December 1 – 4, 2011
Since our package included a night of hotel, we spent our first night in Fukuoka right next to Hakata JR station, which was only a fifteen-minute subway ride from the international airport.
The only notable thing we did in Fukuoka was to have a bowl of Hakata ramen at one of the city’s many ramen shops. We chose Hakata Ikkousha because it was close to Hakata JR station.
When people speak of Hakata ramen, they are usually referring to a bowl of thin and straight noodle served in a rich tonkotsu broth. Ikkousha’s was not bad, especially its broth, but we have had better ones in Hong Kong and Vancouver.
深耶馬渓 Shin Yabakei
Fukuoka – Shin Yabakei: 105 km/ 110 min
Generally not considered as a hotspot for koyo (red leaves) sighting, Kyushu in fact has a few prime locations that are within a two-hour drive from Fukuoka. After going through four Japanese websites on koyo, I decided on Shin Yabakei (深耶馬渓), located about midway between Fukuoka and Kurokawa Onsen and said to be at its best in late November and early December.
Two quick notes on driving in Japan: 1) The Japanese GPS system is hands down the best in the world. 2) The highway toll is insanely expensive; the 70km drive on the expressway from Fukuoka to Hita set us back 1950円.
Shin Yabakei is 35km north from Hita, and we got there a little before noon under heavy rain. The most photogenic spot in Shin Yabakei is Hitome Hakkei (一目八景), which literally means “Eight Views at One Glance”. We probably arrived one week too late; the foliage that not long ago covered these views were piling up on the ground.
It was not a total loss for us – a few trees endured the rain and managed to retain their full heads of red leaves. But for those who are planning to visit, late November is definitely a safer bet.
Shin Yabakei – Takefue (Kurokawa Onsen): 49 km/ 90 min
The sole reason why we were in Kyushu. Read full entry here.
九重”夢”大吊橋 Kokonoe “Dream” Suspension Bridge
Kurokawa Onsen – Kokonoe: 25 km/ 55 min
A slight letdown was inevitable. Rain was falling monotonously as we got inside our rental car. Mr Tanaka and Mr Uehara sent us off by standing at the entrance and made a deep bow until our car was out of sight.
Our next stop was Kyusui Valley (九酔渓) in Kokonoe, about midway between Kurokawa Onsen and Yufuin. My wife refused to leave the car, so I braved the roaring gale alone and crossed the Kokonoe “Dream” Suspension Bridge (500円) to the other side of the valley. The cheesy name aside, walking on the bridge allowed for great opportunities to take photos of the valley and its two waterfalls.
Kokonoe – Yufuin: 30 km/ 50 min
Yufuin – Fukuoka: 122km/ 120 min
Blue sky and sunlight! It was easy to have a positive first impression of Yufuin after putting up with the gloomy weather ever since landing in Japan.
To save some cost, we stayed at a four-storied hotel with a public hot spring bath on the top floor that’s located at the edge of town surrounded by rice paddies. Despite being heavy promoted as one of the leading onsen town in Japan, the Yufuin’s farmland gave hint to the town’s agricultural roots.
We didn’t feel like soaking in our hotel’s public bath after spoiling ourselves at Takefue, so how we spent our time instead was simply walked towards Lake Kinrinko (金鱗湖) and visited the many shops and galleries along the way. It is no wonder that Yufuin consistently ranks as the most desirable destination for Japanese office lady – every shop catered to the female appetite for alluring objects that served no purpose whatsoever. Not surprisingly, the sky turned dark during our (window) shopping spree and we had to save Lake Kinrinko for the next day. Mercifully, I was saved by the shops’ 17:30 closing time.
There were a few eateries I was looking forward to try, but our stomachs were fully occupied after cramming an egg roll at B-Speak. We thought the ordinary-looking sponge cake we had the previous night at Takefue, with none of B-Speak’s hype, had a similar but better taste and texture.
Before heading back to Fukuoka for our flight home the next day, we had a 15-minute walk at Lake Kinrinko. The lake is small but quite picturesque, especially as a constant stream of vapor emitted from the lake’s hot water into the cool winter air. Basking in the morning light, the white steam turned into a hazy golden mist. I could see ourselves spending the rest of the morning at one of the lakeside café if there wasn’t a plane to catch.