Monday, 28 December 2015

Beppu & The Hot Springs

Beppu is dubbed the hot springs (onsen) town and for good reasons too. On top of having many hot springs around, there is also the Jigoku. The word "Jigoku" takes its meaning, "burning hell" from the ancient Buddhist sutras of the East.

You will observe that steam seems to be coming out from the ground even in drains! We got to Beppu via the JR Train - it was a 2 hour train ride. We arrived at the train station and went straight to the Information Counter to get the maps for the area. There, we learned that we could purchase a Bus Pass (JPY900 per person) allowing one day travel on all bus services in Beppu. Along with that, we were told of the main attractions - the most important being the Jigoku Meguri, the "Hell" Tour. If you intend to visit all 8 Jigokus, I suggest you buy the whole package at JPY1,890. The package will give you entrance to all 8 Jigokus. Remember to get the bus timetable at the same time. There are two bus stops at Beppu Station – one at the east entrance and the other the west. Take Bus Number 9 from the west bus stop to Umi Jigokumae stop – it should take about 20 minutes. Don't stop at Kannawa station first, go to Umi Jigokumae stop first as that takes a shorter time.

When you alight at Umi Jigokumae stop, you can visit Oniishibozu-Jigoku, Umi-Jigoku and Yama-Jigoku. When you are done, walk down the road and you will find Kamado-Jigoku. Next one is the Oniyama-Jigoku and then there is Shiraike-Jigoku. By the time you are done at Shiraike-Jigoku, you will be near Kannawa Bus Terminal.

However, we missed the number 9 bus and had to take the 41 to Kannawa and started with the Shiraike-Jigoku.

The White Pond Hell is so called because the colourless water that spouts from the ground mysteriously turns creamy white.

The serenity of the Japanese styled garden adds to the charm of this Jigoku.

Walking up the road, one is lead to the next Jigoku - the Oniyama-Jigoku. Here, the force from the steam is so great that is it supposed to be able to one and a half train cars.

Here is Gina by the "mascot" for the Oniyama-Jigoku.

The Jigokus are well known as areas serving food using the steam generated from the Jigoku. We stopped by a street stall to eat sweet potato and corn - cooked (steamed) by the hot steam from the Jigoku.

We then made our way to Kamado-Jigoku which has a cobalt blue boiling pond.

The unique ponds here have boiling mud pools too. All the ponds are boiling over at 100 degrees celsius.

Then we headed up towards Yama-Jigoku. Hidden amongst the rocks you will see steam rising...

And the pond...colours of turquoise and bronze.

The most picturesque of all is Umi-Jigoku. As you walk into the Jigoku, the sight of the garden especially during autumn is one of the most arresting sight amongst all the Jigokus.

The view of the garden from inside the Jigoku towards the entrance.

The greenish blue steaming pond is also equally beautiful as it resembles the blue sea.

According to the guidebook, this pond was developed some 1,200 years ago and is the deepest of ponds going down some 200 metres.

The walk around the main pond gives an equally arresting sight.

Umi-Jigoku is also one of the larger Jigokus by ground size. A nice walk around the grounds is what we did.

A different pond in Umi-Jigoku.

Lastly, we visited Oniishibozu-Jigoku.

The boiling mud pools gives the name of this Jigoku - they resemble bald heads, the boiling bubbles.

To visit the last 2 Jigoku, take Bus Number 16 or 16A from Kannawa Bus Terminal to Chinoike Jigoku-mae bus stop. That should take around 10 minutes. The first Jigoku is the Chinoike-Jigoku and within a 3 minute walk is the Tatsumaki-Jigoku. The Tatsumaki-Jigoku is a geyser and the show starts at specific intervals. I suggest you check the timing of the show – if it is within 15 minutes, stay at the Tatsumaki-Jigoku to witness the geyser spouting. Then go back to the Chinoike-Jigoku.

Unknown to us, we visited Chinoike-Jigoku first.

Having been to the other Jigokus, this one is not as spectacular. But significant it is. This is Japan's oldest documented Jigoku and the clay that gives the red hue to this pond has medicinal properties. They are used to make the "Chinoike Ointment" which is used to treat some skin conditions.

