Kyushu, Day 7: Kurokawa Onsen

The tour spots in Mount Aso though were still foggy so we abandoned the idea that we can still go here. Helen brought us instead to Nabegataki Falls.

We went to a good viewpoint after lunch and had a bit of good weather…

The tour spots in Mount Aso though were still foggy so we abandoned the idea that we can still go here. Helen brought us instead to NABEGATAKI FALLS. It is considered as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan, and it offers the experience of being able to go behind it.

It was a very fun experience despite the rain. At that time, I thought that if it was summer season, it would be tempting to have your feet dipped into the water.

Our next (and last) stop was KUROKAWA ONSEN, one of the popular hot spring towns in Japan. What is interesting here is that you can buy a tegata (wooden pass) which you can use to go to 3 different onsen in the town aside from the ryokan where you booked. There is a shrine in the town where used tegata can be used as an ema.

Near the shrine is a face steamer which we tried. Warning though that it gave off a bit of rotten egg smell.

Some more exploration of the town…

…until we reached this ryokan known for its hot spring with beautifying effect. They had a free ashiyu so we took a quick rest here. The temperature was bearable especially because it was very cold on that day.

Before going to Higo-ozu Station, Helen was kind enough to go to Ozu Central Park first so that we could check if Roronoa Zoro’s statue (One Piece) was already there. Unfortunately, nope.

We said our goodbyes then C and I had dinner in Ippudo. I tried the tantanmen – it was delicious but I still prefer my all-time favorite shiromaru. Hehe.

Kyushu, Day 7: Aso Tour

We met again with Helen (Explore Kumamoto) to do the full-day tour on Mount Aso. However, we had bad weather as it was raining and quite foggy. Good thing Helen was prepared with a back-up plan!

MARCH 10, 2020

We met again with Helen (Explore Kumamoto) to do the full-day tour on Mount Aso. However, we had bad weather as it was raining and quite foggy. Good thing Helen was prepared with a back-up plan!

We went first to SHIRAKAWA FOUNTAINHEAD, Southern Aso’s most sacred and beautiful spring. Helen shared that this was one of Japan’s top 100 water sources and we could fill our bottle with the spring water. It was really nice that there was no weird taste plus the water was cold. Helen said that the temperature never changes.

Next stop was KAMISHIKIMI KUMANO IMASU SHRINE. Quite a mouthful to say but Helen asked if we knew of Hotarubi no Mori e. I told her that I watched it and it was good for a short film. Apparently, this shrine was the inspiration for the setting of the film and the creator, Yuki Midorikawa, grew up in Aso region. Midorikawa-sensei is also the mangaka of Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends), which I am a huge fan of.

The gloomy weather made the shrine look mystical and straight out of a manga setting. After paying respect in the shrine, we trekked uphill and Helen shared another folklore involving oni.

The previous day, I shared with Helen that my most favorite manga / anime would be One Piece… and she told me we can visit the statue that was in Aso. HUHU SO NICE!!! We visited Usopp’s statue!

There was a local grocery nearby and I bought this Aso milk cheese pudding (¥300). Not a fan of milk but this was super yummy!

For lunch, she brought us to 鉄板焼 阿蘇まーぼー where we ordered akaushi teppanyaki (¥1,700). The owner cooked our akaushi to perfection (medium) and the egg was runny, yay!

We spotted a shop nearby selling Cremia (¥500) sooo what else to do but buy, right?

Kyushu, Day 6: More of Takachiho Tour

After lunch, we visited Takachiho Shrine. The shrine is surrounded by Japanese cedar trees with the oldest estimated to be 1000 years old.

MARCH 9, 2020

After lunch, we visited TAKACHIHO SHRINE. The shrine is surrounded by Japanese cedar trees with the oldest estimated to be 1000 years old.

Helen showed us the Meoto Sugi, believed to be a male and a female tree growing side by side and married to each other. She shared that walking around the two trees 3x clockwise with your partner will ensure happiness.

As usual, I was fascinated with the ema designs…

Helen led us to the back area of the shrine and shared a story on how a god cut a demon’s body part to teach it a lesson never to come back. We also visited the theater where Kagura dance is performed every night.

Our last stop was in Iwato, to visit the shrine and cave associated with Amaterasu, the sun goddess and Japan’s most revered kami. We went first to AMANO IWATO SHRINE.

