We went to Kokonoe, and stopped in Oita, Beppu and some other places while we were out there

Posted on 08.04.2016

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It’s become a tradition, basically. On our birthdays, we travel. We went to Australia for Mark’s birthday last year, and Thailand for mine.

This year, I took him to a place I’d been to before. I knew he’d love it. The area is called Kokonoe, but most people wouldn’t really know that place or be able to find it on a map. It’s easier to say we went to Beppu or Yufuin, which are far more popular, and therefore far more crowded.

Before we did that, though, we flew into Oita and met my friend Kikue at the train station. I’d come to Oita to see her before, and it was a good time to see her and catch up. She knew it was Mark’s birthday and helped me plan what we would do. The weather wasn’t too great, but we were able to do a few things.

DSC_2780The first thing we did (after going to her place and dropping all of our stuff off) was to go to Takasakiyama Monkey Park, which is easily one of the best things to see in Japan, ever. It’s a monkey (macaque) reserve at the base of Takasaki Mountain in Beppu. I thought he’d love this, since he’s not a big fan of zoos, and loves animals. You can just walk around the park and be very close to the animals, and as long as you don’t make eye contact, it’s all good.

The place is great. If you’re ever in Kyushu, it’s a must-see, right on line with the cat islands and wild deer or Nara. I took so many photos.

DSC_2884We spent the night at Kikue’s place and then went to Oita Prefectural Art Museum the next morning. This is supposed to be a great place for modern art, and we saw some good stuff. Sadly, as in most places in Japan, there weren’t any photos allowed and the gift shop wasn’t selling postcards or posters of the art, so we don’t have so much to show for it. But something I loved especially were these giant eggs (which we were allowed to take photos of) by artist Marcel Wanders. You could walk up to them and push them around, and they just rolled back up. It was great. I would have liked to take photos of some of the art we saw, but it’s not allowed. So sad.

Then we took the train on up into the mountains to get to our Ryokan. It took about an hour and was amazingly scenic. From the station, we were picked up by the hotel shuttle and driven up the mountain to the hotel.

IMG_7261The name of the onsen ryokan is Nihiki no Oni, and it’s up on a mountain, about 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest (rather remote) train station, and pretty far from just about everything in general. There is a restaurant a few curves away on the way back down the mountain, and you can reach the Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi (Dream Suspension Bridge) in about 5 minutes if you continue up to the top of the mountain. But that’s it.

We’re not super big on onsens, due to the fact that we both have tattoos (which are often forbidden in public onsens), and also the fact that we both tend to melt if it gets to warm outside. So, no onsen in the summer for us. But since this is March, and we were going to a remote mountain, I thought it would be a good call, especially since all of their onsens are private. Also, Mark hasn’t been further from Tokyo than Kyoto. It was a good excuse to get out and away to see a different side of Japan.

IMG_6425So many people picture Japan as geishas and Tokyo, but there is so much more that is so close to the main attractions. Just like NYC isn’t the USA and London isn’t the UK, Tokyo isn’t Japan. It’s great, but it’s not all there is.

Since we really enjoy getting the hell away from everyone, it was a great spot for us. We got a ‘villa’ room for 2, which included a bedroom, living area, and our own private onsen just outside our bathroom door. So we didn’t even really need to leave the room, which was already separated from the other rooms, except for meals.

IMG_7323On top of all of this, one of their employees speaks pretty reasonable English. So I was able to communicate with him via email before making the reservation, and during our stay. He was so helpful, and it’s often hard to find English-speakers outside of very popular tourist spots. I arranged the meal to be ‘vegetarian + fish’, since that was the lowest we could go. It must have been difficult for them to handle since it’s not something many people ask for. They gave us a 7-course meal each night, and a big breakfast in the mornings. It was so far beyond the normal continental toast and jam you get in most places. It can’t even be compared.

DSC_2989It ended up raining for most of the time we were there, but we managed to make it out to see the suspension bridge. Maybe the photos aren’t amazing, but it was quite an experience to be up so high, walking across a bridge that was gently swaying in the breeze.

There was also a really nice, mostly abandoned shrine nearby, so we walked to that and looked around. Shrines might be my favourite things in Japan, just because they are often SO silent and so lovely. We walked across the bridge, visited the shrine, and then got back across just in time to take shelter in the seating area when the rain started to pour.

DSC_3029It was good, though, because it meant we HAD to relax and hang out in our room. We literally hung out, had lunch, went in the onsen, hung out some more, went back in the onsen, went to dinner, and that was it. It was great, and relaxing, and the right way to spend a few days away from work and everything.

It was actually pretty perfect, even if we DID have to eat some fish and it was rainy. I was happy with our time there.

On the final day, Kikue picked us up after checkout and we went driving through the area: past Mount Aso, up in the mountains and through the fog. It was amazing and a bit scary, but also really nice and serene. Kikue took us to a lovely vegetarian lunch at a new restaurant, and also to a local waterfall and Takeda castle ruins, which was the perfect spot to see our first hanami of the year.

Overall, it was an excellent 4-day trip out of Tokyo, and much-needed. You can never count on the weather, but at least it wasn’t a typhoon. I have a feeling the film will be excellent when I get it back. I’ll post more photos then!

But for now, here are some of the good ones from the trip:

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Posted in: food, Japan, life, travel