So we made our way to Tatsumaki-Jigoku. As we entered the entrance, the lady told us the geyser will be spouting within 15 minutes. So walk around the Jigoku we did to explore a quiet garden behind the seating gallery.

At around 4pm, the show began with the host giving some explanation of how the geyser is unique. Unlike most other geysers, the one at Tatsumaki is special as the time between spouts of the geyser is shorted than most.

From the Chinoike-Jigoku, take the bus back to Beppu Station – you can do it in two ways. Take the bus back to Kannawa Station and change there or take the service 16 back to Beppu. Both will get you back to the west Beppu station. The whole tour should take around 4 hours depending on how long you want to stay at each Jigoku.

Back at Beppu, we stayed at Hotel Arthur which is about 3 minutes walk from the Beppu Train Station. As Beppu is famous for their onsens, we went in search of the onsen around our hotel. Just a stones throw away from Hotel Arthur is Ekimae Onsen. About 15 minutes walk away is perhaps the oldest onsen in Beppu - Takegawara Onsen.

We were told the Takegawara onsen has pools at around 41 degrees celsius so we skipped it for fear it was too hot for us.

We ended the day eating at Watamin-chi, a Yakitori restaurant just opposite the train station.

We started with some vegetable skewers - mushroom, green peppers stuffed with cheese, lettuce wrapped in bacon and eggplant.

Then came the pork skewer, chicken heart and tomato.

We ended off with the chicken and minced chicken ball.

We were there on a Monday night and the town was "dead" after 7.30pm. Maybe we didn't find hard enough but many of the shops were close by 8pm.

Had we not stayed at Beppu, the journey would have been another 2 hours by train back to Hakata. Perhaps it would have been better if we had headed back to Hakata. Point to consider when planning to stay overnight or head back - most onsens close around 8pm except for Hotel Arthur that was open till past midnight. But do note that the onsen in Hotel Arthur is open for different gender during specific times. If I recall correctly, the women has it between 2000hrs-2200hrs.

Look out for my other blog on Yufuin and the beautiful colour at Lake Kinrinko during the last days of Autumn.

Photos taken by iPhone 6S Plus

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Soft & Fluffy Swiss Roll in Yufuin - B-speak Murata

The Last thing we expected to find in Yufuin was a shop selling one of the best Swiss Rolls we have had so far.

What was the giveaway? Well, the shop was already entertaining a queue at 9.30am but only opens at 10am - good? You bet! We were walking from Yufuin Station towards Lake Kinrinko when we chanced upon the B-speak cake shop. There was already a queue of around 8-10 waiting patiently for the shop to open. Not wanting to queue, we walked towards the lake and came back afterwards.

Gina by the shop's entrance.

The shop - Yufuin Sanso Murata original homemade cake was much emptier by the time we got there around 2pm. The lady over the counter told us that they had only the large cake which is the 6 inches costing JPY1,420 each. She advised that we the cake could last one day as they use fresh cream for their cakes.

So we brought it back from Yufuin and had it as dessert that night. The box said "Brand New Puffy Taste" - so we were really looking forward to the cake.

Open and it reveals a Swiss Roll wrapped in a layer of (baking) paper.

We touched it and it was indeed soft to the touch.

And the smell of fresh cream... that was unmistakable.

Cutting the cake confirms the softness of the roll.

The cake was definitely fluffy enough and the fresh cream added to the taste of the cake. Not too sweet - just the right amount of sweetness IMHO. So was it worth it? Well... YES!

Yufuin is not just about the onsens and Lake Kinrinko - try B-speak the next time you visit Yufuin. I assure you will not be disappointed. And there is a lot more in Yufuin than just B-Speak. Make sure you check it out!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Lake Kinrinko & The Autumn Colours in Yufuin

It was appropriate that we were visiting Yufuin and Lake Kinrinko during autumn. The colours are beautiful!