Helen shared the folklore on how Amaterasu became the most important kami in Shintoism – not gonna spoil it though! 😉 After visiting the shrine, we had a bit of a trek to reach AMANO YASUKAWARA CAVE.

Helen asked us to pick up a stone from the shrine entrance before going here, and the custom was for us to place the stone on top of any pile of stones in the cave. In this way, our prayers may be answered. We had to be careful not to knock down the pile because each pile contains prayers from different people.

We went back to Higo-Ozu Station and bid goodbye to everyone. Back at Kumamoto city, we had dinner at COCO ICHIBANYA and I got my favorite cheese hamburg with omelet.

Kyushu, Day 6: Takachiho Gorge Tour

We availed a full-day tour in Takachiho via Explore Kumamoto and it was the best decision! While you can visit Takachiho (and even Mount Aso) on your own, it is difficult to move from one place to another due to lack of frequent public transpo.

MARCH 9, 2020

We availed a full-day tour in Takachiho via Explore Kumamoto and it was the best decision! While you can visit Takachiho (and even Mount Aso) on your own, it is difficult to move from one place to another due to lack of frequent public transpo.

Helen, our tour guide, was easy to talk to during the arrangement for this tour. My sister and I were very happy with her because she had a lot of stories to share during the tour. My favorite part was whenever she shared stories from Japanese myths and folklore. She also listened intently to our stories during the car ride and even if it was silent, it was not awkward.

We met her at Higo-ozu Station along with 3 other tourists. She brought a van so there was a lot of space for legroom and luggage.

Our first stop was a local farmer’s market with one of the best views of Mount Aso. That day was cloudy but thankfully, it was not raining.

Helen said that strawberries were in season so I bought a pack and finished it in one sitting.

We went to another area afterwards with a better landscape view of the area.

After a long ride, we finally reached TAKACHIHO GORGE. Helen said that this was formed due to violent eruptions of Mount Aso thousands of years ago.

She shared different stories including an oni being sealed in the area and the interesting rock formations caused by previous volcanic eruptions.

We eventually reached the spot where we can see the Manai Waterfalls, selected as one of the best 100 waterfalls in Japan.

After that, we saw a love shrine and a big pond with its center dubbed as the first island made.

Next was the moment I was waiting for – riding a boat on the river. A new boating fee scheme was implemented wherein a boat rental costs ¥3,000 + ¥1,000 per person.

One of our tour companions joined me and C since he was a solo traveler. We had 30 minutes to row along the river and return to the dock. It was a bit difficult for our new companion to row and navigate because there were other boats around. We ended up getting wet a bit because we went too close to the waterfalls at one point.

We still had fun especially because C and I did not have to row. Hehe. For lunch, we decided to eat in INAKAYA because they had chicken nanban (¥1,200) – karaage (fried chicken) with tartar sauce + a bit of vinegar taste. The restaurant beside Inakaya is the origin of nagashi soumen, wherein somen noodles flow down a bamboo with running water and you have to catch them with chopsticks then dip into the sauce.

The serving of the chicken nanban was huge! One order had 3 big pieces of fried chicken plus miso soup and pickled vegetables were also served. Perfect lunch after a looong morning.

Kyushu, Day 5: Kokutei Ramen (Kumamoto)

We ate dinner at Kokutei, famous for their Kumamoto-style ramen. Chicken is added to the tonkotsu broth and plenty of garlic is added – garlic oil and garlic chips. Right up my alley!

MARCH 8, 2020

How do you know you are in Kumamoto? When you see this mascot named Kumamon!

We ran a few errands after checking in and we found a great discovery for ofuro! It is called babu, a carbonated bath tablet. KAO is one of the popular brands for this and we bought the lavender variant. We used it every night and it was such a treat for the body ache/pain.

We finished around sunset and we decided to walk to our dinner place, which was almost 2km away. No regrets because we were treated to this view:

We ate dinner at KOKUTEI, famous for their Kumamoto-style ramen. Chicken is added to the tonkotsu broth and plenty of garlic is added – garlic oil and garlic chips. Right up my alley! I ordered their bestselling Tamagoiri ramen (¥1,250) and what was served was a bowl of ramen with pork fillets and two fresh egg yolks. The egg yolks added creamy texture to the broth which made it even nicer.

No ramen meal is complete without an order of gyoza. Nomnom!

