Along with its luxury ryokan with hot springs, the city encompasses eclectic hobbies with art museums, traditional craft exhibitions, shopping and nature outings in the surrounding countryside.
Yufuin is home to several traditional guesthouses, each with their own onsen ♨️ thermal hot springs. Almost all of them are outside the city center; ryokan accommodations are hidden in the valley, which allows them to be close to nature and offer a green, relaxing perspective. During the day, we explore the lush countryside of Kyushu to breathe fresh air before being tempted by the main street’s local stores.
In clear weather, it is impossible to miss Mount Yufu at an altitude of about 1,584m; it can be recognized by its two peaks, which dominate the town. We strongly recommend planning a few hours to hike towards its peak from Aso-Kuju National Park. First, a delimited path crosses a forest and opens to a beautiful view of the town. This first part of the hike does not require specific equipment, but it can be strenuous, especially on the sinuous mountain paths. Higher up, the hike requires adequate shoes and climbing equipment along the rocks.
An interesting alternative would be to rent bikes 🚲 to travel down the road from the hiking path entrance. It is easier and faster (be careful of your speed on the slope!), and we enjoy beautiful views and regular stops in the countryside. Then, the promenade continues on a flat path through rice fields and residential districts, quietly settled next to Shinto shrines dedicated to daily life.
Next, we return to the lively downtown between the lake and the train 🚅 station; shops, restaurants and museums comprise the touristy heart of Yufuin. During peak season, these streets welcome several buses of tourists each day and become crowded quickly.
At the bottom of Yufu-dake, Kinrin-ko Lake is a popular attraction of the city. Originally called the Lake Below the Mount, it is now called the Lake with Golden Fish Scale after a Confucian scholar saw a gold-scaled fish during sunset at the end of the 19th century. Along with pleasant cafes, the lake invites travelers to enjoy a break and contemplate the reflection of the landscape.
Yunotsubo Street serves the JR train station as the cultural and commercial center of Yufuin. There are numerous small art museums, temporary free exhibitions and independent designers selling masterpieces made from glass or leather, for example. We can also find several themed cafes, such as owl, dog and cat cafes. These experiences mostly target families and women, and the picturesque decor of each store is appealing to photographers. The street goes up to the Floral Village of Yufuin with several tiny stores scattered along it, including a replica of the famous bakery from Kiki’s Delivery Service by Hayao Miyazaki.
Slow tourism is wise in Yufuin; get off the beaten tracks to discover hidden places, unknown stores and the quiet pace of rural life. From the train station, it is possible to tour the city by horse-drawn carriage, going through less frequented streets across rice fields and allowing for discovery.