It was 8.40 am when I set foot in Fukuoka, one of five prefectures in Northern Kyushu and I was excited to have returned to Japan after 25 years. I embarked on this journey aboard Jetstar Asia from Australia via Gold Coast and Narita. This was a 3 day trip around the island of Kyushu and my journey which commenced from the Fukuoka Airport began with a scenic bus ride towards the prefecture of Oita.
Oita, located on the North East coast of Kyushu is mainly a commercial and industrial city but its vast volcanic area that occupies a greater portion of the prefectural territory boasts the abundance of hot springs, one of its main attractions for locals and travellers alike.
It would take us approximately 2 hours to get to Oita and I made myself comfortable in the bus. I had two seats all to myself and sank into it staring out the window. The highway ran through a forest of Cedar trees, the national tree of Japan. The wood of the Cedar tree is said to be scented, waterproof, lightweight and strong and so used for all types of construction in Japan.
The greenery outside the bus window shone like shimmering emeralds automatically uplifting body, soul and spirit. The sun gleamed brightly on the tall conical evergreen trees that peppered the landscape as far as the eye can see. The lowlands in somewhat of a conclave within the forest were home to strawberry and persimmon fields.
A Meal along the Way
The mountainous backdrop and the bright blue sky filled with fluffy cotton clouds guaranteed us for a bright summer day ahead and before I knew it was time for lunch. As I alighted from the bus, Mt. Yufu could be seen in the distance. We had stopped at what looked like a sweet shop called Kashi Kobou Goemon but behind it was restaurant called Syokusai that served Pork Shabu-shabu.
Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish with thinly sliced meat and a variety of vegetables and sauces boiled “hot pot” style in a skillet (nabe) at the table. Fire from lit camphor cubes boil the water and a variety of typical Japanese side dishes like steamed rice, miso soup, steamed egg and pickled vegetables are served as accompaniment.
The idea of cooking your own meat can be a lot of fun, if you are not ravenously hungry. Once the meat was cooked to my liking, I dipped it in either the ponzu or goma (sesame seed) sauce before combining it with rice. The spread was large and thus my first taste of Japan was off to a great start amidst breath-taking scenery.
Mt. Yufu is a stratovolcano. It has two peaks, called ‘Higashi-mine’ (East Peak) and ‘Nishi-mine’ (West Peak). That morning, its peaks were covered in a blanket of clouds
Exploring the Surroundings
Before boarding the bus again, I gazed in admiration at the beauty of Mt. Yufu which is locally called “Bungo Fuji” (Mt.Fuji of Oita) because of its beautiful double peak appearance. That afternoon it was shrouded by clouds and mist. The mist is a bit misleading because while it gives you an impression of a cool temperature, it’s certainly not cool at all. We were in temperatures of around 30 degree Celsius.
Next stop was at a small town in Yufuin that has transformed itself into a mini European village with small cottages selling everything and anything from food, curios, trinkets, wine, dog accessories and clothes.
The first quirky store I entered on Yunotsobo Kaido Street… adjacent to Yufuin Floral Village
Stores dedicated to dogs
Lavender can be found everywhere around the Yufuin Floral Village
Down at the Yufuin Floral Village, it appears that everyone is obsessed with Snoopy – the cartoon character from Peanuts comic strip. They had Snoopy ice creams, printed clothes, stationery, bags and almost in literally everything. I understand the Japanese fascination for local cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and My Melody but to find a character from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz all over this small town was unexpected and mildly amusing too.
Well Snoopy wasn’t the only dog in town. As an obsessive pet loving nation, the Japanese love their dogs so much that around every lane and by lane you not only find them walking their dogs, they even push them around in prams! It’s no wonder that Japan has arguably the world’s most pampered pooches.
The European styled cottages
This store also sold food and ice cream themed around Snoopy
A local Japanese I manage to strike a small conversation with, she had shopped for her beautiful dogs
The Yufuin Floral Village isn’t very large to explore. If you’re up to it, you could rent a bicycle for 500 Yen and explore the stores, sample some local cuisine and soak up the views with minimal physical effort as Yufuin is located on a flat river basin surrounded by mountains.
The lane that focused on food produce
We were soon back on board our bus and on our way to Beppu located some 10 kilometres away. Famous for their Onsen (hot springs), Beppu is the world’s second largest source of thermal spring water after Yellowstone National Park in the United States. As the bus moved through the city, I could see steam rising from vents in the earth practically everywhere, as if the city was located atop a gigantic bowl of hot water that was perpetually boiling!
