Asia

Kyushu, Japan: A Night in the Popular Onsen Town of Beppu

PARLO TOURS

Beppu City. It’s probably one of the less internationally known Japanese cities, in one of the least internationally visited part of Japan — Kyushu. This unique city might be a secret hidden from the outside world, but Beppu is actually extremely famous among the Japanese (in fact, very very popular). Can you guess why?

Beppu

The Onsen Town of Beppu

Onsen. The Japanese love their hot springs baths. And Beppu produces the most spring water in the entire country… heck, it’s highest in the world for bathing springs! In terms of hot springs though, it comes second (after USA’s Yellow Stone National Park). When I first entered the city, I was amazed to see steam coming out from almost all the buildings I passed. And while walking around the town, I even saw steam rising out from the ground through the drains and vents. It’s the smokiest and toastiest town I have ever seen!

Beppu is located between the sea and mountains in the Oita Prefecture at the western end of Beppu Bay; on the northeast coast of Japan‘s most southern and third largest of its four main islands, Kyushu. Because of the volcanic activity deep below the city, Beppu is filled with an abundance of hot springs. It is also blessed with hot sand baths and mud pools — no wonder the locals come here in droves.

Kyushu, Japan

Hello Parlo Tours! Let’s explore Kyushu!

Kyushu, Japan

Our Japanese welcoming committee awaiting us at the arrival gate.

Kyushu, Japan

First view of Kyushu from my bus window.

Kyushu, Japan

The Malaysian media group, and our large banner.

Kyushu, Japan

Walking through the city of Beppu — with steam everywhere!

Kyushu, Japan

An elevated view of this famous Japanese onsen city.

Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours (Pt.1)

I was traveling on a media familiarization tour to the Japanese island of Kyushu with Parlo Tours. It was a 6-day trip around the island, and Beppu was our first city (and very first experience of Kyushu). The other cities and towns we visited were Aso, Kagoshima, Hitoyoshi and Fukuoka. As with all group tours, all tickets, fees and prices are included; but I’ll just write down the entrance fees to some of the local attractions anyway. To find out more about this Malaysian travel company and the other different tours they offer, click here.

How to Get to Beppu City

The gateway to the island of Kyushu is via the capital city of Fukuoka. We departed from Kuala Lumpur for our direct flight to Fukuoka via AirAsia, and arrived in about 6 hours or so. From Fukuoka Airport, we hopped on our tour bus and headed straight to Beppu — with a few stops in between. Being a solo independent traveler most of the time; finding myself on a group tour made me feel really pampered with no worries about transportation!

For those independently traveling around Japan, the closest airport to Beppu is the Oita Airport. You can also get to to the city from Tokyo via the Shinkansen to Kokura Station or Shin-Osaka Station, and on to Beppu Station in about 6 to 7 hours. And if you arrive at the Fukuoka Airport, the Highway Bus (international terminal) connects the airport to Beppu; or you can take the train (domestic terminal) to Fukuoka’s Hakata Station and board the Sonic Express to Beppu. The trip from Fukuoka to Beppu takes about 2 hours or so.

On the Way to Beppu

Our first stop in Japan was at Mameda-Cho, an Edo Period town.

On the Way to Beppu

The town is lined with lots of machiya houses.

On the Way to Beppu

Most of the old houses in Mameda-Cho have been converted into shops and cafes.

On the Way to Beppu

The beautiful and calm Lake Kinrin, and Mount Yufu in the background.

On the Way to Beppu

Admiring the beauty of this large spring-fed lake.

On the Way to Beppu

The town of Yufuin from the top, on the way to Beppu.

Stops Along the Way

Immediately after our arrival in Kyushu, we started our journey towards the eastern part of the island towards Beppu. On our way, we made a few quick stops within the Oita Perfecture.

Mameda-Cho Town
Our first glimpse into Kyushu was the charming old town of Mameda-Cho in Hita City. We had an hour’s stop to walk along the street that is lined on both sides by old machiya (merchant) houses, now occupied by souvenir shops. There was hardly anyone around the street that late morning when we visited. Even though the buildings here date back to the Edo period in the 17th century, the paved roads kinda took away the ancient atmosphere a little, making it look too modern.

Lake Kinrin in Yufuin
While within the Oita Perfecture, we also made a visit to Yufuin City to see the calm and serene Lake Kinrin. Its name translates to the golden lake, and this is due to its golden glow in the morning from the sun’s reflection (though some say it’s named after a gold-scaled fish that was spotted in the lake). Lake Kinrin is also famous for the lovely mist that surrounds its waters, created by the hot and cold springs that well up from within the lake. During our visit, the sun was high up in the sky so we didn’t get to see any glow or mist — but we did get to admire how peaceful the lake is, and how beautiful it looks with the majestic Mount Yufu in the background.

