Photo by Toby M

Visiting Yufuin, Kyushu’s haven of tranquility and charm

Say Kyushu and onsen in the same sentence and everyone thinks “Beppu”! Beppu is a sprawling onsen town located on Japan’s southernmost island. It is famous as one of the country’s best spa towns. Beppu is famed for its “hell hot springs”, or jigoku onsen, several unique springs with vibrant colors or consistencies; one of which is even blood red. The town constantly belches out natural steam, also signalling to visitors the hundreds of heavenly springs that can be entered across the town.

These smoke signals draw swarms of travellers to the town and distract from a nearby hidden jewel of an onsen resort called Yufuin. This is both a blessing and a shame. Yufuin is a stunning haven of calm, rich in both nature and traditional architecture as well as trendy cafes. It feels untouched, separated from the bustling streets of Beppu or any major city and yet it has flavors of the metropolis. Yufuin begs to be visited and experienced, so this Grapee Japan writer took a trip to the town to give our readers the scoop on the what you can see and do there!

Getting there

Yufuin is a small resort town developed in the late 19th century as a relaxing natural retreat 10 kilometers away from Beppu. It can be reached via train or bus from Beppu, which is where I was travelling from. From Beppu I recommend taking the bus as you can soak in the gorgeous natural scenery of the mountain roads that separate the two towns. The bus takes an hour from Beppu’s central station and costs¥900 using a regional day pass.

The train on the other hand takes around 2 hours from Beppu as it requires a transfer at Oita City train station with wait times of up to 30 mins. It’s also more expensive and doesn’t have as good of a view. However, if you’re coming from Oita city, it’s a better option as the direct train takes about 35 minutes.

And, once you arrive?

1. Take a stroll down Yufuin’s charming main street

Stretching out before Yufuin’s train and bus stations (located next to each other) is a quaint main street along which all of Yufuin’s treasures can be found. Trendy cafes, superb restaurants, traditional craft souvenirs and tourist sights await travellers who stroll up the street.

Souvenir Store on Yufuin’s main street. | Photo by Toby M

I began walking up the street, enjoying the sights of Yufuin’s mixture of traditional wooden and stone architecture. It felt like a charming hometown straight out of a JRPG. Mount Yufu, which towers above the town is also always within view and, blanketed by trees, it’s a pleasant icon that reminded me I was truly surrounded by nature.

Along the main street there are plenty of stops to be made for those seeking to enjoy food and drink. On my way I succumbed to temptation at a few places. Yufuin’s famous “Yufuin Burger”, worth a visit for a delicious burger made from Kyushu’s wagyu beef and fresh local salad. I stopped for a Japanese croquette, a deep fried, crisp-on-the-outside, juicy and soft-on-the-inside, meat and vegetable potato croquette, at Kinsho Croquettes. It was divine!

On my way I also picked up a few souvenirs from local stores. B-speak for starters. A traditional bakery specializing in cheesecake and Swiss Roll. I couldn’t visit Yufuin without trying their famous “roll cake”. This palace is renowned across Kyushu for having the softest most delicate sponge and the richest cream. I picked up a whole swiss roll for ¥1500. The store let me collect the cake later at 4PM before I returned home which is a great service as they only keep unrefrigerated for 3 hours. I hoped to get a cheesecake too but they’d sold out of all flavors by 10AM. Dessert enthusiasts, be warned, come here early if you want some of Kyushu’s best cheesecake.

There are various other souvenir stores, including local crafts, foods and Japanese sake. You can spend a good few hours leisurely viewing all the locally made delights.

Yufuin Floral Village Miffy bread store window. | Photo by Toby M

About 20 minutes up main street I came to a Cotswalds (a british rural district famed for its olde worlde charm) themed village called “Yufuin Floral Village”. It’s home to petting zoos, owl cafe and cat cafes, and Japanese pop culture stores that include Pokemon, Heidi, and Studio Ghibli goods. It’s a great place for kids and fans of Japanese kawaii culture!

Yufuin Floral Village character goods store. | Photo by Toby M

At the end of Yufuin’s main street awaits what for me was the stand out tourist attraction in Yufuin - the Kinrinko!

2. Bid sayonara to your cares while relaxing by Yufuin Kinrinko

Yufuin Kinrinko is a small lake, surrounded by Japanese maples trees, charming cafes and mountain scenery. It epitomises the Japanese sense of tranquility. Water trickles into the lake as fallen maple leaves glide across it, occasionally getting tapped on rocks that protrude from the calm surface.

