My trip to Kyushu.
Despite having taken many trips to Kyushu, I didn't know why the rural area around Yufu was so attractive to elderly Koreans. The four-day tour at the end of May was taken by 47 senior citizens ? my coed high school classmates commemorating the diamond jubilee of our commencement.
The total area of the city is 319.4 square kilometers, around half the size of Seoul (605.
2 square kilometers). Being an integral part of the onsen (hot-spring) oriented Oita Ken (Prefecture) in Kyushu, groups of senior citizens among the approximately 35,000 inhabitants of Yufu are said to have pioneered and developed local tourism in this rural area Combined with the unique natural surroundings, the artificial touches they've added since most of the young generation left the place in search of opportunities in the cities are enlightening.
The modern town of Yufu was established on Oct. 1, 2005, from the merger of the towns of Hasama, Shonai and Yufuin, all in Oita Ken.
Situated in central Oita Ken and surrounded by mountains including the twin-peaked Yufudake (1,583 m), part of the town is a portion of the Aso Kuju National Park. Also Yufu is known for its hot springs, recognized for promoting healthy skin, and internal medical treatments.
They are favorite bathing spots for women visiting Oita Ken. Some hotels have outdoor air baths called 'rotenburo' with a view of the mountains and valleys.
A hiker can take a walk on Yufudake for about 90 minutes and see a picturesque lake and rivers flowing across the valley. Located in a green valley beneath the spectacular Mount Yufudake, a short walk from the town center is a mix of paddy fields, houses and up-market ryokan (lodging houses), as well as a few temples.
The rhythmic ringing of temple bells can be heard in the evening. Although still connected to its rural roots, Yufuin is now a tourist town and a popular destination for coach tours.
Souvenir shops in this rural town are well worth visiting. One notices big signs in English at gasoline stations, such as Eneos, Sunny, Gravis and Cosmo.
For 24-hour convenience stores, I saw billboards for Lawson Station, Family Mart and 7-Eleven, also in English. They were selling various drinks and snacks, including Pocari Sweat, a popular drink in Korea One can see and be amazed by enterprising spirit of retired senior citizens in the rural city of Yufu, rebuilding the charming and prosperous town deep inside the tranquil and beguiling hills and valleys.
This success story of the rural district of Yufu inspired each of my 47-person alumni group, all nearing our 80s, who graduated from high school together six decades ago. We are an elderly group of people surviving passionately in anticipation and gratefulness for the years ahead of us.
Lee Sun-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an ombudsman columnist for The Korea Times in Seoul. .