When we took the train out of Aso station, we left Kumamoto prefecture and entered Oita. Oita is famous for its hot springs, especially the town of Beppu, which is an onsen (hot spring) resort town that also has ‘hells’ of boiling hot springs that are meant for viewing, not bathing. Instead of going to Beppu, however, we went to Yufuin, also an onsen town, but inland by Mt Yufu. I had read good things about this quaint little town, and we were able to stay in a lovely ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) for a reasonable price.
The rain had just stopped when we arrived at Yufuin that night and walked through the dark quiet streets to our ryokan. The streets were lined with cafes and shops that we made a note to check out the next day. The shops were dark, but the hotels were bright, where people were probably taking their evening bath. We stayed at the Enokiya Ryokan that had a beautiful reception and restaurant of dark wood and a stained glass window above the entrance. The rooms were in a building to the side, and Christabel and I had a huge tatami (straw mat) room to ourselves. After our bath in the hotel onsen, we wore the yukata (light kimono) that were provided for us and lolled about in our Japanese luxury.
The next morning dawned as a beautiful day and from our window we could see the river. We were sad to leave the ryokan, but we were only going to explore Yufuin for the day before getting the train onward. The weather was just gorgeous, and we wandered around looking in souvenir shops, taking frequent café breaks and enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There were a lot of tourists, but there were enough winding streets and paths to prevent it being too crowded. Christabel had a moment when she felt like she was in Korea as a troop of ajummas (Korean middle-aged women) passed by in their loud floral leggings, sun visors and perms (sorry, I’ve no pictures).
As the sun started to go down, we got the Yufuin no Mori sightseeing train to Tosu and then on to Sasebo where we stayed the night. We didn’t really see or do anything in Sasebo because we left early the next day, but I did like the view of the harbour from the train station.
On that day we had planned to visit Huis ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park based on the original Huis ten Bosch royal palace in The Hague. It was completed in 1992, just as Japan’s Lost Decade was starting. I wanted to see it just for the sheer craziness of a Dutch town in the south of Japan (and to see the blooming tulips), however, there was an island tour in Nagaski that was only available on that day, so we chose the island over Huis ten Bosch. The park was quite expensive too at ¥6,100 for a day pass, and its rides aren’t really comparable to Disneyland. We did get to see the Huis ten Bosch palace from the train though! So that was enough surrealism for me.