Yufuin’s Kinrinko lake. | Photo by Toby M

I watched this scene from the comfort of a nearby restaurant’s veranda that juts out on the lake. Surrounding buildings are wooden and designed using a “Japanese” architectural style. My cares evaporated like the steam of my coffee as I stared at the breathtaking view.

I urge anyone visiting Yufuin to visit the Kinrinko. It’s the kind of place you can ponder, forget and cleanse yourself of any stresses you may have.

Yufuin Burger at Cafe La Ruche. | Photo by Toby M

The restaurant I sat in is a bakery cum cafe called Cafe la Ruche, serving a selection of delicious breads, as well as more substantial dishes like their burger and cinnamon toasts. And yes, I did eat a second burger, for which I have no regrets as it was hands down the best burger I’ve eaten in Japan. A hefty chunk of soft juicy wagyu, crowned with a fried egg, thin, tender pork steak and vegetables. Tranquility, it turns out, can be supersized with the soft, warm folds of American inspired fast food.

3. Take in the view of Yufuin from the comfort of a mountainside onsen

Filled with calm, and beef, I still had room in me for a little more relaxation. So I took a 35 minute stroll up towards Mt. Yufu to a local onsen hotel named Yama no Onsen: Musouen. This onsen hotel sits in the foothills of Yufuin, overlooking the town. It comes highly recommended as one of the areas best hot springs.

View from Yama no Onsen: Musouen’s outdoor bath. | Photo by Toby M

The recommendations didn’t disappoint. I sat in my rotenburo (an outdoor bath), soaking my body in the steamy water and soaking my eyes with views of the mountains and clear blue Autumn sky. Waves of crsip air and blissfulness rolled over me as my mind and body was cleansed of all earthly troubles. Readers, paradise awaits you in Kyushu.

4. Chill out in the coolest cafe in Kyushu

After my bath, I took a taxi back to Yufuin as I wanted one last stroll around Kinrinko lake. With time to spare before the last bus back to Beppu at 5PM, I ducked into a lakeside cafe called Cafe Tenjosajiki. The late Edo era kissaten - a traditional Japanese coffee house, is a beautifully preserved den of wooden furniture, soft natural light, and hushed conversations. Here, any coffee fan will find contentment in a rich cup of jo and comfortable window seats which look out onto scenes of Japanese maple trees.

View of Autumn leafs from window seat in Yufuin’s Cafe Tenjosajiki . | Photo by Toby M

The cafe gave me the opportunity to enjoy stepping back into the last century and was the perfect way to end a day of soothing activities. From 5PM Cafe Cafe Tenjosajiki becomes a bar called Yamaneko and the staff break out the impressive collection of spirits from behind the counter. Unfortunately I had to leave for my bus.

Strolling down the main street towards the station, Yufuin was bathed in bronze light from the setting sun. I promised myself I’d come back to this beautiful town and stay in one of the many onsen hotels here so that I could raise a cocktail glass in Bar Yamaneko and toast one of Japan’s truly hidden gems. I urge readers to do the same too, you won’t be disappointed, but you will be relaxed.

Places featured in the article

Yufuin Burger (Burgers)

  • Address: 3053-4 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu, Oita
  • Website
  • Opening Hours: 11AM - 5:30PM

Kinsho Croquettes (Meat and potato croquettes)

  • Address: 1481-7 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu, Oita
  • TripAdvisor page
  • Opening Hours: 9Am - 6PM

B-Speak (Cheesecake and Swiss Roll)

  • Address: 3040-2 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu, Oita
  • Website
  • Opening Hours: 10AM - 5PM

Cafe la Ruche (Lunch and bakery)

  • Address:1592-1 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu, Oita
  • Website
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:30 PM

Cafe Tenjosajiki/ BAR Yamaneko (Edo cafe and bar)

  • Address: 2633-1 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu, Oita
  • Trip Advisor Page
  • Opening Hours: 9AM - 6PM

Yama no Hotel: Musouen

  • Address: 1243 Yufuincho Kawaminami, Yufu, Oita
  • Website
  • Opening Hours: 10AM - 3PM (day visitors)

Photos are all taken by the writer. Thank you to Tatsuke who guided the grape Japan writer around Beppu and recommended Yufuin.

By - Toby M.