Jigokumushi

Specialty Jigokumushi lunch at Chinetsu Kanko Labo Enma in Beppu City.

Jigokumushi

Our plate of delicious hot-spring steamed seafood.

Jigokumushi

We have our feet in an onsen foot bath! My tour mates (R-L): Tommy, Kelvin, Khai Sin and I.

Jigokumushi

This is how the food gets steamed — Jigokumushi style.

Bamboo Center

So much concentration to weave that bamboo basket.

Jigoku-mushi Lunch at Chinetsu Kanko Labo Enma

When we finally arrived in Beppu, it was time for our late lunch. From where the bus stopped us, we walked along the streets of Beppu (while being amazed at all the steam coming out from the grounds) towards the restaurant, Chinetsu Kanko Labo Enma. The restaurant serves Beppu’s most popular local cuisine, known as the Jigoku-mushi. And just like its name, which means ‘hell steaming’ — the food are steamed in the city’s natural abundant mineral-laden steam. For centuries, the Beppu locals have been cooking their food this way.

The fun part about dining at the Chinetsu Kanko Labo Enma is that we got to enjoy our food while dipping our feet in the onsen foot bath. Diners are also encouraged to cook their own food at the steam chambers — and I managed to do it too! A staff was there to guide me as I put on thick gloves and placed my food into the steaming chamber. And when the timer went off indicating my food was done, I got to lift it out of the chamber as well! The variety of food range from seafood and meat, to dumplings and pizza.

Beppu Bamboo Crafts Center

After lunch, it was time to learn some age-old Japanese crafts at the Beppu Bamboo Crafts Center. The center exhibits bamboo works, and showcases the hundreds-of-years-old Takeizaiku ancient craft of weaving bamboo into functional everyday objects. It’s also a place to try our hands on some bamboo weaving — so of course that was what we did! We headed up to the 2nd floor, where we were ushered into a workshop/classroom. Our teacher provided us with the bamboo materials, and showed us step by step how to weave it into a flower basket. It was pretty easy and straightforward, and I believe I made a very pretty one. A class per person to make flower baskets cost JP¥700 (US$6), or you can also make coasters for JP¥400 (US$3.5).

Suginoi Hotel

The Suginoi Hotel Beppu.

Suginoi Hotel

Lobby and reception area of this popular onsen hotel.

Suginoi Hotel

Never have I seen a buffet so scrumptious like the one at Suginoi Hotel — this was my spread!

Suginoi Hotel

Off for my onsen session in a yukata.

Suginoi Hotel

The sunrise view from my hotel window in the morning.

Suginoi Hotel

Enjoying the view of Beppu City from the Suginoi Hotel garden.

 

Suginoi Onsen Hotel

And then it was time to head to our hotel! Established in 1944, the Suginoi Onsen Hotel is one of the most popular onsen hotels in Beppu. It is located in the Kankaiji hot spring area — and because it is located on slightly higher ground, has pretty gorgeous views of the city and the bay from above. My room at Suginoi was huge (much much bigger than the typical Japanese hotel rooms); and not only came with two large single beds, but a separate tatami room that could probably fit another 4-people on tatami beds!

Seeds Restaurant
The buffet dinner at the hotel’s Seeds Restaurant is probably one of the most opulent buffet dinners I have ever had. The restaurant itself is pretty basic and was extremely crowded during dinner — but it was the variety of food that made it amazing. They had a steak grilling station, a King crab station, a sushi/sashimi station, a variety of Japanese and international cuisines, and even served food like fresh shellfish, prawns and foie gras. I was a very, very, very happy girl! Breakfast was served at the restaurant too; and offered just as much variety (but of course, not as extravagant).

The Tanayu Onsen
The Suginoi Onsen Hotel’s crown is the Tanayu Onsen. After dinner, we changed into our yukata (provided in the rooms) and headed for a night dip in the open-air onsen. Occupying a space of 4,000 sq meters (and divided into men and women sections); the outdoor bath spreads over five tiers, and overlooks the city and Beppu Bay. At night, it has the most beautiful night view — just imagine soaking in a warm bath while watching the twinkling night lights and the stars in the sky. It was cold during my visit as well, so all I wanted to do was stay in the water!

The Tanayu provides various types of baths — aroma bath, barrel bath, massage bath, foot bath, and even a bath where you can lie-down on a sunken lounge bed. Hotel guests get free access to the onsen, but visitors are also welcomed for a fee of JP¥1,200~US$10(weekday) / JP¥1,800~US$16 (weekend). Bear in mind that public onsen in Japan require everyone to be naked. Now, I still can’t really get used to that!

