Kokonoe: An Interesting Small Town in Japan

Most people opt to visit major cities when visiting another country. This may be due to many factors such as convenience and accessibility. Furthermore, major cities are more urbanized, industrialized, and developed. Because of this, a lot of small cities and towns tend to be overlooked despite their various offers of an extraordinary experience.

When tourists visit Japan, they gravitate towards the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto to name a few. However, one would like to suggest discovering the small towns of the country. They may uncover something beautiful and exciting, plus the small towns are less populated. One of the recommendations that one can offer is the town of Kokonoe.

Basic Facts on Kokonoe, Oita Prefecture

By 純喫茶と銭湯でリフレッシュ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Situated in Aso-Kuju National Park, Kuju is a must-visit for tourists who wish to explore other places in Japan aside from the populated cities. Aso-Kuju National Park also houses the Kuju Mountain Range, Handa Highlands, Kuju Highlands, and Beppu located in Oita Prefecture. The highest mountain in the region of Kyushu is located in the Kuju Mountain Range known as Nakadake, which is 1,791 meters high. Due to the high altitude of the mountains, the area is often referred to as the “Roof of Kyushu.” Other parts of the park area located in Oita Prefecture are Taketa-city, Yufu-city, Beppu-city, Kusu-town, and, of course, Kokonoe-town.

Also known as Kokonoe-machi, Kokonoe is a small town situated in the district of Kusu in Oita Prefecture, Japan. It is quite well-known for its nine onsen places, though these may sometimes be closed due to inclement weather or flooding. The other thing that Kokonoe is known for is its serving summer headquarters of Labo Camp Kuju, which is a portion of the LABO language program. There are also notable restaurants located in Kokonoe.

Comprised mainly of common farms, the town of Kokonoe also houses various hot springs as well as countryside attractions perfect for tourists on a visit. With an estimated population 9,804 as of the month of March in the year 2017, Kokonoe has a total area of 271.37 km^2. This indicates that Kokonoe has a population density of only 36 persons per square kilometer.

The Main Attraction of Kokonoe: Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge

Probably the main attraction or the star of Kokonoe is the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge, also known as Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi. Standing 173 meter high, this bridge in Kokonoe is 390 meters in length. One of the views that the bridge offers is the Shindonotaki Falls, which is recognized as one of the 100 selected waterfall all over the country. Another famous area that can be viewed from the bridge is the Kyusuikei, which is well-known for its fresh greens and autumn leaves.

Specifically located at 1208 Tano, Kokonoe-machi, Kusu-gun, Oita, the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge is open from 8:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon from the month of November to the month of June and from 8:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon from the month of July to the month of October. Admission fee also varies depending on the visitor. Toddlers can enter for free while elementary students would be charged 200 yen per head. As for middle school students and over, the admission fee is 500 yen per head. There are no days when the bridge is closed except during bad or inclement weather.

For visitors who are traveling with their own vehicles, there is parking available with 230 spaces for regular or normal cars and 30 spaces for large buses. There is also parking available on the opposite shore with around 30 spaces for regular or normal vehicles only. Large vehicles such as buses are not allowed to enter.

Looking from a distance, the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge looks like it is floating over the forested valley just beneath it. Built at a whopping 777 meters off the ground line, the bridge is 390 meters long, which would take about an average of 20 minutes to cross from one end to the other. These data indicates that the bridge is not just the highest but also the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. As expected, the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge has a lot of magnificent views to offers for visitors.

Two waterfalls can be seen from the center of the bridge with one of them being part of the 100 most famous waterfalls list in all of Japan. The bridge is also especially popular and jam-packed with tons of people, usually locals, during the autumn season. It is during this season that the gorge in this area is surrounded by fall colors, making it a favorite spot for people who wish to witness the autumn foliage in Kyushu.

There are also two unique shrines that one can view and also visit at the ends of the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge. The first unique shrine is called the “white snake shrine.” It was built and dedicated to the five snakes that made an attempt to ascend to heaven. It is said that only three of the five snakes were successful in their attempt while the other two were not. Instead, the two snakes were said to have transformed into the dual waterfall that can be seen near the bridge. On the other hand, the second unique shrine is known as the “white bird shrine.” The origin of this shrine is unknown but many believe that it dates back to around 1,500 years.

Designed with a capacity of 1,800 people on the bridge, it is perfectly safe to hold the amount of visitors that cross the bridge everyday. However, people who suffer from vertigo may have doubts or second thoughts in crossing this bridge, especially when there are slight sways caused by a few number of feet. The goal of the Japanese government is for the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge to attract 300,000 evey single year, which was attained during its inaugural year in the year 2006. This goal was reached in only its first four weeks.