Kyushu, Day 5: Kagoshima Sights

Sengan-en is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for offering a good view of Sakurajima. The house lived in and loved by generations of the Shimadzu family can also be found here.

MARCH 8, 2020

Main mission for this day was to visit Sengan-en so from Kagoshima-chuo Station, we rode the City View Bus to get there.

SENGAN-EN (¥1,000) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for offering a good view of Sakurajima. The house lived in and loved by generations of the Shimadzu family can also be found here. There is also the garden area which spans 12 acres of land.

Some of the memorable spots we visited were:

  • Reverberatory furnace
  • Stone wall and site of Satsuma pottery kiln
  • Crest of the Shimadzu family
  • Initial part of the hiking trail

We also saw Sakon-taro, a water-powered rice-husking machine that they used before to polish brown rice.

C bought a few cat goodies from a shop managed by an obaasan…

…and there was also a cat shrine nearby.

At the other end of Sengan-en was the viewing point for Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and the symbol of Kagoshima. It spews smoke constantly but the island can actually be visited as long as it is not on high alert.

On our way back, we spotted the Senjingan, which people before worked on for 3 months to carve three characters (translating to “very large rock”), and the jumping lion lantern.

The last place we visited was SHIMADZU SATSUMA KIRIKO GLASSWORK. We were a bit shy to go inside the shop because the items were expensive but the staff did not let us leave even if we were just looking around. There is also a factory nearby where you can watch the master craftsmen do Satsuma Kiriko crystal glass.

Since the bus going back to the station was still about 30 minutes away, we decided to go inside the uniquely designed Starbucks.

We wanted to eat kurobuta tonkatsu for lunch and found a good place near the central train station –KURO KATSU TEI. We ordered and shared the Kurokatsutei set lunch (fillet and loin; ¥1,090) and special loin cutlet set meal (¥1,690).

The kurobuta tonkatsu was juicy and flavorful, and the best part was it did not feel too oily or greasy. I would not mind eating it again! Hehe.

Inside Kagoshima-chuo station, we found an area with different food stalls inside. I was lucky to spot Agetateya which specializes in satsumaage (fried fish cake). I bought 3 pieces for ¥520, picking random flavors and turned out to be good ones – prawn, mushroom, cheese.

Kyushu, Day 4: Tontoro Ramen (Kagoshima)

From Beppu, we rode a shinkansen going to Kagoshima. We arrived early evening so after checking in to our Airbnb, we decided to eat dinner. It was raining so it was easy for us to decide to have Kagoshima ramen.

MARCH 7, 2020

From Beppu, we rode a shinkansen going to Kagoshima. We arrived early evening so after checking in to our Airbnb, we decided to eat dinner. It was raining so it was easy for us to decide to have Kagoshima ramen.

We went to TONTORO and ordered a small bowl of Tontoro ramen (¥830) and a plate of kurobuta steamed dumplings (¥450).

The ramen was amazing!!! We regretted not ordering the regular size… tbf, we did not expect it to be that good. I read online that the broth is made from chicken and bonito which makes the taste unique. Kagoshima is also known for kurobuta (think wagyu but for pork!) and having that inside the dumpling we ordered was heaven in a bite! The vinegar and soy sauce poured over the dumplings made it even better.

If you are in Kagoshima, this is a must-eat!

Kyushu, Day 4: Hells of Beppu

We checked out early but left our bags with the staff so that we could explore the Hells of Beppu. There were a few spots near the ryokan and we decided to visit these. We chose 2 spots only because we had limited time before our train to Kagoshima.

MARCH 7, 2020

Our breakfast was also included in the room price and we had a lot to eat!

We checked out early but left our bags with the staff so that we could explore the HELLS OF BEPPU. There were a few spots near the ryokan and we decided to visit these. We chose 2 spots only because we had limited time before our train to Kagoshima.

We first went to UMI JIGOKU (¥400), literally translated to “sea hell”. Temperature is at 98oC and its pond is unique because of the cobalt blue color. It is said that this was created due to the explosion of Mount Tsurumi 300 years ago.

There was an indoor museum as well but most of the stuff were in Japanese.

A few of the trees in the area were already blooming flowers…

Last stop was ONIISHIBOZU JIGOKU (¥400). The name comes from the fact that the boiling mud looks similar to the shaved head of a bozu (Buddhist priest). There were different spots in the area to see boiling gray mud pools.

