The track came to a small clearing called Gōyagoshi 合野越, where I was now behind Iimorigajō. The small white sign at the bottom left indicated another trail which I would take on the way back down from Yufu-dake.
From this point forward, the walking started in earnest. At first, the trail continued through the forest, but eventually it came out into an area of azalea bushes and fantastic views:
The trail reached a junction, where I had the option of climbing up one of Yufu-dake’s two peaks, Nishi-mine 西峰 or Higashi-mine 東峰. The route up the former involved the use of chains in parts, so I opted for the latter, and 15 minutes later I was at the top of Higashi-mine, 1584 meters (5197 feet) above sea level:
It had taken me roughly 2 hours 15 minutes to make it up from the start of the trail. The views, naturally, were incredible. Looking in one direction, the city of Ōita 大分 and the Inland Sea 瀬戸内海 (and far off in the distance, Shikoku 四国) could be seen, while looking the other way, the city of Yufu 由布 spread out far below:
After about half an hour on the summit, I started the long climb down, not to the Yufu-tozan-guchi bus stop, but to Yufu, the city pictured above. While descending, I heard what sounded like loud explosions and machine gun fire, which I assumed were fireworks or firecrackers (hey, I’ve been in Taiwan for a long time!). However, a look through my binoculars towards the town below revealed that there was, in fact, a Ground Self-Defense Forces 陸上自衛隊 base, and that, furthermore, there were tanks in motion, howitzers in firing position and even a helicopter flying about. As I was walking through Yufuin 湯布院 later, posters on storefronts announced that there would be some kind of open house at the base the following day, so I assumed the soldiers were rehearsing for it.
Returning to the Gōyagoshi clearing, I took the trail going off to the right, signposted for Nishi-tozan-guchi 西登山口 and Takemoto 岳本. It wasn’t long before I came to the foot of Iimorigajō. Looking back, I had a clear view of the mountain I’d just climbed (Higashi-mine is on the right):
From here, it was a long, downhill walk across what my hiking guide described as something out of “Lord of the Rings”, but which I felt was more like what you would encounter in the English or Scottish countryside. In either case, the feeling in the air was magical:
Eventually, the trail entered more forest, and it was another long, steep descent through the dark woods before I finally returned to civilization, in this case a Lawson ローソン convenience store. I had made it to Yufuin, a former town now part of Yufu city. From there, I followed the signs to a pretty little lake called Kinrin-ko 金鱗湖. What the Lonely Planet guide neglected to point out, however, was that the lake was the centerpiece of a full-blown tourist village, complete with cafes, ice cream shops and even a Marc Chagall museum. I hadn’t seen this many people in one place since the shopping arcades in Kumamoto the previous Sunday. Nevertheless, I sought out and found the public onsen 温泉, Shitan-yu 下ん湯, stopping only to buy a “taco” (not the Japanese word for “octopus” タコ, but the Mexican dish, though here it looked more like a burrito. It was tasty, though) from a parked van. After dropping ¥200 ($2.20/NT70) into the honesty box, I enjoyed a hot, relaxing soak that felt great after roughly six hours and 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of walking:
From the onsen, it was a 20-minute walk to Yufuin Station 由布院駅. The guidebooks say Yufuin is a much better place to enjoy Japan’s hot spring culture, but I found it to be more affected. There were far too many “traditional” buildings, snack stands and souvenir 土産 shops selling cutesy arts and crafts, and there was even a place where you could pay to put your feet in a shallow pool and have little fish nibble away at all the dead skin cells (Doctor Kiss Fish! ドクター・キッスフィッシュ). Beppu 別府, in contrast, while tackier, was also more natural and unassuming:
One store that did merit a stop on the way back to the station was the Yufuin Brewery outlet ゆふいん麦酒 (http://www.yufuinbeer.co.jp/brewery.html), where I bought a bottle of the local suds, to be consumed later that evening in my ryokan (along with the bottle of Takachiho Beer 高千穂ビール that I had purchased a couple of days earlier). While waiting for the bus back to Beppu, I took one final look back at Yufu-dake from the front of the train station, and felt impressed with myself for having walked so far:
Back in Beppu, it was time to eat again at the same station restaurant where I had dinner and beer the night before. The meal this time was the Oden set おでん定食, and I washed it down with another of Beppu’s craft beers. Back at the Nogami Honkan 野上本館, I had another heavenly private bath (a different one from the previous night) followed by the two bottles of beer mentioned above, and then it was off to bed. My last full day in Kyūshū 九州 was waiting for me.