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22 November, 2018

[TRAVEL] 3D2N Okayama Prefecture: Japan's Famous Outdoor Onsen & Hiruzen Highland in Maniwa City (真庭市)

Hello to Maniwa’s lush green meadows, rolling hills and pasture lands! 

In this post, we are going to explore Maniwa City, the home to many natural highlands and riverside hot springs, located in Okayama Prefecture, west side of Japan.

In case you do not know where Okayama Prefecture is, I have introduced it in my previous post: Part 1 of 3D2N Itinerary in Okayama Prefecture feat. Kurashiki City. Feel free to take a read!

Here’s a summary of my Okayama 3D2N itinerary, hope it helps in your trip planning!

Day 0:
→ KLIA - Kansai International Airport

Day 1: Kurashiki City (倉敷), Okayama
→ Arrival at JR Okayama Station
→ Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (倉敷美観地区)
→ Lunch: Hamayoshi (郷土料理店浜吉)
→ Shopping at Mitsui Outlet Park (三井奥特莱斯购物城) and ARIO (アリオ倉敷)
→ Great Seto Bridge Sunset Cruise (瀬戸大桥游観光船)
→ Dinner and accommodation: Washu Highland Hotel (鷲羽Hailand饭店)

Day 2: Maniwa City (真庭市), Okayama
→ Betty Smith Jeans Museum (Betty Smith 牛仔裤博物馆) & Jeans Street (兒島牛仔裤街), Kojima*
      (*Kojima is actually in Kurashiki, so we visited in the morning before departing to Maniwa City)
→ Lunch: Homemade Soba Noodles at Hiruzen Kogen Highland (国民渡假村蒜山高原)
→ Dessert making: Ice Cream
→ Hiruzen Winery (蒜山葡萄酒厂)
→ Yubara Onsen (汤原温泉地)
→ Dinner / Accommodation: Yubara Kikunoyu (湯原国際観光ホテル菊之湯)

Day 3: Okayama City (岡山), Okayama
→ Museum of Contemporary Toy & Hall of Music Box (现代玩具博物馆 / 八音盒馆)
→ Lunch: Yunogo Onsen (湯郷大饭店)
→ KUBO Grape Farm (KUBO農園 麝香葡萄)
→ Korakuen Garden (岡山 後楽園)
→ Okayama Castle (岡山城)
→ Dinner: AEON Mall - The Central Buffet, 6th Floor (永旺商场)
→ Accommodation: Granvia Hotel (Granvia 酒店)

Day 2: Maniwa City (真庭市), Okayama Prefecture

To begin with, Maniwa City is not really a “city” per se. It is a mountainous area blessed with rich natural scenery and strong Japanese traditions which live on until today. Maniwa’s highlands offer picturesque views all-year long: Cherry blossom in spring, scenic gorges in summer, colorful leaves in fall, and snowscapes in winter (Perfect for skiing and snowboarding). 

This autumn, we are here in Maniwa for 2 reasons: 
(1) Rejuvenation in Yubara Onsen’s dynamic outdoor hot spring called Sunayu 
(2) Hiruzen highlands nature attractions 

More about Maniwa City: 


Because Maniwa is full of mountainous terrains, the only public transportation available here is bus which may be rather time-consuming or inconvenient to go from one place to another. So, renting a car is highly recommended if you want to explore the whole of Maniwa to the fullest!

How to get to Maniwa City from Okayama Station:
By train: Take the Tsuyama JR line from Okayama Station to Tsuyama Station (1 hour 10 minutes), and transfer to the JR Kishin Line to Chugoku-Katsuyama Station (1 hour).

By bus: From Okayama Station East Exit, take the Chutesu Hokubu Bus Company’s Katsuyama Highway Bus to Chugoku-Katsuyama Station (1 hour 50 minutes).

By car: Rent a car and pick up from various convenient locations such as Okayama Station, Okayama Airport, Tottori, Yonago Station, Kurayoshi Station etc.

Travelling Tips:
Some car rental companies offer fixed-priced “Japan Expressway Pass” which allows unlimited use of toll roads in selected areas using the ETC systems pre-installed in their cars. So, make sure you ask your car rental provider before / when collecting the car.

How to get around Maniwa City:
From Chogoku-Katsuyama Station, you can switch to the local bus service, Maniwa-kun for any travelling within Maniwa City. This bus brings you to Yubara Onsen, Hiruzen Kogen Center and Hiruzen Kogen Kyukamura.

Maniwa-kun offers flat fee per ride: 200 yen per adult / 100 yen per child

Yubara Onsen Village (汤原温泉地) 
Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture 717-0402, Japan.

How to get to Yubara area:
By car: 10 minutes drive from Yubara Interchange on the Yonago Expressway.
By bus: From Chugoku Katsuyama Station, take a bus bound for “Yubara Onsen Hiruzen Kogen” (35 minutes).

The No.1 attraction that you must visit in Japan is onsen (hot spring bath). Well, in fact, onsen is everywhere across Japan but Yubara Onsen Village is famed as a healing sanctuary with hundreds of years of history.

Do you know that Yubara hot spring quality is one of the best in Japan? It is a hypertonic alkaline high temperature spring which is said to bring various benefits to the body:

❤ Relieve pain on nerves, muscles, joints, etc
❤ Relieve chronic digestive problem, cold and fatigue
❤ Beautify skin

Sunayu Outdoor Hot Spring

Sunayu is the main reason people in search of rejuvenation come all the way here! Located just below the dam on the Asahi River, we can enjoy free outdoor baths (and fresh air) at anytime we want.

