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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Yufuin no mori ゆふいんの森

Travelled on 23.03.2014


There are three round trips daily. For this trip, I boarded Yufuin no mori 6 which departed from Yufuin JR Station at 1707 hrs. Alighted at Kurume JR Station to transfer to Shinkansen, bound for Kumamoto.

Do check out the train operating schedule and timing on JR Kyushu website: http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/trains/yufuinnomori/
  • Yufuin no mori 1 and 5: Hakata > Yufuin
  • Yufuin no mori 3: Hakata > Yufuin > Beppu
  • Yufuin no mori 2 and 6: Yufuin > Hakata
  • Yufuin no mori 4: Beppu > Yufuin > Hakata
Luck! Yufuin no mori is one of JR Kyushu's most popular sightseeing train. My original plan on Day 9 was to board Yufuin no mori 4 from Beppu JR Station after visiting the Jigoku in Beppu. To my dismay, there were less than 4 seats left on this train despite making a reservation for the tickets about 1 week in advance! Wanted very much to take this train, therefore had to choose alternative timing and tweak my itinerary on the spot. After much consideration, I had to settle for Yufuin no mori 6 which departed from Yufuin JR Station at a much later timing. This implied that I had to return to Yufuin from Beppu via a 1 hour duration bus ride. Despite all the pre-work/research done, I have come to realise that some things are just not within our control. To me, these impromptu decisions/changes are what make free & easy travelling unpredictable yet exciting at times!

Highlights:

Design. All in all, Yufuin no mori is a very resort feel train. Green body with posh looking wooden interior and parquet flooring, all in line with the name of this train. One unique feature of this train is the carriages are connected by bridges with fences on both sides, allowing passengers to move seamlessly within the train. For those travelling in a group of 3 or 4, you can also request for booth seats (subjected to availability) which has a common table with a classical looking lamp!

Yufuin Wappo (720 yen).
Relax & Eat. Admire the natural landscape through the large windows as the train travels along the Kyudai main line (between Kurume and Oita). There is a counter in one of the train carriages which sells related merchandises and food. If you are a fan of Yufuin's famous B Speak swiss roll, you may be lucky enough to buy it on board this train. During my day of travel, it was already sold out before the last train of the day.

Exploring different kinds of ekiben has also become one of my favourite activities during such leisure train rides. Bought two different types of ekibens for sharing. Yufuin Wappo (ゆふいんわっぽ) is a healthy bento which is popular among female passengers and it contains five small rice balls, in different colours, stewed vegetables and fishcake. On the other hand, Kousou Monogatari (香草物語) is a sumptuous ekiben. Each box is divided into 12 sections, each filled with colourful main and side dishes - various vinegared rice, several meat dishes, pickled vegetables and one serving of dessert.  


Kousou Monogatari
Photo taking & commemorative boarding pass. Passengers can also borrow the commemorative board (which states the day of travel) and cabin attendents' hats for photo taking purposes. Don't forget to grab your commemorative boarding pass and stamps while on board the train. The inked stamp station is placed in the same train carriage as the food and merchandise counter. 

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Video: Scroll to 28:25 for 遇约九州's feature on Yufuin no mori.



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Boarding pass & commemorative stamp:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Beppu Jigoku Meguri 別府地獄巡り

Visited 23.03.2014

Hectic schedule. The original plan was to embark on a day trip to Beppu and board Yufuin no mori 4 from Beppu JR station, which departs from this train station only once a day, back to Kumamoto. However, due to the huge popularity of this sightseeing train, no seats was available and I had to settle for a later timing which departs from Yufuin JR Station instead. Revised the itinerary, by cutting short the time spent in Beppu to only 2.5 hrs in order to board a bus back to Yufuin to catch the train. Because of time constraint, we had to undergo a "touch and go" mode to cover all eight jigoku. In fact, each Jigoku has so much more to offer. Apart from the hot spring sources, there were other side attractions such as mini zoos, museums, aquariums, footbath and shops selling local food and souvenirs. I have to admit it was an ambitious move and the outcome was pretty undesirable. We missed the bus to the second cluster of Jigoku and the return bus from Beppu to Yufuin (due to a traffic jam on the way back to Beppu JR Station). Had to depend on taxi on both occasions. If given a second chance, I will want to return to Beppu to revisit all the jigoku again, at a much leisure pace. 


