Day Trip – Tokyo to Yufuin and Back
Among the many wonderful things one can experience about travel in Japan, one of the most beneficial for the prospective visitor is the ability to take advantage of the robust transportation infrastructure of the country.
In fact, although Japan is a very diverse country in terms of its geography and climate, thanks to an abundance of robust transport options, almost every location in the archipelago is reachable in a few hours. Indeed, day trips are possible to many places outside the main cities.
To prove my concept, I recently travelled to Yufuin (由布院), in Oita Prefecture (大分県), to see just what I could take in from sunrise to sunset.
Below, I’ve outlined a simple itinerary you can follow to make the most out your day in Yufuin, and a couple of options for you to do without lost time and hassle associated with changing hotels and dragging you suitcases (literally) halfway across the country.
So, pack lightly, (or not at all!) and try this itinerary on for size!!
06:35-08:15: Tokyo Haneda Airport (東京国際空港) to Oita Airport (大分空港)
The journey begins at Haneda airport for a quick flight to Oita Airport. Taking a day trip to Oita from Tokyo by a variety of trains is perhaps technically possible, but unless you’re someone for whom “getting there” is the fun part of travel, you’d have precious little time to actually enjoy Yufuin, so, travel by air from Tokyo is recommended. Services are offered by both major Japanese airlines and their subsidiaries. The flight time suggested above is a flight on All Nippon Airways (ANA).
10:20-11:15: Oita Airport-Yufuin Station (由布院駅)
Nonstop bus services are offered directly from the airport to Yufuin. Since you’re in Oita, known as the “Onsen Ken” or “Hot Springs Prefecture” (温泉県) there’s no better time than your arrival to sample the prefecture’s most famous attraction. You don’t even have the leave the airport. There’s an ashiyu or “foot hot spring” (大分空港足湯) on the 1st floor right outside of the arrival area. Soak your feet while you wait for your bus to take you to Yufuin Station. Check out the airport website for more information on what’s happening there during your trip.
Bus service is reliable and the buses themselves are of the “airport motor coach” variety, with individual seats and cup holders for drinks. Relax and enjoy the view as you’re driven through picturesque mountain valleys to your destination. You can always refer to the most current version of the airport timetable here if you are uncertain about departure times and frequency.
11:15-11:30: Pick-up Local Information About Yufuin
The bus drop-off point is immediately adjacent to Yufuin Station.
1st stop should be at the Yufu-shi Tourist Information Center (由布市ツーリストインフォメーションセンター ), a shiny and relatively new(ish) building (in somewhat jarring contrast to other nearby structures) where you can find maps and other information about what may be happening on any given day in the area.
As you begin your walking tour of the area, my recommendation is to choose a side of Ekimae Dori (駅前通り) to walk towards Yufuin. With some modest side street diversions, particularly as you get closer to Kinrinko (Lake Kinrin) you’ll find more than enough spots of interest to occupy your time.
Ekimae Dori turns into Yufumi Dori (由布見通り) which then breaks off into Yu No Tsubo Kaido (湯の坪街道) ultimately delivering you to Kinrinko (look for signs). On your way back to the station simply retrace your steps, perhaps walking on the opposite side of the road while diving into one or more of the little side streets depending on how much time you choose to spend at the more popular attractions along the way.
At a leisurely pace, depending on your appetite and interest, you can easily take in any number of sights as you stroll towards and then back from the lake.
Food and Snacks
A particularly famous local specialty is Yufumabushi (由布まぶし) which is a pot of rice over which is layered strips of locally prized local beef known as Bungogyu (豊後牛).
Yufumabushishin (由布まぶし心), operating two locations, is a personal recommendation.
Reservations are generally not required. On the day of my visit, I walked up and was seated within 20 minutes, and that was during lunchtime (although time, season, and day of the week, make a big difference with regards to crowds, but this isn’t something unique to Yufuin).
Personally, I consider this a “must experience” place, but, if you don’t want a sit-down meal, you can make your way up (and down) the street picking up a meal as you go! Other options (by no means exhaustive, but those which I can personally attest to as being very tasty) include:
And, much, much more. While you are on your food trek, make sure to try either Yufuin Cider (ゆふいんサイダー) or Kabosu Cider (かぼすサイダー) to wash everything down!!
