Last weekend I went to the Japanese island of Kyushu, which is one of the four main islands of Japan. (Just for reference, Japan itself is actually comprised of over 6,000 islands. I live on Honshu, the largest island and also home to Tokyo.)
I spent my time in Beppu, which is known for its natural hot springs. And, according to a local I met, there are over 200 hot spring baths (in Japanese, onsen).
I flew to Oita (a city about 30 minutes outside of Beppu) on Friday, and ended up arriving in Beppu at about nine pm. I stayed at Happy Neko Ryokan. My room was actually the one pictured on the top of the home page. It was really nice, I had the entire top floor of the house to myself. The owner, Bipo, was also extremely helpful and gave me lots of advice about what to do.
It was pretty late, but Bipo told me there was an onsen down the road that was still open. So, I decided to try it out. I was really surprised by the sights as I headed there. Because of Beppu’s hot springs, it’s a, well…steamy town. Meaning as you walk around you will literally see steam rising in every direction.
It was really captivating, and I actually really enjoyed just walking around. And just around the corner was the onsen that Bipo promised me.
I relaxed at the Hyotan onsen for a little while. There was a waterfall bath too, which was really nice and felt like a massage.
Then I went to enjoy my mud bath. No pictures, sorry! (‘Cuz when you bathe in a hot spring, errybody is naked!!) Don’t worry, it wasn’t brown, gross, dirty mud. It was surprisingly relaxing, although really, really hot!
After that, I went to see the Jigoku, which translates to “Eight Hells.” These are eight, extremely hot hot springs, which are too hot to bathe in, so they are just for viewing. It’s usually touted as the main tourist spot in Beppu. You can by a ticket for each individual “hell” for 400 yen each ($4) or you can buy a ticket book for all the “hells” for 2000 yen ($20). But honestly–it’s really, really touristy. To the point that it’s really cheesy. I actually decided not to even bother to go to two of them (Chinoike and Tatsumaki) because those two were a bit far away, and based on the others I decided it wasn’t worth it. And, to top it off, at least three of the hells have animals on display in very sad little cages, which made me pretty depressed. Oniyama had crocodiles, which in theory was pretty cool…
…but the cages were so, so awful.
I just don’t understand–is it really that hard to at least construct that mildly resembles where they would live in the wild? Really the only thing that was slightly accurate was the fact that there’s water in there. Everything else was just concrete. Anyway it just made me really sad.
The Shiraike had piranhas and other scary fish in really terrible tiny tanks. And even though I really hate fish (especially piranhas) I don’t think they deserve to live in such crappy conditions.
Then I went to Yama, which proved to further depress me. There were quite a few exotic animals, like an elephant and flamingos, as well as a pony and some other animals. But to be honest, I ran out of this “hell” as fast as I could. I couldn’t look at those sad animals any longer. The elephant was living in a cage about the size on my living room. Seriously. I think he had only barely enough room to turn around.
The Kamado was just really road-side-touristy-trappy, but at least there weren’t any animals. The people working there were really nice, too. Kamado is known as the “cooking pot” hell and specifically sells food that is cooked via the steam from the hot spring. I snacked on a few things while I was there.
Oniishibozu was just pretty boring.
The best was Umi, and I would recommended this one. It was really beautiful and I’d say it was worth 400 yen. So if you ever make it to Beppu, skip the other seven hells and just stick to Umi.
After the eight hells, I figured it was time for another trip to an onsen. This time I went to one down in Beppu Bay that specialized in a sand bath. I was really excited to try this one. The sand bath is done wearing a yukata, a light cotton robe, so you’re not naked (thank goodness!!!). Excuse my half open eyes in the photo.
The staff then has you lie down in the sand and they pack you on in!
The sand was really hot, and steam was rising from it, and all that sand was actually quite heavy. It felt really nice though. After you are done you head inside and shower off. I felt so light after I finished my sand bath!
Then I did some shopping and had some dinner. Then that nigh I of course went to one more onsen! This one was just another typical hot spring bath one. Why so many onsen in one day?? Well, When in Beppu, onsen!
Tune for part two of my trip to Beppu soon!