Beppu is the number one place for onsen bathing in the world. And if you’re wondering why you should visit Beppu, take a look at these numbers:
- The amount of discharge equals 87.346 of liters per minute, which is the highest amount in Japan, and the 2nd in the world after Yellowstone (US), but still the largest as a hot spring area
- The numbers of the onsen wells equals 2.217, which is the highest number in Japan,
- The number of sources equals 2.292, which makes Beppu home to one-tenth of Japan’s hot spring sources,
- And last but not least, the town has 7/10 types of mineral-rich water found on Earth!
In these conditions, there is no doubt why Beppu should be on everyone’s list.
When I was thinking about Beppu, I imagined a small walking city like the other onsen I visited in Japan. Well, this isn’t applicable here. Beppu consists of 8 hot spring areas called the Beppu Hatto:
- and Shibaseki
So as you can see, Beppu Onsen is only one of the 8 areas for onsen. And don’t you even think that seeing or trying one is like experiencing them all. Each area is unique and has special qualities, that’s why you should plan a full holiday only for the Beppu area.
While here, you can enjoy Beppu’s many different baths for different purposes, including:
- The world’s largest mud bath,
- Sand baths (in use for more than 100 years),
- Steam baths, (mushi-yu, in use for more than 700 years),
- Foot baths,
- Hands baths!
And the experience wouldn’t be complete without the interaction with locals. And believe it or not, onsen is parts of the daily life. People meet here for the bath but also to socialize. That’s why people great each other and have daily conversations, as you’d probably do over a coffee in the Western culture.
And now, let’s see what you shouldn’t miss during a first visit to Beppu!
The Beppu Hell Tour
Known as “Jigoku Tour”, this is a must see. Better said, if you only have to chose one thing to see in Beppu, look no more. From ancient times the regions of Kannawa and Kamegawa were described as home to fuming gas expulsions, bubbling mud and steaming hot water. It was a place that people feared to approach, believing it is an accursed land. That’s why the name of the place “jigoku”, means hell. But, once you see these places, there will be one question going through your mind: if the hell would look like this, would people still fear it? Maybe yes, because the temperatures are unbearable, but the view… it’s breathtaking. That’s why 4/7 hells were declared by the Japanese government as spots of unusual scenic beauty (Sea Hell, Blood Pond Hell, Waterspout Hell, White Pond Hell).
To see these fantastic places, take the best deal from the tourist information office inside the Beppu station (the one for foreigners, not the one for Japanese). You will get the best deal, as for only 1800¥ you get an entry ticket to all the 7 hells. And that’s a good deal. If you decide to pay as you go, the individual entry costs 400¥ (so you’ll end up paying a lot more). If the train station is not in your way, you can still purchase a combo ticket with 2000¥ at the entrance of any hell, so you won’t “lose” much.
Now, let’s take it one by one and see what each hell has to offer.
That’s a very beautiful hell to start your visit with and one of my favorites. Is one of the hot springs created when Mount Tsurumi erupted around 1200 years ago, in February 867, and it got its name from the color of its water which looks like the sea, cobalt blue. There is a shrine (Hakuryu Inari Okami) in the nearby forest with some beautiful tori gates leading to it. It is said to bring blessings to the well being of families, prosperity in business and safety on the road. The best way to admire the ponds if to grab a coffee from the shop and sit on a bench outside. Or, go upstairs in the main building to have a panoramic view. There are also pictures with the hells in different seasons you can admire and some information you can read (only Japanese).
In spring you can admire the cherry blossoms trees, including some rare types as the Taiwan cherry and ukon cherry and beautiful water lilies on the first pond.
Up on the hill, there is a greenhouse that takes advantage of the hell’s heat to grows various types of water lilies and plants. It is a nice spot, so don’t miss it.
Nearby, you will find a red-clay pond and a bit down the road a free feet onsen which it shouldn’t be missed.
If you get hungry, stop by the Cafeteria Umi, or buy some Gokuraku manju – some steamed cakes which come in bitesize pieces. Aren’t my favorites but are worth it a try as you can only find them here.
This hell really has a funny name! Is called “Oniishi shaven head hell” because the small bubbles of hot gray mud that boil look like the shaven heads of monks. Well, you need to have a lot of imagination to make such a connotation from my perspective, but I admire the creativity of the person.