Since it is a mixed-gender public bath, females can rent a special “dress” called “Yuamigi” to cover the body in the hot bath. For Muslims, you can use towel to cover shoulders until you are soaked into the hot bath.

Yuamigi is available for rent at 500 yen from the guesthouses in Yubara area.

Ashi-yu Foot Bath, in central Yubara Hot Spring Area

Although it is a big no-no to be fully dressed in any onsen, Ashi-yu Foot Bath allows you to do so, as you only need to soak your feet into it. It is free-of-charge for general public, but open for daytime use only.

Strolling around Yubara Onsen Village

Strolling in Yubara area can be a therapeutic experience itself especially when the autumn foliage is at its peak. We are way too lucky to be here at the best time of the year: when the maple leaves have fully transformed into warm, vibrant hues.

The inn where you stay in Yubara area will provide colored yukata robes (like the one I am wearing) for free, making your strolls along the onsen village more enjoyable. So, make sure you spend at least one night here!

Ryokan-style Accommodation in Yubara Onsen Area

Yubara Kokusai Kanko Hotel Kikunoyu (湯原国際観光ホテル菊之湯)
16, Yubara Onsen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture, Japan.
Phone: +81 867-62-2111

Staying in a ryokan (traditional inn) is a must in Japan! Especially in Yubara Onsen village, you will definitely rejuvenate your body, mind and soul in the waters of a good hot spring.

Public baths, open-air baths and in-room tubs and showers are available in Kikunoyu. Among the different types of rooms for single travelers, families and large groups, mine is a tatami-style room fully equipped with living room, dining area, study area etc. Very spacious and comfortable!

Most importantly, the in-room heater works very well in keeping me warm as Yubara area tends to be colder than other parts of Okayama Prefecture due to its high altitude.

How can a Ryokan experience be complete without wearing the traditional Japanese outfit? Approaching evening, we change to our Yukata and enjoy our Kaiseki-style dinner in Kikunoyu.

*Yukata rental is available for rent at the reception area.

FYI - Kikunoyu is one of the few hotels awarded with “Peach Mark”, a Muslim-friendly mark indicating they serve pork-free and alcohol-free menu (including Halal ingredients such as Japanese halal beef), however reservation is required in advance.

Hiruzen Highland

Another part of Minawa that you must not miss is the tranquil Hiruzen highland area where you can cycle freely across the vast green fields, while enjoying the magnificent scenery of the infamous Hiruzen Three Mountains.

If you are not into cycling and mountain climbing, other nature activities such as visiting the Jersey cow farms (Hiruzen Jerseyland), winery and horse park are equally fun and engaging.

How to get to Hiruzen area:
By car: 1.5 hours from JR Okayama Station
By train / bus: From Katsuyama Statio, take “Maniwa-kun” local bus to Hiruzen Kogen (1 hour 15 minutes)

Kimendai Observation Deck and Rest Area

If you are crazy over autumn foliage like me, then you must visit this observation deck for a panoramic view of Mt. Daisen and the Hiruzen Kogen highlands. I just can’t bring myself to keep emphasizing how beautiful this place is, during autumn season!

Shirakabanooka Restaurant (レストラン白樺の丘)
Fukuda, Yama Mountain, Maniwa City, 1205-281 Okayama Prefecture, Japan.
Phone: +81 867-66-5501
Business Hours: 11am - 3pm daily

We also learn making Hiruzen Soba Noodles at Hiruzen highlands (蒜山高原), a simple noodle dish well-loved among Japanese, made from local buckwheat planted in Hiruzen itself. The process is not as easy as I’d thought, but it is good to have such a good guide to complete the process with us.

And finally….our meal is served! Our very own handmade soba tastes extra delicious yet tummy comforting when the weather outside is so cold.

Did I forget to mention that you can dine with a view here?

Hiruzen Kogen highland is also the home of thousands of Jersey cow, which produces the freshest milk and cheese in town. So, to eat like the local, we make our own traditional vanilla ice cream using the Jersey cream!

The process is rather painstaking but we are happy with our hard work! Just to share how traditional ice cream making is like:

Step 1: Mix cream and sugar in a can
Step 2: Seal the can tightly and put it into a bigger tin
Step 3: Fill the tin with ice and salt, layer by layer
Step 4: Seal the tin tightly and wrap with a piece of cloth
Step 5: Roll the tin on the table, back and forth, until ice forms outside the tin
Step 6: By now, you can unwrap the tin and find your ice cream in the can!

Thanks to the good quality of milk here, the ice cream tastes just right. Nothing beats the satisfaction of enjoying our own handmade ice cream :P

Hiruzen Winery  (蒜山葡萄酒厂)
1205-32 Hiruzenkamifukuda, Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture 717-0602, Japan.
Phone: +81 867-66-4424
Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm daily

After feeding our stomach with soba and ice cream, we have additional treats from Hiruzen Winery – red wine made from Hiruzen’s local Crimson Glory Vines grapes! I know that Japanese loves their Sake, but I didn’t expect that they appreciate their wine too.

Hiruzen Winery allows customers to try and test a variety of wines before deciding on any purchases at its wine shop. The café here also serves cheese (and sells fruit preserves) for wine pairing if you prefer staying a little longer for a gastronomical treat.

That’s all for my Maniwa City exploration travelogue!

Maniwa is truly a tranquil place for the best taste, feel and experience of Japanese onsen, local produce and diverse natural beauty. If you are in the quest for tranquility and relaxation, then Maniwa is the right place to visit.

Next up: One Day Itinerary in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture

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