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Highlights:

- Most economical way to tour all eight jigoku is to purchase the bundled entrance ticket which cost 2,100 yen. For those who only have time to visit selected Jigoku, individual entrance tickets are also sold separately at each Jigoku. With Beppu 1 Day Mini Passport, you are also entitled to purchase the tickets at a discounted rate (200 yen off).

Left: Hungry hippopotamus in Yama Jigoku; Top right: Umi Jigoku; Bottom right: Boiling mud in Oniishibozu Jigoku.
- First clusters of Jigoku: 

(1) Umi Jigoku 海地獄: The cobalt blue colour of the hot spring waters resembles the sea. This hot spring source is about 200 m deep and is said to have emerged about 1,200 years ago after an volcanic explosion.  

(2) Yama Jigoku 山地獄: The name came from the mountain of mud that were formed over the years. The power of earth can be felt by the strong gust of steam which emerged from bottom of the ground continuously and fiercely. This jigoku houses a mini zoo which showcases hippopotamus, flamingos, mini horses.

(3) Oniishibozu Jigoku 鬼石坊主地獄: This jigoku looks like a giant pot of boiling mud. It is named oniishi bozu (shaven head) because the boiling bubbles of hot gray mud looked like shaven heads of monks.

Bottom left: No. 5 pond in Kamado Jigoku which changes colour overtime.
(4) Kamado Jigoku かまど地獄: The mascot of this site is represented by a bright red demon standing on an enormous cooking pot. Known as "Oven Hell", its name is derived because the steam generated from the various hot spring sources were used for cooking food in the past. There are a total of six hot spring sources here. No. 1, 2 and 6 ponds contained hot muddy waters. No. 3 is a blue pond which produces whitish material of SiO2 and hot spring precipitate that takes about 70 years to form. No. 4 is similar to Oniishibozu Jigoku. No. 5 is a pond which mysteriously changes colour (to various shades of blue) a couple of times throughout the year. Footbath can also be enjoyed in this Jigoku too.

Left: Crocodiles basking under the sun and enjoying the warm waters in Oniyama Jigoku; Right: White steam generated from the milky waters of Shiraike Jigoku.
(5) Oniyama Jigoku 鬼山地獄: The Jigoku that I am most fearful of. Not because of the large amount of steam generated from the hot spring source but the sight of a bask of crocodiles enjoying the warm waters did send a chill down my spine. In fact, there are about 80 crocodiles being breed here! Force of the steam is powerful enough to pull one and a half train. You can also try food such as corns, sweet potatoes and eggs which are cooked using the steam generated from the hot spring source.

(6) Shiraike Jigoku 白池地獄: In a traditional Japanese garden setting, the hot spring water was originally colourless when it surged out from the ground but turned creamy white after time. Do spend some time exploring the aquarium here which showcased Piranhas that thrived in the Amazon River and about 10 species of tropical fishes.

Left: Reddish brown waters of Chinoike Jigoku; Right: Waited to see the geyser in action at Tatsumaki Jigoku.
- 2nd cluster of Jigoku:

(7) Chinoike Jigoku 血の池地獄: Described as the "blood pond" due to the reddish brown colour of hot spring waters. Red mud/clay which contains iron oxide and magnesium oxide is produced under high temperature and pressure underground. Do make your way up to one of its elevated spot to get a better overview of this magnificent steaming reddish brown pond.

(8) Tatsumaki Jigoku 龍卷地獄: Designated as a natural monument by Beppu city, this geyser spouts out boiling water and steam for about 6 - 10 minutes at every 30 - 40 minutes interval. Managed to see the geyser in action just before we rushed for our departing bus.

