The next morning in Kyushu, we woke up bright and early (nothing quite like jet lag to help you get an early start on your day) to breakfast at our Ryokan in Beppu.
Breakfast if a full-on affair with options to go for a full Japanese breakfast affair or the more Western option (egg, bacon…etc).
I decided to go for the Japanese option which turned out to be way more interesting, largely because I didn’t quite know what to do with what.
There’s a box that arrives with different options with a boiling pot of Tofu and you eat your way from top to bottom. I don’t really have photos from breakfast on this morning (bar the two above) but I’ll show you more what this looks in an upcoming post (where I had my camera with me at breakfast).
Breakfast done with, I went on a little walk around the Ryokan (we’d arrived late at night so didn’t really get a to see it properly outside)…
…before making our way over to Oita station for a rather unique experience! (Oh yeah, to get to Oita – we just caught a train from Beppu station to Oita station, it was pretty quick and convenient).
Said, unique experience would be hopping aboard the Aru Ressha Sweet Train (the full name is actually “JRKYUSHU Aru Ressha Sweet Train”)!
I remember first hearing about the “Sweet Train” before even arriving in Japan (it’s one of the top things to do here) and wondering what it actually was. Was it a train you could eat? (Y’know like a dessert.) I found out it was an actual train which then begged the question – Why was it sweet?
On further digging, I found out that it’s called the “Sweet Train” because it’s a unique dining experience where you hop aboard this beautifully designed train (it’s absolutely gorgeous) for about 2.5 hours, cruising through the Japanese countryside as you work your way through a 6-level, 10-course menu from all parts of the Kyushu (with all the ingredients grown locally in Kyushu).
The chef is called Yoshihiro Narisawa and he owns a 2-Michelin Star restaurant in Tokyo called ‘Narisawa’ which is one of the top 50 restaurants in the world! Suffice to say, you’re in for a treat when you hop aboard this train.
The menu changes, by the way, but for ours, here’s the menu below.
Oh, and you don’t start anything without bubbles! 😀 (Suffice to say, if you’re not a drinker, you have other options too).
By the time we worked our way through the Harvest Festival, Cold Winter Wind and First Frost (the first 3 ‘levels’ of the menu – see above), we arrived at Bungo-Mori Station, a pit stop in our journey to Hita (where the train stops).
After a quick walk around Bungo-Mori (there’s apparently an abandoned ‘roundhouse’ you’re supposed to check out here but I couldn’t quite figure out how to get there from this side of the tracks), we hopped back on board and made our way over to Hita…
…finishing off the rest of our absolutely delicious menu!
Seriously, dining aboard the Aru Ressha has got to be one of the best and most unique dining experiences in the world. It kinda also helps that there’s so much on board this train I just wanted to cart home with me – the design is absolutely stunning and I’m so pleased we got to do this while in Kyushu.
Alas, eventually, we did have to get off the train at Hita though, in Hita (and within walking distance from the station) is the pretty little town of Mamedamachi.
Mamedamachi feels like stepping back into the past and with good reason too. The buildings here date back to the Edo period and given how shiny part of Japan can feel (especially in its big cities), this is such an interesting side to Japan than I’m so pleased we got to visit.
First things first though – souvenir hunting! There are so many quaint little shops here and so we just popped into them with no plan or pattern, with one in particular – Nurimonoya, catching my attention. Nurimonoya makes lacquered wooden figured, delicately painted and so cute I just knew I had to get a pair.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon just kicking around Mamedamachi, stopping off for a drink to cool off in the surprisingly warm weather (back home in London, people were already starting to deal with freezing temperatures by this point), checking out the temples and basically taking in the sights and sounds of Mamedamachi.
Leaving Mamedamachi, there was one place we really wanted to visit and that was the Ukiha Inari Shrine.
Again, getting around Kyushu is so easy (reminds me a lot of how convenient it is to get around by train in the UK) so we hopped aboard a train from Hita and headed over to Ukiha.
Ukiha Inari Shrine is a Shinto shrine, heralded by over a hundred torii gates, leading up to the mountains from the valley below. (There’s a gap near the top where you turn left and find the final set of torii gates leading you up to the shrine).
By the way, if you’re here in spring, this is an amazing place to see the cherry blossoms (sakura) so be sure to head up here.
After a little while checking out not just the shrine, but the view of the countryside, we hopped back onto the train and made our way over to Fukuoka (city), where we would be spending the night.
By the way, you might find something here a bit confusing – there are two ‘Fukuoka’s, same way there are two ‘Oita’s, two ‘Nagasaki’s… etc. There’s the prefecture (which I guess can be described as the ‘region’) and then there’s the actual city itself. So when you hear Oita, it could be the prefecture or the city. The difference is in the ‘ken’ and the ‘shi’. Oita-ken refers to the prefecture (the wider region) and Oita-shi refers to the city. The same applies to Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Saga…etc The ‘ken’ and the ‘shi’ differentiate between the prefecture and the city respectively; so for the past day or so, we’ve predominantly been hanging out in Oita-ken and didn’t really visit Oita-shi.
In Fukuoka(-shi), we checked into the Grand Hyatt (the main train station here is called Hakata, by the way) and immediately headed out for dinner.
Dinner was a spot that comes highly recommended by locals called Kawatarou which is famous for its squid cuisine.
There’s more on offer here too (so you don’t have to have squid if you don’t want to) but with the squid literally swimming in the middle of the restaurant, this is probably the freshest squid tempura (or calamari) you’re gonna have.
I started off with some sake before switching to the sweeter Umeshu – a delicious plum liquor that goes down far too easily.
For dinner, we predominantly stuck to sashimi, taking a detour in the form of fried chicken (it’s more like tempura chicken and it was delicious).
Too intrigued by Fukuoka, we headed down to the river where locals were dining on what I’ve been told is some of the best ramen in town…
…before doing a circle right back to our hotel, just in time for the lights and water show right behind the Grand Hyatt.
(By the way, we didn’t get to see this but we’ve been told – and I actually overheard some other travellers talking about this – that the Godzilla show is the one to see! It’s like this 3-D show and is one of those things that you’re initially sceptical about but turns out to be pretty amazing!)
And with that, we decided to call it a night. We had to be up, bright and early for what is easily the highlight of our time in Kyushu (I’ll tell you all about it in the next post) and I wanted to be well-rest, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for that part of our trip in Kyushu!
(*If you’re too impatient to wait – there’s a clue what this is on our Instagram already. 😉 ).