We woke up relatively early Monday morning in order to catch our bus from Yufuin to the more remote onsen town of Kurokawa. Despite these two towns being relatively close to one another, the bus ride was nearly an hour and a half! We arrived around 10:30AM, and had plenty of time before our shuttle would pick us up to take us to our resort at 4:00PM.
Kurokawa is a small, traditional town in the mountains famous for many hot springs. There are several centuries-old ryokan (traditional full- or half-board resorts) located along the river and up the mountain, which have access to fresh hot springs in the area. Tourists here can buy (or bring) a towel and onsen hop, sampling a variety of different waters with various health benefits. There’s also a very convenient bag drop off in the tourist center, so be sure to use that if you visit!
Our first stop was Ryokan Kurokawaso, which J had been to once before. Just before we were about to pay the 600JPY fee, the owner felt obliged to add that the onsen was currently very crowded. When we said that was fine, he seemed even more uncomfortable, and said, “Ah, but you see, it’s very crowded with many people….many…Koreans…” We feigned understanding before stepping away and trying to contain our laughter. Fukuoka is a hotspot for many Koreans to go abroad, being so close to Busan, and Koreans tend to travel almost exclusively on massive, pre-planned group tours. I’m sure this is rather frustrating for the local Japanese, as they get swarms of foreigners traveling in a comfortable tour bubble. The tours are rather hand hold-y, so the people on them don’t bother to learn much of the culture or language while abroad.
J spared him the awkward moment of telling his he was also, in fact, Korean. Our next stop was another location a bit more off the beaten path called Ryokan Konoyu (旅館 こうの湯). We initially had the baths to ourselves it was so quiet! We bought towels for 200JPY and paid the 500JYP entrance fee. This onsen featured two pools in the women’s area: one that was very deep for standing, and another very large one that was more shallow and included a steam cave. The standing bath was about a meter and a half deep and included a long log hung horizontally over the water for guests to rest their arms and heads on. It was one of my favorites! The waters here were slightly alkaline, which means it is supposed to be beautifying. Alkaline waters are said to melt away sebum cutaneum (the thick fatty stuff that comes out of sebaceous glands on your skin), exfoliate, and help fade skin spots and blemishes.
After a good soak, we were a bit hungry, so we headed back into the main part of town for lunch. We found a pretty popular spot in the heart of town called Warokuya (わろく屋) where I had a dumpling soup and chicken-rice set. The chicken was local, and quite delicious!
After lunch, we checked our onsen map again and selected Wafuryokan Misato (和風旅館 美里) as our next destination. This 500JPY onsen was a sulphur hot spring, which is good for reducing high blood pressure (by opening blood vessels) and joint pain, helping with diabetes, cuts and skin conditions, as well as aiding in the treatment of chronic bronchitis because of the gas released when the sulfuric water comes into contact with air. This one didn’t really have much of a changing area, and was quite small! You just undressed in the outdoor area, rinsed, and hopped in. The water here was a milky blue color, and while it smelled slightly egg-y, it didn’t disrupt your enjoyment of the bath. We had this one entirely to ourselves the whole time we were there!
We stopped briefly for tea at Shiratamakko (白玉っ子甘味茶屋) for some classic Japanese matcha tea and snacks, and then decided we had time for one more onsen before our hotel pick up. Our last stop was Ryokan Yumotoso (旅館湯本荘), which also cost 500JPY to enter. This was my second favorite! It features ferruginous (iron) water, which you could see on the exposed parts of the rocks. The waters here are said to help with warming you quickly if you have bad circulation as well as with anemia and menstrual issues due to the high iron content. The ryokan’s location was right near the river, so you could listen to the sounds of that and the wind rolling through the giant bamboo thickets that surrounded the bath. The sun came out too, and filtered beautifully through the hot spring’s steam! This onsen has a very cozy public waiting area, so J and I took a bit of a break here before wandering back out to the streets of the onsen town. We also made one quick, final stop in a super packed bakery called Patisserie Roku (パティスリー麓).
Our driver was right on time (typical of Japanese transportation), and took us on a quick five minute drive through a winding mountain road. We arrived in the neighboring village area of Manganji, where our ryokan Yamashinobu (山しのぶ) was. At check in, we were given a choice of yukata (a summer/casual Japanese garment) colors to choose from, which would be our expected form of dress during our stay. We set our dinner reservation for 6:30PM, and went to go relax in our very nice, very traditional room.
In the room itself, there were no beds. This is because the Japanese (much like Koreans) fold bedding away during the daytime. Instead, we had a formal Japanese dining set that included a kotatsu. A kotatsuis a table comprised of two pieces: the first is a general table frame with an insert cut out of the top, and includes a heater underneath. A thick, heavy blanket is then placed on top of the table, and a second tabletop piece is laid over that. It’s a very heavy piece of furniture, but I think it’s a winter must-have in every home!!
Dinnertime quickly arrived, so we dressed carefully in our yukata and headed to the main building. J had told me before of the famous ryokan dinners that were included with the full- or half-board prices, but I wasn’t expecting this! We had a massive 15-course meal of very traditional dishes, and it even featured two different cuts of horse meat sashimi. I’m working on getting a translation of each dish, but until I do, you can just enjoy the pictures:
Dinner took us a little over two hours to eat. Full and tired, we headed back to our rooms to grab our toiletries for one last onsen dip. Our beds had been set out and the kotatsu moved to the side during our meal. We reserved a private spa once again, but this time it was so cold out!!! The hot water felt great, but washing up before getting in was pretty miserable. A ryokan usually won’t have a shower or tub in the room itself, because it’s expected that guests intend on using the public or private hot springs to bathe. It can be a bit rough when the winter temperatures really drop.
We hurriedly bundled into our yukata after the onsen and shuffled back into our room. It had begun to snow, which was quite pretty. The hotel grounds were certainly very peaceful, nestled quietly into the valley. I was eager to get into our futon beds—one of my favorite things about my trip last year was the heavy winter bedding that was impossible to tear yourself away from. Something else to make sure I have in a future home!
The next morning, J went for a dip once again (the water on the washing seats froze over last night. That’s how cold it was!), and I gathered up my things in preparation for our trip back to Fukuoka City. We had our scheduled breakfast at 9:00AM, which was also multiple courses and centered around rice porridge. A quick stop back to the rooms to pack our bags (the staff had already put away the futons) and one last check-over, and we were on our way back to the bus stop.
Our bus ride to Fukuoka City was another two and a half hours, but took us directly to the airport. J had to check in for his flight right away, but mine wasn’t until 8:00PM. Since I had time to kill, I hopped on a bus bound for Hakata Station downtown for some shopping and wandering. Unfortunately anything I found that I liked I thought was overpriced, and any clothes I had to pass on since I was already traveling so heavily for this trip–a wardrobe for two completely different climates really weighs you down. J took a few things home for me, but I still had to carry winter and summer clothes to travel between Japan/Korea (chilly!) and the Philippines (hot!).