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Recommended route:
- From Beppu JR Station West Exit Bus Stop, take Bus 5 or 41 and alight at Umi Jigoku mae to visit the first cluster of Jigoku (1) to (6).
- At Kannawa Bus Terminal, take Bus 16 and alight at Chinoike Jigoku mae to visit the second cluster of Jigoku (7) and (8).
- At Chinoike Jigoku mae, take Bus 16 again to return to Beppu JR Station.
Bus 5: http://www.beppuni.com/bus/route/k5.html
Bus 41: http://www.beppuni.com/bus/route/k41.html

Bus 16: http://www.beppuni.com/bus/route/k16.html (Kannawa > Chinoike Jigoku > Beppu JR Station)

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Jigoku Meguri 地獄巡り 
Opening hrs: 0800 - 1700 hrs
http://www.beppu-jigoku.com/index.html
English brochure: http://www.beppu-jigoku.com/images/English0.pdf
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Commemorative stamps: 


Kamado Jigoku

Kamado Jigoku

Oniishibozu Jigoku

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chugoku (Sanyo + San-in) 2015 日本中国 (山阴+山阳) - Cafe Honmachi 喫茶ほんまち

Visited 17.04.2015

Right: Cafe Honmachi is loacted on the second floor.
Was flipping through this local magazine featuring the sights, sounds and food in Okayama when I was in Cafe Antenna on Day 1. A picture of an adorable latte art from one cafe caught my attention and sparked my interest to pay this cafe a visit if time permits on the next 3 days. The cafe is not remotely located, in fact just nearby Okayama JR Station.

Managed to fork out some time on Day 2 night to visit this cafe after a day trip to Kurashiki. With the help of GPS, we came to a row of shop houses but could not spot any prominent sign board from the cafe. After walking up and down that same row of shop houses at least once, my eye finally caught sight of this small board supported on a stool. This board was placed just in front of the flight of stairs leading to the second floor of a shop house unit - and yes, that was Cafe Honmachi's. For a moment, I hesitated whether I should go up because it fell short of my expectation in terms of appearance. Crossed my fingers and made my way up in the end.


Place was small with only one person attending to the entire cafe. Cafe could only occupy less than 15 diners - 2 to 3 small tables, some seats faced the window and wall and a few counter seats. The cafe allows diners to smoke, therefore the lingering tobacco smell in the enclosure could be uncomfortable for non-smokers (including us). With the thought that we would only just stay here for a short while and happened that there was a table (facing the wall) available, we decided to settle down and put up with the smell.

Delicious club sandwiches!
Cafe serves light snacks, drinks and desserts. Ordered two different types of club sandwiches and drinks to go with the food. Took some time for the food and drinks to come as he had to take on multiple roles - the waiter, barista, cook and cashier, yet still maintains his composure and control food quality as he completes the orders in a comfortable way. Fresh lettuce and tomatoes, tender chicken and moist scrambled eggs stuffed between fragrant black sesame toasts - loved how the various flavours came together harmoniously and this is definitely one of the best sandwiches I have eaten in my life. The BLT was equally good, with that pinch of heat (black pepper) emerged in the mouth as you take a bite into the sandwich.

Coffee was the main reason that brought me here and I must say it did not disappoint at all. Mocha, served in delicate English cups and saucer, came with a very nice latte art depicting a rabbit holding a heart, which will definitely bring a smile to any diner who receives the drink. Not only the cup of mocha looked nice, it tasted very good as well - very smooth and well-balanced in all aspects.

My cup of cafe mocha.
All the positive critics that I have gathered on the food and drinks diverted my attention away from the disturbing tobacco smell lingering in my surrounding. Glad to have come to this place after all! 

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Cafe Honmachi 喫茶 ほんまち
岡山県 岡山市北区 本町 2-22 錦ビル 2F
Opening hrs: 1100 - 2400 hrs (Last order: 2300 hrs)
Approx 3 mins walk from Okayama JR Station