While we enjoyed the walk up from the Yufuin Station to Lake Kinrinko, what greeted us in and around the lake was amazing! The little town of Yufuin is almost quiet in the early morning.

But what we saw around the lake was a beautiful sight to behold.

Equally beautiful was the colours of the lake...

A path leading into a restaurant by the lake.

Beautiful autumn colours.

Gina by the restaurant beside the lake.

A stream leading into the lake

Gina by Lake Kinrinko

Beauty and serenity of Lake Kinrinko.

And the clear water too...

Another view from the other side of the lake.

It is definitely worth the walk up to the lake to soak in the atmosphere there. Tranquil surroundings amidst autumn colours.

And as you head back to the Yufuin Station, remember to explore the shops and offerings available. Try the B-Speak cake - I assure you will not be disappointed. Read more about Yufuin in my other post.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Yufuin - More than just Onsens

While Beppu is dubbed the hot springs (onsen) town, Yufuin is sometimes referred to as mini Beppu.

We went from Beppu to Yufuin by the JR train and it took some 30 minutes with a change at Oita Station. We got there just around 9.30am and a beautiful sight greeted us as we exited the station. The station itself is nice...

Cold morning coupled with the steam created a foggy morning.

The morning we arrived was beautiful - the morning clouds hanging around Mount Yufu. I understand the clouds are steam from the town rising up.

The day we arrived was a beautiful sunny morning - temperature around 12 degrees celsius and the sun shining through. Lovely!

The walk up to Lake Kinrinko is where the fun is. The road leading to the lake is lined with shops and museums.

For Snoopy lovers, there is even a Snoopy themed restaurant. Try the mochi from the Snoopy stall – made fresh everyday. Sit down by the stall which is located beside the canal.

Enjoy the walk up and if you choose to (and I suggest you do), sit by the Snoopy Cafe and savour the mochi.

The walk itself from Yufuin Station to Lake Kinrinko is about 30 minutes but because of the shops etc., it took us almost 50 minutes to get there. On the way there, we came across a cake shop – B-Speak. We were there at around 9.30am and a queue had already formed. Impressive we thought, as the shop only opens at 10am. So try we must. And we bought the cake on our walk back. Read about it in my other post.

Along the way, try the pudding – they tell us the pudding is made with milk, sugar and eggs much like chawanmushi (steamed egg) except that they are cooked with the hot steam from the onsen. They come with several flavours but we understand the best sellers are the plain flavour. There is the caramel and green tea but we also feel that the plain is best of all. These pudding are also available in Beppu.

Yufuin has many art museums and quaint little shops. We came across the Yufuin Floral Village...

Small shops selling paintings and knick knacks... Including a shop selling Rolexes (vintage).

There is even a shop selling gelato called Firenze.

On top of selling gelato, they also sell wine made in Yufuin.

A word of advice - stay with the regular wines. According to the bartender, the wines are made in Yufuin. They have several types - white, rose and red. We manage to sample some and ended up purchasing two glasses - a red Merlot and the Rosè. Not impressed...

Being the onsen town, plenty of unique food finds including this onsen egg...

There is also the pudding. Comes in three flavours - caramel, green tea and plain. We liked the plain so we bought three each costing JPY310. The same pudding cost JPY300 in Beppu.

When you return from Yufuin to Hakata, try to take the train Yufuin no Mori. The interior of this train is all wood paneling. It was obvious to us that many were waiting for this train - not just riding on it but anticipating its arrival.

And when the train did arrive, there was a hive of activities. Passengers take photos and videos of the train...

Gina posing right by the train.

The interior of the Yufuin No Mori train - all wood paneling. As we were seated at the back, we could view the train as it departed the station.

And as an added bonus, the train attendant will happily take a photo for you with a special sign showing the date of travel on the Yufuin No Mori.

The train ride was about two hours and twenty minutes from Yufuin back to Hakata. A nice rest after a day of walking in Yufuin. Look out for my other post on Lake Kinrinko in Yufuin and the autumn colours there. Here is the link to my post on Beppu and the Hell Tours.

Photos taken with iPhone 6S Plus.