While parking areas are present on both sides of the bridge, it is ideal to park on the western parking lot due to the number of spaces and diversions. Local Kokonoe beef burgers and other snacks are also being offered in the area should one get famished. For tourists who are not familiar with the area, there is a local tourism office near the bridge that is more than willing to help and guide visitors to be on their way. Various local onsen are also present in the area for those who wish to relax and unwind in the water. The bridge is also only a short drive away from the trails of the Kuju Range as well as the Tadewara Wetlands. These places are perfect for people who love nature and hike.

Walking Across the Highest Suspension Bridge in Japan

690 Noda [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Having a general idea about the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge and actually walking across it are two different things. The first step in crossing the bridge is to first stop at the entrance and buy an entrance ticket. Adults would have to pay 500 yen per head while elementary school students would only have to pay 200 yen per head. Visitors can choose from four different patterns of tickets, namely, spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each pattern has a photo of the area in the chosen season, which would serve as a great souvenir especially for those who document their trips. There are even some people who visit the bridge on all four seasons in order to complete their ticket collection.

Just after purchasing the ticket and prior to getting to the bridge, visitors would get to see the mascot of Kokonoe town known as Miya-chan. This mascot is based on a Kyushu azalea. Also known as miyamakirishima in Japanese, a Kyushu azalea is a pink flower that grows wildly in the mountains of Kuju beginning the end of May until mid-June. Miya-chat is also quite popular and recognized as the fairy of the Miyamakirishima flower in the town of Kokonoe.

Passing through the entrance, one would get to see the magnificence of the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge. As the name suggests, the view is indeed grand. For people who are afraid of heights, this might probably be a good time to turn back. Guaranteed, people who enjoy being in high places would love this experience though.

Supported by thick iron wire, crossing the bridge is considerably safe. Japanese engineers are quite meticulous and detailed when it comes to their designs; hence, one should not fear crossing the bridge if the concern is safety. However, despite this assurance, the bridge does shake when there are strong wind blows. It might make some visitors feel safer by holding onto the railings and trying their best not to think of scary situations.

Upon reaching the center of the bridge via the walkway, one would see a large sign that points to the different landmarks with arrows. Visitors following the arrow pointing downwards would be forced to look at their feet and realize just how high up they are from the ground with cold wind blowing at their faces. Standing on the metal grating, it can be quite daunting to down but there are actually views below the bridge.

Waterfalls can be seen flowing near the bridge. It can either be terrifying or thrilling, but the experience would definitely be extraordinary. This is actually the main highlight of crossing the bridge. One may also look around and see the beauty of nature that surrounds him or her. The view would be extra spectacular during the fall season when it is embraced with auburn colors. On the other hand, the view would still be amazing even during the months of April.

At the other end of the bridge, there is a shop wherein one can finally relax being on the ground once more and enjoy a meal. Exclusive goods and souvenirs can be bought from the shops located in this area. Just a 5-minute walk from this end of the bridge is the Shiratori Shrine.

To ensure safety among guests, entrance to the Kokonoe “Yume” Grand Suspension Bridge is restricted during bad weather. This includes heavy fog, heavy snow, strong winds, and heavy rain. Hence, it is advised that visitors check the weather before heading to the bridge. Pets are also not allowed on the bridge for obvious reasons. It is also not allowed for guests to cross the bridge with an umbrella or to run across the bridge for safety reasons. Due to the metal grating, it is advised that people walking on high heels or with walking sticks take extra precaution, or better yet, wear the right shoes.

Other Things to See in Kokonoe Area

By 張振 (鶴の湯温泉の伝統的宿舎「本陣」と泉源露天風呂) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The area of Kokonoe also has other attractions to offer to visitors beyond the bridge. Among them are the onsens situated in the area, perfect for people who wish to relax and unwind. Probably the most popular onsen in Kokonoe is Sujiyu Onsen. A huge free-flowing bath, Sujiyu Onsen is often one of the main stops of people visiting Kokonoe. It offers streams of hot spring water that are shot out from 3 meters overhead. This onsen is well-known for the relief it provides to people who suffer from stiff shoulders and sore muscles. Other onsens to try are Kabeyu Onsen in Ryokan Fukumoto-ya and Chojabaru Onsen in Kokonoe Hosshou Hotel.

Another attraction in the town of Kokonoe is the Kujyu Shinrin Koen. Also known as Kujyu Snow World, it is the biggest ski hill on the island of Kyushu with more than 2 kilometers of courses offered. While it is not as large as the ski resorts located in Honshu and Hokkaido, Kujyu is still the only ski hill available in Oita Prefecture. People who love snow skiing may want to try this resort when in Kokonoe.

There are still other places that one can visit when in Kokonoe such as the Kuju Flower Park. Despite Kokonoe being just a small town, there are a lot of wonders that it offers to visitors. Truly, just because a place is not as popular as others does not mean that they do not have a lot to offer and the town of Kokonoe is proof of that.