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

Entrance to the Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

All set and ready to begin my short session of the hot sand bath.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

The ladies getting ready our sand bath by digging and shoveling.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

This is the spa area.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

We’re buried under the hot, hot sand.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

The Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath is said to be great for blood circulation and the skin.

Shoningahama Beach Sand Bath

Thanks to the wonderful soak at the Tanayu Onsen, I had a wonderful sleep that night. And early the next morning, it was time to head to another body-loving session — this time, it is to the Beppu Beach Sand Bath at Shoningahama Beach. The session costs JP¥1,030 (US$9) per person; and we were provided a yukata (and towels for later) to change into before making our way to the sand pit. There were women digging and shoveling the sand as we got there — and after making a small dent in the sand for us to lie on, they began burying us in really hot black sand. The sand was pretty heavy on top of my body, and it was really hard to breathe — and even though I got used to it after awhile, I could only lie down for about 15 minutes. The recommended time is about 20-30 minutes.

The beach sand bath is believed to help muscle and joint stiffness, reduce high blood pressure, and even asthma; and helps relieve stress and fatigue, and aids blood circulation. It is also said to be good for the skin. We were covered in thick black sand after emerging from our buried state. But after a warm shower and a dip in the steam bath (again) — I felt absolutely refreshed and ready to take on the rest of my day!

Jigoku Meguri

A map of Beppu and all the attractions on the Jigoku Meguri tour.

Chinoike Jigoku

Crowds of people gather to witness the many springs at Beppu.

Jigoku Meguri

The blood red springs of the Chinoike Jigoku.

Chinoike Jigoku

Danger signs everywhere!

Tatsumaki Jigoku

Waiting for the Tatsumaki Jigoku geyser to erupt.

Tatsumaki Jigoku

The geyser erupts every 30 minutes, so its not difficult to catch it when it goes off!

The Jigoku Meguri Tour

The rest of the morning was used to explore the Beppu hot springs (the extremely boiling ones at 98°C). There are a total of eight hot springs in the entire Beppu City, and are collectively called the Jigoku Meguri, which translates to ‘hell springs’. These springs come in a myriad of colors, consistencies and uses — they are Yama Jigoku, the steamy springs; Oniishibozu Jigoku, the mud springs; Umi Jigoku, the sea blue springs; Kamado Jigoku, the springs with animals; Shiraike Jigoku, the white springs; Oniyama Jigoku, the springs with crocodiles; Chinoike Jigoku, the red springs; and the Tatsumaki Jigoku geyser. During our visit to Beppu, we only had time to see two of the eight hot springs — the latter two.

Chinoike Jigoku
The Chinoike Jigoku is situated slightly away from the other six hot springs on the Jigoku Meguri tour route. Believed to be one of the oldest of its kind, the Chinoike Jigoku is also known as the Bloody Hell Pond because of its 78°C temperature and deep reddish color. This is due to its rich content of iron oxide; and the mud from this pond is now sold as skin ointments to treat medical conditions like eczema and burns. To me, it was just amazing looking at this hot springs that is smelly, smoky, boiling and in such a nightmarish color — exactly like how its name describes.

Tatsumaki Jigoku
Just next to the Chinoike Jigoku is the Tatsumaki Jigoku geyser. This geyser has got to be one of the geysers with the shortest resting times in the world — it erupts approximately every 30 minutes, and lasts for about 10 minutes each time! We got there just a few minutes before the geyser erupted, so we waited patiently on one of the many rows of benches in front of it. A small stone pond with a special wall has been built around the geyser — and when it finally erupted, I noticed that it stops the water from spurting up to its highest potential. The geyser is said to be able to reach up to a height of 20 meters; so I guess they built a little ceiling to limit it for safe viewing.

… And Next Up on the Tour!

We left the city in the late morning, after our (very short) Jigoku Meguri visit. I really wished we had spent more time to see the other colorful hot springs that is on the list, but we were rushed for time and had more places in Kyushu to explore. I had such a great time in this extremely unique city, and with so many new experiences too — it was my first time seeing steaming roads; my first time having a King crab, steak and foie gras buffet; and my first time being buried alive! I definitely want to bring my mum here someday, because I know she would love all the onsen indulgence.

And then off we went to the next destination on our grand Kyushu tour — the volcanic Aso. Read about it here.

Beppu

Standing by the banks of the serene Lake Kinrin… a stop on our way to Beppu.

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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours. Beppu City was one out of the many city stops on the familiarization tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.

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