Translated by Hilary Keyes
Post Earthquake Report: The Beautiful Onsen Town Yufuin, Oita
Mount Yufu is the source of the many hot springs that make Yufuin, a valley town in Beppu’s interior, rich with onsen. It goes without saying that the rural landscape in Yufuin is beautiful but, with all the amazing sweets and goods available along the ma
Written by MATCHA
On April 14th, 2016 a series of large earthquakes struck the heart of Kumamoto prefecture. The Beppu and Yufuin areas in Oita prefecture suffered damage as well. Now (May 2016), the majority of the sightseeing spots and accommodations have, for the sake of their customers peace of mind, undergone safety checks, repairs and have reopened for business.
Beppu and Yufuin, two of the finest representations of Japan's hot spring culture, are destinations popular with both domestic and international visitors. MATCHA met some of the many people working in the tourism industry and listened to their stories. We were happy to see that the old liveliness of the area has returned to Beppu and Yufuin.
Today's article will focus on the current situation in Yufuin.
What is Yufuin Like?
the 1583 meters high Mount Yufu, also known as the Mount Fuji of of Oita (豊後富士 Bungofuji), is the source of the hot springs that make Yufuin (由布院), a valley town in Beppu's interior, a place rich in onsen.
It goes without saying that the rural landscape in Yufuin is beautiful but, with all the amazing sweets and goods available along the main road and the great restaurants and souvenir shops, it is also quite delightful to walk about, try some local treats and enjoy the scenery of the town.
In Yufuin it is possible to enjoy unimpeded views of the mountains from the hot springs as there are no tall buildings to get in the way. The city has made a special point of protecting their beautiful scenery and natural landscape.
The Gateway to Sighting in Yufuin - JR Yufuin Station
Many visitors use the railways to visit Yufuin. Everyone is greeted by the JR Yufuin station.
Most visitors use the limited express train called Yufuin no Mori to come to Yufuin. When we visited, in front of the station there were university exchange students from South Korea giving a performance of Korean traditional music.
By welcoming those who come to Yufuin in this way, the locals are hoping to tell the world that "Oita's doing well!"
The South Korean exchange students and JR Yufuin head, Mr. Miyata.
We spoke with the head of JR Yufuin station, Mr. Tadashi Miyata.
How are the railway services doing now?
We were quite surprised to see so many tourists getting off the train here.
Mr. Miyata: It seems that "Yufuin is all right" has spread by word of mouth to many people.
The JR staff members have been working everyday with the phrase "let's do our best!" in mind. With the sense of hospitality that has not changed from its high level before the earthquake, they are happy to be able to greet the travelers to Yufuin with a smile. By all means, if you get the chance to come to Oita, please come visit Yufuin.
Yu-no-tsubo kaidō and the Yufuin specialty "P Roll" at B-Speak
When you exit JR Yufuin station and walk straight ahead, you will find yourself on the Yu-no-tsubo kaidō (湯の坪街道), which is the main street of Yufuin.
With about 70 shops in total aligned on both sides of the street, there are queues on the weekends at the many sweets shops, handicraft and original goods stores, as well as at the restaurants that use locally grown fruits and vegetables here.
It's very popular to walk and snack from JR Yufuin station down Yu-no-tsubokaidō to Kinrin Lake. After the earthquakes, things have gone back to normal here too.
Yufuin's famous dessert, the "P roll".
Along the Yu-no-tsubo kaidō, you will find the famous shop called B-speak, where you can buy Yufuin's signature sweet, the "P roll" roll cake.
Here we spoke to the shop manager at B-speak, Mr. Naoyuki Kawazu.
Did the earthquake have an impact here?
Mr. Kawazu: The day after the earthquake, the customers had all disappeared from Yu-no-tsubo kaidō. That was the first time that had happened. However, the shops all continued on with business as usual since. Now the number of visitors to this area is gradually increasing.
We experienced a big earthquake here in Yufuin in 1975 too. At that time, the townspeople began a lot of new things, like having horse-drawn carriages, a movie festival and a music festival, it was a time of revival for Yufuin. So I feel that now it's time for the next generation to do their best to revive the town once more.
The P roll is famous overseas too, isn't it?
Mr. Kawazu: Yes. Now about 70% of our customers come from overseas. The majority of them come from Asia, mainly from Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and so on.
I'm really pleased to say that it's not unusual for us to actually sell out, so now it's a good idea to call or make an in-store reservation just in case. Many people actually make reservations on the day they arrive, so that they can pick it up the next.
What are the best points of the P roll?
Mr. Kawazu: Probably the most important point is the fact that you can enjoy all the flavors of the basic ingredients of this cake: sugar, flour, eggs and fresh cream, that's all that goes into the P roll. No unnecessary ingredients, no excessive ornamentation make this is a very Yufuin-like roll cake, I think. It's a mildly sweet and fluffy cake that you can really enjoy down to the last bite.
