Japan is full of onsen (hot springs) towns at which, needless to say, the primary enjoyment for visitors is a nice hot soak. But tourists these days often want more to do than just bathe, even when visiting an onsen town.
In the little onsen town of Yugawara, just over an hour from Tokyo between Odawara and Atami, you can check out a cookie factory, viewing the cookie-making process, shopping for cookie gift boxes, enjoying freshly made local treats and even decorating cookies. Definitely a little something different, and worth a visit even if you’re only passing through.
As you leave the tiny station at Yugawara, it looks like an ordinary onsen town with interesting figures and displays relating to hot springs bathing. Outside is a pretty little plaza and a substantial bus stop. One distinctive feature of the plaza is the “hand spa”, where visitors can relax by immersing their hands in flowing hot spring water.
In front of the bus depot is a statue of Yugawara’s favorite son, Doi Sanehira, a 12th century retainer of the famed Minamoto Yoritomo who ruled Japan from nearby Kamakura during that time period. The city hosts an annual festival in Doi’s honor on the second Sunday in April–mark your calendar now for next year.
Otherwise the area around the station looks like many other onsen towns; an arterial road runs past the station and there are various restaurants and shops nearby, some selling locally made traditional Japanese sweets. It has a certain charm.
Across the road is a sign pointing the way to Tivoli, a Yugawara sweets factory just 170 meters away.
Tivoli is a cookie manufacturer with a long history in Yugawara. When Tivoli rebuilt its headquarters a few years ago, they included a very inviting public space on the ground floor at the request of the city, which wanted to create additional activities for visitors. Tivoli is a community-minded company and they were only too happy to cooperate.
The space contains a shop offering various Tivoli confections, and even sweets and juice featuring the Yugawara mikan, a local citrus fruit.
There is also a section selling imported Italian foodstuffs and kitchen items. This is because Yugawara’s sister city is Tivoli, the Italian resort town near Rome. The confectioner played a role in establishing this relationship, and continues to nurture it.
In addition to buying souvenirs at Tivoli, you can enjoy a snack in the cafe: hot and cold drinks, ice cream, cakes, puddings, and a special cream puff filled with Yugawara mikan flavored custard. Yum!
But wait, there’s more! Tivoli offers an all-you-can-eat cookie buffet. For JPY540, visitors can get one drink and all the cookies they can eat in an hour. What a perfect afternoon break!
There’s also an “experience corner”, a glass-enclosed work area just next door to the cafe serving counter.
A fun experience for both children (ages 3 and up) and adults is a 45 minute cookie decorating session on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 11:00, 1:30 and 3:00. Paint icing onto butter sable cookies to create your own unique decorations. The decorated cookies get packed in a gift box to take home. JPY900.
Nearby is a brightly colored children’s play corner, in case the kids prefer to play while the grown-ups decorate cookies.
While it’s not essential, reservations are recommended. Phone 0465-63-0404 between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm.
Climb the stairs to the second floor for a mini-factory tour. There is an elevator as well, but climbing the stairs is its own special treat. As you climb, the aroma of baking cookies becomes ever stronger.
You can watch the cookie baking and packing process through plate glass windows, as well as view displays of baking utensils. There’s also a sample of the baker’s uniform. One of the most interesting displays (although only in Japanese) is about the ingredients. Good quality ingredients are essential to good cookies, and the folks at Tivoli know this well. Tivoli has three factories in various locations across Japan. According to one of the displays, at this factory alone in one year they use four million eggs, 200 tons of butter, 200 tons of chocolate and 60 tons of nuts.
Tivoli Yugawara Sweets Factory is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. If you are having an onsen week-end in the area, put this on your schedule! Or just make a day trip out of it.
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