Such fertile land…
A few more dogs were out on a stroll in a Snoopy pram with their owners at the Jigoku
Jigoku, a Japanese term for hell is what the city of Beppu calls their 8 hot springs, where the water gushes out at temperatures as hot as 150 Celsius. I was already sweating in the Japanese summer heat even before arriving here and now this meant it’s going to be hotter at these sights. So be prepared get drenched in perspiration! I got to visit two of the eight jigoku’s.
Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) at 200 metres deep features a pond of boiling blue water at temperatures of 98 degree Celsius. The blue colouring is from the iron sulphate in the water. In its spacious gardens surrounding the natural hot spring, there are a few secondary orange coloured hells and a large, clear water pond with lotus flowers whose large leaves are strong enough to carry small children.
Formed by a volcanic eruption 1200 years ago, the bright cobalt blue jigoku was like an intense outdoor sauna
Oniishibozu Jigoku (Mud Hell) is named after the mud bubbles which emerge from boiling mud pools with temperatures sometimes higher than 100 degree Celsius. Besides the mud pools, there is a small shallow clear water hot spring for visitors to soak their feet in. There is no entry charge for the shallow feet pool; however it will cost 600 Yen per person to enter the adjacent public bath.
The scene of hot mud and clay gushing out resembles the shaved heads of monks
Our guide Mr Sonoda having a rest soaking his feet in the warm waters of the natural spring
As I write this, I recollect that experience at those steaming, hissing bubbly mud pools. There is something unnerving yet fascinating about the place. The fact that the water was boiling because of lava under the surface is scary. Imagine the ground on which you stand has molten lava flowing beneath it! It’s not something most of us are used to.
Lodgings for the Night
As the sun begun to set, it was time to check into the hotel. We arrived at Beppu Hanabishi Hotel. It was a simple 3 star hotel by any standards. There was nothing to rave about this rather dated and very tired hotel except some features like the hotel facing the ocean (Beppu Bay), has both an indoor and outdoor onsen (hot spring) and a buffet dinner that serves free flowing beer. It’s not something that appeals to me but perhaps to some others these features may sound appealing.
The hotel has two types of room choices, either a traditional Washitsu meaning “Japanese-style room” with tatami flooring, sliding fusuma doors and rather flat comforters for sleeping on the floor or yōshitsu meaning “western-style room” with a dressing table, old carpeted flooring and a real bed. I chose the latter.
Well, the Hanabishi Hotel did give us a big send off which I thought was quite sweet which made me slightly forget about my very dated room. Here I am with Sy, a friend and fellow blogger who accompanied me on this journey through Northern Kyushu
Booking hotels can be hard for a traveller especially if the official hotel website does not offer an English translation. The best option would be to either find one that does, or go through hotel booking platforms that offer hotel descriptions and rates in English. See box below.
Oita is a beautiful prefecture to explore if you have more time. You could spend the day visiting the other six jigoku’s in Beppu or take the Beppu Ropeway, spend time in the various onsen spas in Yufuin, and visit the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Park or the Oita Marine Palace Aquarium. See box below for details on the Japan National Tourism Organisation guide.
With the cloud covered peaks of Mt Yufu behind me
Back at the hotel I lay down my tired body and thought about the day that I just experienced. A long flight, followed by breath-taking scenery of green, a small village and the mountains beyond and finally the scenery of boiling earth. Never before in one day have I experienced earth change its landscape so dramatically. After 25 years, this is my reintroduction of Japan. What else is in store for the next two days?
And so, despite the inadequacies of my lodgings for the night, I fell into a deep sleep in anticipation of what was in store the next day.
Jetstar Asia is the first low fares carrier to operate flights between Singapore to Fukuoka via Bangkok, offering travellers access to the island of Kyushu, well-known for onsen, beautiful mountain scenery and great food. Visit their official website for more information. Fukuoka is Jetstar Asia’s second destination in Japan. Jetstar Asia flies daily between Singapore and Osaka, via Taipei and Manila.
If you are travelling from Australia, you can fly Jetstar from Sydney via Gold Coast or Cairns to Narita and take a Jetstar Japan domestic flight to Fukuoka from there. Jetstar Japan operates a domestic network including flights from Osaka and Fukuoka.
Interested to fly Business Class? Read about Joseph’s Business Class experience with Jetstar.
My journey around Kyushu is part of a sponsored trip by Jetstar Asia, Oita Prefectural Government, Kumamoto Prefectural Government and Fukuoka City. All opinions are my own.