Ureshino Onsen, Kyushu, Japan

IMG_3834IMG_3835IMG_3836IMG_3837IMG_3838IMG_3839IMG_3840IMG_3841IMG_3842IMG_3843IMG_3844Visiting Ureshino Onsen, Kyushu, Japan

When we looked into the idea of visiting the town of Ureshino Onsen during our two week trip around Kyushu, we were attracted by the soft, silky quality of the hot spring waters, and by the fact that the region is well known for its production of high quality green tea and porcelain pottery.

But when we arrived in Ureshino Onsen, it quickly became apparent that this town is very different from other small Onsen towns.
There is no lively Main Street with cafes and specialty shops, no shops selling local ceramics or snacks, nor anything to attract the foot traffic of eager tourists.
In fact, we saw almost no other tourists in town, which we knew was impossible, judging from the large number of hotels and Ryokans around town.

In fact, our hotel, the Hamilton Hotel Ureshino, asked us to change the time of our breakfast preference, since they were already full for the time we selected.

Our hotel is a western style hotel with a colonial design and lots of dark wood and leather beauty, although not a single person in the hotel speaks much English.

We felt grateful for the time we have spent studying Japanese, since it makes communication much easier.
The staff complimented us for being the only westerners they’ve encountered who knew how to say more than “Arigato” and “Sayonara.”

The hot springs pool in the hotel has soft water that leaves you skin feeling silky smooth.
The washing area, which you use before entering the pool, has all sorts of beauty products.

There were salt scrubs with mandarin, with Yuzu lemon, with green tea and with brown rice.
I tried them all and loved how they left my skin shiny.

There was also a “Shampoo Bar” with different kinds of shampoos and conditioner rinses, for you to try with the hope that you will love them and buy the products in the gift shop.

We did not reserve a room with the evening meals included this time.
Instead, we walked into town to enjoy the famous dish, “Onsen Tofu,” in one of the many specialty restaurants that feature this unique dish.

Handmade tofu is cooked with mineral hot spring waters and it is creamy and lovely, with a depth of flavor unheard of with tofu made in the west.
In Japan as well as in China, tofu is considered to be healthy food, but it is not always vegetarian.
Many tofu dishes come with meat sauce or cooked with seafood.

Jules ordered the tempura set and I ordered the Onsen Tofu set which included the delicious hot tofu, a few small root vegetable dishes, pickles, soba noodles, a baked egg custard dish, rice, salad, miso soup and fruit.

The next day we had the whole day to walk around, and not much to see around Ureshino Onsen.
There are small waterfalls and a dam in the area, but they did not inspire us to visit.
The town really needs a lively shopping and strolling area for all the tourists that come here.
There are shops selling the excellent local Ureshino green tea, a shrine and a Buddhist temple, but not much else.

On the spur of the moment, we decided to take a bus to the nearby town of Kashima, to visit the famous Inari Shinto Shrine there.

Yutoku Inari Shrine (“Yūtoku Inari Jinja” in Japanese) is located in the southern part of Kashima City.
It is considered one of Japan’s top three Shrines dedicated to Inari in all of Japan.
(Fushimi Inari in Kyoto is number one and Toyokawa Inari Shrine in Aichi Prefecture is number two)

The Yutoku shrine was built in 1687 by the wife of the local lord.
It was built into a steep hillside overlooking the green valley.

Its main hall stands on 18 meter tall wooden beams, painted bright red.
From the main hall, a walking trail leads even further up, into the forested hill behind the shrine.
The steep stone steps are quite uneven and we were touched with admiration when we met a blind woman who was resting during her walk up the hill.

She was carrying a blind person’s walking pole, and she told us that she has bad hips as well and that she lives alone and manages to care for herself.

Sections of the path are covered by red Torii gates and lined by smaller shrines.
At the very top of the hill, we prayed at the Okunoin shrine hall and enjoyed the beautiful views over Kashima City and the nearby Ariake Sea.

Inari, which looks like a mixture between a fox and a dog, is a Shinto deity that is associated with rice growing, prosperity and fertility.
It is a guardian of daily life, prevailed upon for things like food, clothing, health, agriculture, fishery, school tests, matrimonial happiness, business success, work promotions, wealth and good living.

Most people come to this shrine to pray.
You first purify at the water fountain by washing your hands and mouth.
Then you place a coin in the donation box in front of the hall, say your prayers, ring the bell, and clap your hands twice.

I said my prayers in front of each hall, but instead of asking for things that are temporal, I asked for full and complete enlightenment.
I asked for enlightenment with utmost sincerity from the depth of my heart….I want nothing more….

The brilliant red architecture, with beautiful curved copper roofs, is truly impressive.
Mythical birds with long peacock-like feathers decorate the upper hall’s walls and ceilings.
There are paintings of flying arhats (angels) on the walls and many statues of Inari everywhere.

A good-luck charm with a picture of a horse on it is sold here.
It is said that this good-luck charm was designed with the saying “Umaku iku” in mind, which means, “Everything will turn out fine,” in Japanese.
The word Umaku sounds similar to the word “Uma,” which is Japanese for “horse.”
The Umaku-iku thus is a talisman to remind you that everything will work out just fine…..

On the way to the shrine, there are many gift shops selling Ureshino tea, sweets, pickles and souvenirs.
We stopped for some iced coffee and before we left, we ate some Zalu Soba buckwheat noodles with a soy broth dipping sauce, a light lunch that we always enjoy.

When we left the Inari Shrine, we walked towards Kashima City instead of taking the bus back to our hotel in Ureshino, just to get in more walking, which by now we have grown to enjoy.
On days when we walk very little, I find that I miss walking very much.
We plan to continue to walk daily even when we are back in Fukuoka, to start our lessons at the Japanese language school named “Wahaha” .

From Ureshino, we continue on, to Nagasaki.
Arigato for reading this and Sayonara…. till we meet again, please remember that EVERYTHING will work out fine….

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