The next morning, we pulled ourselves together and headed for brunch at Yoshizuka Unagiya (博多名代 吉塚うなぎ屋), which specializes in unagi (eel) dishes. It was incredibly well seasoned and full of classically Japanese flavors. The restaurant opens at 11AM, and while we couldn’t get a reservation, we were told that if we came and waited right at 11, we could get a table. When we arrived at 10:50, they were letting patrons in, and some people were already eating! Fortunately, we were seated quickly as well.
Our bus to Yufuin left at 12:30PM, so we ended up timing things perfectly. We already had our pre-purchased bus passes, which allowed us to flexibly pre-reserve seats for all of our trips. I highly recommend getting them, as they allow you to hop on and off the inner city buses as well as tour all throughout the Northern Kyushu area!
What had begun as an overcast morning turned into a steady drizzle by the time we boarded our bus. It made for a rather pretty ride though, creating rolling waves of mist and fog between mountain peaks. One of my favorite things about traveling in Japan is the glimpse you catch of traditional Japanese villages nestled into the crooks of mountains.
After our two and a half hour bus ride, we finally reached Yufuin. Oddly enough, it almost felt like we were back in Korea! Located right across the sea from Busan, Fukuoka is a top tourist destination for many Koreans. Yufuin is one of the most popular places to visit outside of Fukuoka City itself, so there were many other Korean tourists there along side us. We slipped away from the main crowds and dropped our bags with a delivery service. Free of luggage, we then began to explore the town.
Yufuin has become known for roll cakes, which are also popular in Korea. We stopped for a quick bite in a quieter shop called Yufufu (ゆふふ), but soon many other tourists began to filter in. We found that any time we walked into an empty shop, others would soon follow behind, curious as to what was worth looking at or buying. We made a stop at a Studio Ghibli shop as well, but sadly photos weren’t allowed inside. (I somehow managed to walk away with most of my spending money, buying only two small charms.)
The rain picked up as we walked, and I eventually caved and bought an umbrella. There’s a very cute side road that leads to the Yufuin Floral Village, which is a small looped path filled with many adorable European-style shops. Even in the rain it was quite charming.
Cold and now fairly soaked, we reached the area our hotel was in. Right in front of our hotel we had read about a soba shop, so we stopped there for an early dinner. The shop is simply listed as Towari Soba Nukukawa (十割蕎麦 温川) and is very tiny! There was only one other couple finishing up their dining as we entered, so we were initially worried about being a bit of an intrusion. However, the owner was an incredibly kind and enthusiastic Japanese woman warmly ushered us in. She passionately explained to us the multiple ways to eat our soba: plain, dipped in a soy soup (that could be seasoned and spiced to taste), seasoned with Himalayan salt, or seasoned with a sulfuric salt that had a distinctly hard-boiled egg taste. They specialize in hand-made buckwheat soba noodles, which you can see them making through a glass window that looks into the kitchen.
Full and ready to warm up, we finally checked in at the Nurukawa Onsen (ぬるかわ温泉). Our room included a free booking of a private onsen (family hot spring room), so we scheduled that for 7PM and went up to our room to settle in. The room itself was fairly simple, and classically Japanese in style. A large traditional table with a tea set and chairs took up the center of the room, while the bedding was stored in the closets.
We made tea and relaxed for about an hour (flipping through the four available channels) until our onsen reservation time. We dressed ourselves in the provided yukata and gathered our toiletries before grabbing the key for the bath at the front desk.
The private onsen has a quick changing area, where you can put your yukata and belongings in baskets. This area has a sink, mirror, and hair dryer as well for when you finish bathing. The main room has a washing area as well as the hotter of the two spring baths. The bathing room we booked had both an indoor and an outdoor bath, so after washing up we began by soaking outside. Even though it was still raining and quite chilly, the outdoor bath was hot and refreshing.
When we finally moved inside, we had warmed up enough that we could tolerate the hotter indoor bath. I was so pink by the time we got out! Our booking was only for an hour, so soon we had to wash up and head back to return the key. Walking back to the room didn’t feel anywhere near as cold this time, as we were still steaming hot from the onsen! We were setting up our beds when the post-bath hunger struck. J braved the rain and cold to go on a snack run to the local Lawson store, and came back with a variety of drinks, chips, instant noodles, and candies. Not a bad way to end the evening!