It seems most people come to Yufuin – a small hamlet and onsen resort town on the island of Kyushu, Japan – for a day trip, but we were lucky enough to spend a week here and did not run out of things to do. If you like onsens, art galleries, local crafts – this little town has a lot to offer. Not to mention a giant mountain you can climb and nature trails. Stay and relax deeply.
The omotesando or main tourist street with shops and cafes runs from the train station to Lake Kinrinko – “golden fish scales lake” – a small but very picturesque thermal lake with bridges, lots of wildlife and a faint mist rising from it that helps to create a mysterious mood in the mornings and around sunset.
You can spend all day just shopping, but you must make time to check out some of the onsens in town. You can get a good list of onsens open to day visitors from the tourist information desk at the train station. Most people who stay in town, stay at a Ryokan, a traditional inn that serves dinner and in this town they also have onsens. Problem is that the ryokan onsens are only open to outside guests from around 10:00am-3:00pm so plan your day around them. We suggest breakfast at a local cafe, onsen, lunch and then some shopping and strolling toward the lake. Unfortunately most shops and even restaurants close around 4-6pm, so it’s better to get out early. It will be a quiet evening in Yufuin.
Here are our picks for best onsens in Yufuin. Best to take a taxi to onsens 1-3 since they are in the hills.
1: Musouen – this onsen has one of the best views of Mount Yufu from a large and beautiful rotenburo. Sorry my photo is on a gray day, but even if it’s a gray day, Musouen will brighten your mood. Separate baths for men and women. Bonus – they have a nice, affordable cafe for lunch with an amazing view of the mountains. In addition, they also have two small, private “family tubs” where you can bathe co-ed in private, no reservation needed. Just take a tub if it says “vacant”. http://www.musouen.co.jp/index.html
2: Shoya no yukata: lovely rustic exterior, lovely modern design of their interior. Separate baths for men and women. Huge rotenburo bath with onsen water that appears a milky blue color. Great view of Mount Yufu from a hillside. It’s a little outside of the main town with steaming vents surrounding it. Nice little cafe for cool bath products and drinks but no food – except onsen-steamed eggs and flan. http://www.yufuin-shoya.com/top/#pagetop
3: Baian – smaller baths than the previous too but very nice baths and facilities. Nice view of Yufu and the hills. http://www.yufuin-baien.com
4: Sansuikan: This onsen is in an seemingly unattractive hotel from the outside, but it’s walking distance from the train and they have a nice view of the mountains from their indoor / outdoor bathes. The women’s side has two ceramic tubs that are infused with either Yuzu or tea scents. Nice plus. But overall not as impressive as the previous 3 onsens mentioned. http://www.sansuikan.co.jp
5: Shitanyu: this is a co-ed public onsen on Lake Kinrinko. I don’t know what it is about this bath, but we loved it and went multiple times. It’s just two simple pools indoor/outdoor. Men and women bathe naked in the same pools so it’s not for the shy. Pay 200 yen in a coin box outside the door next to a Buddha statue as shown above. Baths here:
There are no facilities except for some open boxes to place your stuff, no bathroom and no changing room. So you may want bring a small towel and any products you need. We got by with bringing just a small hand towel. It’s really nice around sunset when most of the daytrippers have gone, but if you stay for awhile you may find yourself bathing with some of the local older men, ha ha. An experience, indeed.
If you need a brake from the onsens, I have no idea why you would, but here are some other activities and places we enjoyed:
Strolling around Lake Kinrinko. Sunset makes a nice time or early morning when the mist rises off the lake, but really any time is a good time. There are lots of birds and water fowl around the lake that are beautiful.
Sabotenjosajiki bar – off Lake Kinrinko. This bar is very warm and cosy. A great place to go late in the evening for a warm drink when everything is closed. They are up on the second floor and have a nice view of the tree tops. Walls are lined with jazz and classical albums. Right across the way is also a very good restaurant and a great gift shop underneath it.
Chagall gallery and cafe – great place for breakfast. A wonderful view and deck on Lake Kinrinko. Quirky shop and a gallery showing Marc Chagall’s art work.
Creeks shop – probably the coolest shop in town. They also have an outpost across from the Chagall gallery on the lake. Young couple who is really into alternative music, they sell CDs of great, modern bands, with fun crafts, t-shirts, books and local pottery too.
Hiking Mount Yufu – for some strange reason all the guide books say this is an easy 90 minute hike, but you take one look at the towering Mount Yufu which dominates the skyline and you think to yourself, no way. That’s not an easy hike. We have no idea what they’re talking about. Daniel did it anyway on a cold day and there was snow on top, so bring warm layers, water and snacks. You can take the bus going to Beppu and get off at the trail head for Mount Yufu.
The Kyushu Folk Craft Museum – also near Lake Kinrinko. Quirky place where you can walk through various historic buildings and see craftspeople demonstrating glass blowing, wood carving, pottery, making washi paper and more. Highly recommend paying the extra yen to try indigo hand dying yourself. You get to take away a DIY handkerchief and it’s a fun experience too.
Eating a Yufuin burger – there are two places in town that make them. I really can’t tell you what’s on it except many condiments and sauces. You’ll just have to try it, and it’s pretty big and filling.
Yufuin Ichinoza restaurant – delicious food, beautiful traditional restaurant, reasonable prices. They don’t speak much English, but once you taste their beautiful little dishes you won’t care. Just point to the menu at what looks good. It pretty much all looks and tastes good.
Having fish eat your feet – along the Omotesando there’s a fish foot spa. There are many places now in the world where you can try it. Personally it was so ticklish that it made my skin crawl! Daniel loved it though. Seriously it’s a lot of fish eating your dead skin, gross! But an experience none the less. You can try various tanks with various size fish eager to eat your feet.
If for some reason you want a change of scene you can check out the city of Beppu just a 40 minute bus ride over the mountain. Beppu is another place of note for onsens. You can see steaming vents at every turn. Beppu sits on the coast and goes up into the hills. There are onsens for bathing and onsens for only viewing called “the 7 hells.” But, we prefer Yufuin because it’s small and quaint. In comparison Beppu is a large city. We went to one onsen we can recommend called Tanayu onsen at the Suginoi hotel. They offer a free shuttle bus service from Beppu station and you should take it because the onsen is perched on a big hill. It sits on the roof and looks out over the ocean. Try to go around sunset for a beautiful view of the bay.