The P roll has no additives or preservatives in it, so the best-before date is typically the next day. When you visit Yufuin, why not enjoy their P roll during your stay?
Yufuin's Popular Spot: Kinrin Lake
Kinrin Lake (金鱗湖 Kinrinko) is one of Yufuin's best tourist attractions. It is said that both a hot spring and spring water gush from the bottom of the lake here. As the temperature of the water is so high, on cold winter mornings the steam rising from the surface of the lake creates a very magical and romantic sight.
By the way, the lake gets its name from a rather interesting point: the scales of the fish that swim in the lake glitter like gold in the setting sun, so the name came from the description of those glittery fish scales in the sunlight: Kin-rin-ko (Gold Scale Lake).
Dishes Made From Local Ingredients at Kamenoi Bessō Yunotakean
Near Kinrin Lake you will find a holiday home of longstanding, Kamenoi Bessō, upon whose grounds is the Japanese restaurant Yunotakean (湯の岳庵). Yunotakean offers authentic Japanese cuisine made only from local Oita ingredients. To get a better understanding of their dishes, let's first take a look at some of Oita's delicious specialties.
'Hot spring steamed Japanese Black beef' (1524 yen plus tax).
'Hot spring steamed Japanese Black beef' is made from Oita prefecture's cattle brand, Oita Bungogyū (Japanese Black cattle). The fat has a natural sweetness to it, while the meat is quite mildly flavored overall.
This Oita specialty beef is slowly cooked using the steam from the Yufuin hot spring, which makes this a dish that cannot be had anywhere else. The mellow and juicy flavor of this steamed cooking is definitely something you just have to taste to believe.
Grilled shiitake mushrooms (1000 yen plus tax).
Oita prefecture is Japan's number one producer of shiitake mushrooms, both in terms of quality and quantity. The mushrooms used in this dish can be eaten raw, a feat made possible through years of careful research by a farmer in Yufuin. At Yunotakean, these mushrooms are thoroughly grilled on an earthern charcoal brazier. The rich taste oozes out from the thick tops of the mushrooms making them a superb dish.
Oita prefecture is without a doubt a land blessed with delicious specialties.
Yunotakean's manager, Mr. Kōkichi Ikeda.
According to Mr. Kōkichi Ikeda, after the earthquakes Yunotakean was reopen for business from the 18th of April (2016).
All of the tours in Yufuin were cancelled one after another, but the fact that "Oita is alright" seems to be spreading by word of mouth between individuals and it seems that the area is steadily returning to its former tourism level.
"For the areas that aren't doing as well, all of us here are working extra hard together to bring some of our energy to them", is what Mr. Ikeda wanted to let everyone know.
The Charms of Yufuin's Hot Springs
One characteristic of the hot springs in Yufuin is the experience of enjoying a moment in a hot spring amid quiet, untouched nature. If you stay here overnight and head out in the early morning, you can breathe in the fresh clean air as you walk about wide open tracts of seemingly untouched woodland. With abundant hot springs gushing forth almost 48 kiloliters of water per minute and with beautiful natural scenery right near you, is it any wonder that Yufuin's hot springs are part of the National Health Preservation Hot Spring Registry?
The hot spring inns in Yufuin are also quite charming. With plenty of small hot spring inns gathered here, each with their own individual specialties, you are sure to find the best hot spring and inn to suit your own tastes. For ladies, people with children, visitors from overseas, all needs can be met in this hot spring resort town.
An Unbroken View of Mount Yufu and Yufuin city: Mountain Hotel Musōen
Of the numerous hot springs found here, today we called on Mountain Hotel Musōen in Yufuin Onsen, a place famous for its open air baths with a view.
Their most attractive point has to be their open air bath with a view. This rotenburo (open air bath) offers views of Yufuin town and, on a clear day, you can even see a panoramic view of Mount Yufu from the bath.
We spoke with Mr. Masashi Kadokami, the manager here.
At present, is there anything you would like to say to visitors from overseas?
Mr. Kadokami: Right after the earthquake we had cancellations one after another, but now things are slowly returning to what they were before. We made certain that all of our facilities were in perfect working order before we began accepting reservations again. I think I'd like to say to those that want to visit Yufuin that things are back to what they were before the earthquakes here, so please feel free to come visit.
The Cat at the Yufuin Hot Spring Tourism Association
Finally, we visited the Yufuin Onsen Tourism Association, which is right next to Yufuin station and spoke with Mr. Keishi Shōno, the head of the secretariat.
What kind of town is Yufuin?
Mr. Shōno: When compared to other hot spring towns, Yufuin is quite small and not as well known as others. Because of this, a few decades ago it was just a tourist attraction known as "Inner Beppu" (Oku-Beppu).
Compared to other onsen towns, there were a lot of things missing in Yufuin. For this reason, all town planning has been done with the idea that those "missing" things should be turned into Yufuin's strength. For example, Yufuin has many small hot spring ryokan (Japanese style inns), and each inn has its own personality.