You get the idea.
Mix and match. Whatever your stomach, and will, can handle!
One point of cultural etiquette must be mentioned here. Even when eating stall foods, typically it’s considered good manners to eat what you are eating where you bought or close by, the core point being that you are meant to be stationary, not walking and eating. Drinking and walking is slightly, only slightly, less frowned upon, so it may be best to stop, take a bite or sip, then when you’ve finished, move on to your next stop, and on, and on…
12:30-16:30: Visit A Museum, Or Spot of Interest (Or Both) On Your Way To Kinrinko
Cultural Interests, Shops, and Just "Because"
The popularity of the space between Yufuin Station and Kinrinko has given rise to a number of small, somewhat eccentric galleries, museums, historical sites, and shops. A (very) short list includes:
Personal “must see” recommendation #1; Yufuin Showakan/Yufuin Bijutsukan (由布院昭和館/由布院夢美術館山下清原画展): Official Site.
Personal “must see” recommendation #2; Kame No Ii Besso and Garden (亀の井別荘): Official Site.
Marc Chagall Museum: Official Site.
Donguri No Mori (どんぐりの森): Official Site.
Yu No Tsubo Yokocho (湯の坪横丁): Official Site.
Yufuin Floral Village (由布院フローラルビレッジ): Official Site.
Overall, between the station and the lake there are more than 200 different establishments offering any and every thing to suit any taste or interest.
16:30-17:30: Leisurely Return to Yufuin Station, But Don’t Miss a Spot of Modern Japanese History Hiding in Plain Sight
Tucked away, almost out of sight, in the middle of a park just off Yufu No Tsubo Dori was a lonely steam locomotive. Surely an impressive sight in its glory days, now, it is silent, and fading witness to the time when modernization swept through Japan and laid the foundations for the society we see all around us today.
Jokikikansha/Steam Locomotives (蒸気機関車) or “SL’s” as they are typically referred to in Japan, are making a bit of a comeback across as tourist attractions, but that’s another story!
If one was so inclined, with a wide variety of local (and other) food stalls, museums and cultural sites, cafes and restaurants, even public baths, at least I found myself thinking, partially out-loud, “the truth is, I could live on this street. No need to go back to Tokyo ever again.”
On this aggressive day-trip, you’ve got roughly 6 hours from drop off until you have to be back on the bus heading home. How you mix and match any of the above attractions and/or splice your time is entirely up to you. Just be sure to make the most of it, because, in my experience, most of what I saw, ate, and experienced, is local to Yufuin, so it will be hard to replicate things once you’re back home.
All things must come to an end, so before you know it, it’s time to hop back on the bus and back to Japan’s center of centers, its furiously beating heart. Tokyo.
17:35-18:30: Bus from Yufuin Station-Oita Airport
Despite perhaps multiple dips in ashiyu, your aching feet let you know that they walked a lot more than they expected today. So, as you relax on the bus for your return trip to Oita Airport, depending on the time of year of your visit, you may be able to enjoy watching the sunset from your window seat as it slowly sinks below the mountainous horizon (best seasons for viewing would likely be spring and fall, given the approximate time of sunset and the relative likelihood of clear weather).
Arriving back at the airport with plenty of time to check-in, if you haven’t done so already, you can pick-up some last minute souvenirs at the airport gift shop. Be sure to make a purchase before you pass through the security check. There’s not much on offer after crossing the barrier.
19:20-21:00: Takeoff. Destination Tokyo
Safely arrived back in the big city, with enough time to catch the train from the airport from your hotel or maybe grab a bite to eat on the way back, you make it back to your room, open the curtains, and look out upon the sea of electric stars dotting the nighttime Tokyo horizon.
Meanwhile, your mind is still processing the fact that only a few hours ago you were in Kyushu (九州), dipping your feet in warm onsen waters, photographing beautiful Mt. Yufudake (由布岳), eating Yufumabushi, and having a great time knowing that you chose to break free from the typically beaten path. That you “extended” your journey in Japan in a geographical and experiential way.
Later, when you post your photos of your “Day in Yufuin” don’t be surprised if more than one person asks you if your casually taken photos look like works of art. Indeed, at Yufuin, perhaps the line between reality and art can be, depending on your vantage point, indistinguishable.