While looking at ways to utilize our 7-Day Japan Rail Pass, I was a google feign. I searched everything from “unique things to do in Japan” to “onsen towns” (onsen means “hot spring” in Japanese); that’s when I found Beppu.
What is Beppu?
Beppu is a town located in the Oita Prefecture of Japan, about a 6.5-hour journey by public transport from Tokyo. It is a famous spa town with 2,292 hot spring sources filling the skyline with smokey streams. Because of the vast amount of sources, there are quite a few distinctive attractions of the town.
Top Reasons to Visit Beppu
What is a sandbath? A sandbath is a type of “onsen treatment” where an individual is dressed in a “yukata” (traditional robe) and covered by sand.
I have to say this was such a fun experience and it’s truly one-of-a-kind. There are a couple of sandbaths in Beppu, but we chose this location as you have a view of the ocean during your time under the sand. The entrance fee is 1050 JPY per person, which includes a yukata.
Tip: Go at opening time (8:30 am from March to November and 9:00 am from December to February). They only have a limited number of spots and they fill up!
This was the second straw that broke our “we must go” camel’s back. Many years ago, people thought the land was cursed from the numerous fumes that could be seen from a distance and avoided it like the plague.
Nowadays, this has an alternate effect, bringing in many tourists to see the famed Jigokus, meaning “Hell” in English. There is now a “Jigoju Meguri” tour of 7 different Jigokus: Oniishibozu-, Umi-, Kamado-, Shiraike-, Tatsumaki-, Chinoike-. You can decide between a group tour or to do it on your own. We chose the latter and found it quite easy given the resources in English to do the tour.
Ben was disappointed to find out that he wouldn’t be wearing the swimsuit he packed. These onsens are not the type to get in as they would melt your skin (well, maybe not, but they’re way too hot).
Umi Jigoku: “Sea Hell”
This hot spring runs at 208 degrees Fahrenheit (98 degrees Celsius). A volcanic eruption 1200 years ago created this Hell.
The people of Beppu are very resourceful in how they use the hot springs. In addition to cooking foods utilizing the steam, they used the heat from the hot spring to warm this greenhouse!
Oniishi Bozu Jigoku: “Oniishi Shaven Head Hell” (my second favorite)
This hot spring was my second favorite for its beauty. It was mesmerizing watching the bubbles as they moved the mud around, sometimes splashing pending the strength of the blow.
There was also a wooden tripod for taking selfies (we obviously utilized this)!
Kamado Jigoku: “Cooking Pot Hell” (my favorite)
Kamado- had a foot bath, steam foot bath, breathing-in steam, a beautiful blue hot spring, and a variety of steamed foods to try. A staff member took visitors on a “tour” to several of the hot springs on this property and performed a “show”. The guide would speak quickly (in Japanese) and blow at a stick of incense, which then caused the hot spring to emit more steam! It was fun to follow the crowd and the Japanese tourists enjoyed my presence as they kept trying to speak with me (I was the only foreigner following them).
Oniyama Jigoku: “Crocodile Mountain Hell” (my least favorite)
I’m not a fan of animals in captivity, so this one was not my favorite by any means. Cages below are spring-fed and create the perfect environment for crocodile breeding, which first started here in 1923. They have roughly 100 crocodiles at this Hell, hence the name.
Shirake Jigoku: “White Pond Hell”
White Pond Hell was beautiful, but a bit underwhelming. You can tour the grounds where they have piranhas and other tropical fish in hot spring-fed tanks.
Chinoike Jigoku: “Blood Pond Hell”
Although we were in a bit of a rush to complete the last two hot springs, I loved the difference in the color of this Hell from the others. Steaming clay within this hot spring is heated creating the bloody color.
Tatumaki Jigoku: “Spouting Hell”
This last Hell was unexpected. It is a geyser and is recognized for its short intervals of 30-40 minutes. The source of the water is 150 feet below the surface, so it has a powerful force! A rock barrier has been placed above it to prevent it from spraying the buildings around it
The entire tour of all Hells takes between 2.5-3 hours; the last two Hells are about 3 km from the others. From Kannawa station, take Bus No. 16 to Chinoike-Jigoku. The last two Hells are a 2-minute walk apart.
Tip #1: Each Hell costs 400 JPY; therefore, I’d recommend purchasing the booklet of tickets for all of them, which is 2000 JPY. At the Kannawa bus station, visit the Tourist Information booth where you can purchase the booklet at a discounted rate of 1800 JPY per person.
Tip #2: Be sure to get a stamp paper so that you can collect a stamp at each Hell (for free)! It’s the perfect souvenir that comes with your entrance fee. Japan loves a good stamp rally.
3. Hot Spring Steam-ing Food
Another peculiar attraction in Beppu is eating food that has been cooked via the hot steam that spouts out of the onsens. The steam gives the food a fresh taste and it’s healthy (although not sure if the pudding is considered healthy) since it doesn’t remove the nutrients in the food.
There are a couple of ways to enjoy steamed food, either cooking it yourself at a restaurant or buying it from different vendors. We did both!
First, if you just want to try the steamed foods, you can purchase them from stalls along the streets in Kannawa or at some of the Hells. We tried the pudding at the first Hell, Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell). It was quite “Oishi” (Japanese for “delicious”) and had a different texture than puddings we’d had at restaurants in other parts of Japan.
We also purchased from a local vendor some sweet potato (200 JPY) and eggs (100 JPY) cooked via the steam.
Next, we had to partake in making our own steamed food, so we went to Chinetsu Kanko Labo Enma, which allows you to place and take out your food from the steamer. The food tasted so yummy and fresh!
In addition to steaming our food, we were able to soak our feet in a foot bath UNDERNEATH our table!
4. Hand & Foot Baths
All throughout the town of Beppu, there are hand and foot baths. They are exactly what you think they are; spend some time soaking your feet from a day of sightseeing or your hands when it’s cold outside. These are usually free to use, just bring a towel.
5. Mud Bath
Lastly, an enticing sell for Beppu was sitting in a mud bath at one of the onsens in town, Hoyo Land. It costs 1,100 JPY per person and you can enjoy the same facilities available at every other onsen: relaxation room, showers, and the onsens.
When Ben and I found out the mud bath was mixed-gender, we got really excited. Onsens in Japan tend to be segregated by the sexes and, if there is a mixed-gender area, it requires the use of a swimsuit. At Hoyo Land, you don’t wear a swimsuit. As a result, there is a wood fence that allows women to conceal their bodies and show only their heads as they make their way to the main area. For the men, it’s a different case, so many men carry a small hand towel to cover their family jewels. My husband, however, didn’t want to dirty his only towel, so he put it all out on display. Haha!
In conclusion, we truly enjoyed our time in Beppu. It has such a different vibe than other parts of Japan; a mix of romance, quirkiness, and old town charm. I highly recommend visiting this odd little town.
What attraction is most exciting to you? Drop a comment below.
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