In those days, hot spring towns were, well, "group travel or men's resorts" for the most part. So, Yufuin decided to become a place where individuals and women could come and enjoy themselves instead. With greenery, nature, stillness, a place where one could comfortably "pass the time" in mind, the town aimed to be a hot spring town where the stays would be beneficial for the visitors' overall health.
Now it seems that you have many visitors from overseas coming here.
Mr. Shōno: Yes. Although, we haven't really done anything special for it to become like this. It seems that the 'diversity' that has been a part of Yufuin since the past is what really draws visitors from abroad to it.
Did anything really stand out to you after the earthquake?
Mr. Shōno: Of course. We became even more keenly aware of the blessings that our customers bring here. Immediately after the earthquakes the number of visitors suddenly decreased, but notwithstanding that, a lot of guests kept coming. For that, we are all truly grateful to our visitors.
And we all did some reflection too. We wondered if we were truly offering the best hospitality that we could. We felt that, if our level of hospitality were enough, we shouldn't have seen such a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors that we did. So, it became an opportunity for everyone in the town to re-examine themselves; it was a chance for everyone to start from scratch, a fresh start of sorts.
How would you like to improve the town of Yufuin from now on?
Mr. Shōno: It is said that the 1975 earthquake brought about the current town of Yufuin. Now, after this earthquake, it is more than just a revival, I think the town should use the effects of the earthquake as a springboard for growth and improvement. I would like to know what everyone hopes for from Yufuin in the future.
And, it goes without saying that we all must do what we can to help our neighbor Kumamoto as they start on their way towards recovery. From the start, Beppu - Yufuin - Aso (*Aso is a famous sightseeing area in Kumamoto) have been categorized together and visited by countless people in this way.
While Aso undergoes its own revival, we here must make certain that there are still places that travelers will want to come and visit in these areas.
Fortunately, Yufuin was able to bounce back from these earthquakes quickly, moreso that Aso has. We certainly want to be able to once again ask visitors to Yufuin "how about checking out our neighbor Aso?" and we want to give them some travel advice for that area too once Aso has undergone its own revival. But for now all we can do is to do our best.
Yōko, the cat that lives at the Tourism Association office. She overcame the earthquake too.
The Tourism Association staff, and Yōko.
No matter who we spoke to in Yufuin, everyone had a really positive attitude when it came to the earthquake and the damage that it caused. That may be because Yufuin and the people who call it home have experienced and overcome an earthquake like this once before. The horse-drawn carriages and the longest running film festival in Japan, the Yufuin Film Festival, were all born from the ashes of the 1975 earthquake.
Now, with the goal of seeing just "how should the town revive itself" in mind, not only have they already returned to normal but are looking ahead to the future as well. We cannot wait to see what the future has in store for Yufuin.
By all means, everyone, please drop by Yufuin and see their vision of the future for yourself.
Yufuin Onsen Mountain Hotel Musōen
Address: Oita, Yufu, Yufuinchō, Kawanami 1243
Hours: Check-in 15:00, check-out 11:00
Closed: Open all year
Credit Cards: VISA、MasterCard、JCB、UC、SAISON、AMEX
Other Languages: -
Menus in Other Languages: -
Nearest Station: JR Yufuin Station (JR由布院駅)
Access: 7-minutes by taxi from Yufuin station
Price Range: Depends on the room type and season
Phone Number: 0977-84-2171
Homepage: Chōbō Dairotenburo Yufuin Onsen Mountain Hotel Musōen (English FAQ available)
Address: Oita, Yufu, Yufuinchō Kawagami 3040-2
Hours: 10:00 - 17:00
Closed: Twice a year
Credit Cards: Most major cards
Other Languages: -
Menus in Other Languages: -
Nearest Station: JR Yufuin station(JR由布院駅)
Access: 6-minute walk from Yufuin station
Price Range: 475 yen - 1420 yen
Phone Number: 0977-28-2166 (P roll reservations: 0977-28-2066 between 15:00-17:00 at least 5 days in advance)
Kamenoi Bessō Yunotakean
Address: Oita, Yufu, Yufuinchō Kawakami 2633-1
Credit Cards: VISA、MASTER、JCB、AMEX、Diners
Other Languages: -
Menus in Other Languages: -
Nearest Station: JR Yufuin station(JR由布院駅)
Access: 20-minute walk or 5-minute taxi ride from Yufuin station
Price Range: 3000 - 5000 yen
Phone Number: 0977-84-2970
Homepage： Kamenoi Bessō Yunotakean
Yufuin Hot Spring Tourism Association
Address: Oita, Yufu, Yufuinchō Kawakita 4-1
Nearest Station: JR Yufuin station (JR由布院駅)
Access: Next to Yufuin station
Phone Number: 0977-85-4464
Homepage: Yufuin Hot Spring Tourism Association (Externally translated English site)