Interesting also to see an ashiyu (free foot bath) and a small “river” with rust color.

We went back to the ryokan afterwards then headed to Beppu Station. We still had more than an hour of waiting to do and it was nice to see a lounge for tourists in Beppu Station. Staying inside was free but we were a bit shy so C decided to avail the unli coffee inside.

That’s it for Beppu! Next stop is Kagoshima. 😊

Kyushu, Day 3: Beppu Ryokan

MARCH 6, 2020

From Yufuin, we headed back to Beppu and checked-in a ryokan – Kappo Ryokan Kannawa Bettei.

We were given yuzu mochi and ocha as welcome snacks then toured around the ryokan.

After the tour and orientation, we quickly changed to yukata to use the private outdoor onsen while it was still free. It was nice because you can lock the door to make sure that other guests cannot go inside. Use of the outdoor onsen was max of 1 hour but we only stayed for 30 minutes because it was too hot for us.

I had a good sleep that night though because my back and shoulder pains went away. Our room had an indoor onsen but we decided to use it for the next day.

For dinner, we were served with a 10-course meal which was included already in the room price we paid.

What we had for dinner were:

  1. Umeshu
  2. Fried red bream with yuba, cherry leaf, sweet rice sake sauce, sakura, and wasabi
  3. Small bowl: vegetables and dotted gizzard shad; rest of the plate: squid with leafbud miso, duck meat, roe and seaweed, taro, and broad bean lily root
  4. Clear soup with red sea bream, turnip, glehnia root, carrot, and rapeseed blossom
  5. Sashimi: horse mackerel, flounder, squid
  6. Bamboo shoot, wakame seaweed, kuruma prawn, sea bream roe, green peas, and carrot
  7. Nabe – bungo beef (high quality beef from Oita), assorted vegetables, tofu; vinegar + soy sauce; green onion, red chili daikon, and yuzu green pepper
  8. Grilled Spanish mackerel marinated in soy sauce, mustard shiitake mushroom, and pickled ginger
  9. Rice, pickled vegetables, miso soup
  10. Assorted fruits

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We were so happy with Youko-san who assisted us ever since we arrived up until dinner finished. We even talked a bit during dinner because she was surprised we knew basic Japanese and had good diction.

After dinner was sleeping time already and we were excited to try the futon. It was so soft and comfortable! We did not feel the floor on our back so we had a good sleep.

Kyushu, Day 3: Yufuin Food Trip

There were a lot of food that I wanted to try in Yufuin so we did not opt for eating a heavy meal in one place. Our first food stop was Bakudanyaki Honpo.

MARCH 6, 2020

Near Floral Village was a Snoopy-themed shop selling food and merch.

There were a lot of food that I wanted to try in Yufuin so we did not opt for eating a heavy meal in one place. Our first food stop was BAKUDANYAKI HONPO. Bakudan yaki literally translates to “fried bomb” and this place is famous for selling a very huge piece of takoyaki – even bigger than my fist.

C and I ordered the original flavor (¥450). We did not want to share so we had one piece each. Haha! Inside the bakudan yaki was more than 10 ingredients including octopus, sausage, corn, meat, and cabbage. We also ordered a bottle of ramune which was a good pair with the takoyaki.

It was so good that we were able to finish it in less than 10 minutes. I asked C if she wanted to get another one but for sharing. She was game so I ordered the cheese flavor (¥500). It was also very delicious! Aside from the generous amount of cheese, there was a bit of spiciness as well.

We saw a lot of shops selling dairy-based products so we were wondering if Yufuin is famous for it…

Then I spotted a shop selling Cremia (¥500)!!! I told C that she also had to buy one for herself because this ice cream was legit heaven! She fell in love after her first bite and every time we saw a shop with Cremia during the trip, she would buy one.

Last food stop was MILCH, famous for its cheesecake cups.

We bought a piece of hot mini cheesecake cup (¥150) and it was a burst of textures – gooey and fluffy cheese topping with sponge cake in the middle and crispy graham-like crunch at the bottom. I read online that it was awarded the “Monde Selection” quality label for three consecutive years (2015-2017).

We also got Milch pudding (¥300). Its taste closely resembled crème brulee! Sweet but not overpowering.

All of the delicious food and desserts that we had are enough to convince me to go back here again!