The fumes of this hell were used since ancient times to cook offerings of rice to the guardian god at the Kamado Hachimangu Shrine festival. The high temperature water (90°C) and the blistering hot gas expelled are creating a magical atmosphere, making you not wanting to leave.
As you step inside, you will notice a small but very beautiful flower garden. And apart from the flowers, what makes it more special are the cat drawings on the stone which are really cute.
Then, inside the same place you can find different types of hells: a red-clay pool, a mud pool, a small blue pool and the biggest one, the blue-whiteish pool. It’s such a great thing seeing all of them coming together only meters away, simply impressive.
And because there is a lot to see here, have a break in between. Enjoy the steamed food like the matcha green tea pudding or soy sauce pudding, corn, sausages or Japanese rice cake. I tried several and I can confirm were all delicious. And before moving further, enjoy the free foot bath (they are even offering a towel for free to get you dry, but you can’t eat or drink while being inside).
And last but not least, before leaving, try the free face onsen. Let the steam enter into your face and nose, to leave the place as brand new, or fully relaxed.
This is literally a crocodiles hell (wani jigoku) and without any doubt the scariest of all the hells. Once you enter, you will see a big greenish pond which is steaming so hard, that you can barely see. But the surprise is coming in the lower part, where crocodiles are kept. They were first bred here in 1923 using the hot spring’s warmth, and today the bask kept is roughly 100 strong. The biggest reptile on Earth is not my strongest passion, but I need to admit I wasn’t expecting to see that, especially when the water temperature is 98°C.
This heart shaped pond looks far better in the sun than in the shadow. It is called the white pond hell because the colorless water that spouts from the ground naturally turns a bluish white due to the temperature and pressure drop when it joins the pond waters.
Maybe even more impressive that the pond, you can see an aquarium inside displaying several types of tropical fish that are kept on the spring grounds, warmed by its waters. I think I never in my life saw such an ugly-scarry types of fishes, so be prepared for that. They look like sea monsters, really!
After seeing the aquarium, go around the beautiful garden admiring the Buddhist statues. You will find a viewpoint as well.
The other two hells are 2.8km from this point. You can even take the bus or walk (which I assume shouldn’t be so difficult as you’re going down).
This is the oldest natural Jigoku (Ayakusen) and one of my favorites. The clay is steaming hot to the point that the steam itself is red. To me, this is the most beautiful hell because of the contrast with the nature around, therefore the most photogenic. You can admire the pond from down and up, if you follow the stairs towards the forest.
Apart from the pond, you can enjoy a free foot bath with pomelo, see a small shrine, buy some unique skin products (like chinoike ointment) which are made with the clay produced here and purchase souvenirs from the massive entrance shop. If you’re hungry or need a break, there are some restaurants outside too.
This national site of scenic beauty is actually a geyser. Basically, it spouts out boiling water and steam at regular intervals. What is remarkable about this one are the short intervals between spouts, a great advantage for the visitors, as you don’t have to wait too much until the “show” begins.
In order to convert it into a touristic attraction, the geyser had to be “stopped” with a stone above, to avoid spreading hot water around and burn the visitors. So now it’s perfectly safe to be around and enjoy the scenery. While waiting for the “show”, you can enjoy an ice-cream or sweets from the shop, or checking the souvenirs.
Overall, this is the smaller hell, with not much to see or do around excepting the geyser itself. So you won’t need to much time around (20-30 minutes are enough).
If you missed the steamed food offered inside the hells, don’t worry. There are several places around the same area where you can enjoy it. From street food (eggs, sweet potatoes, corn) to restaurants where you can prepare your own steamed food like Jigoku Mushi, there is something for everyone, just ask around for recommendations.
And to remember the Hell Tour, don’t forget to take your stamps as you move from a hell to another. It’s an entertainment way for children, but also for adults – why not?!
After visiting all the hells, it’s time for you to enjoy some onsen. If you’d like to, you can visit 88 hot springs and become a “master”. Beppu has 2,292 hot spring sources, along which about 140 hot springs facilities participate into a project called Onsendo. If you visit 88 of them and you collect a stamp from each place on a stamp book (called spaport), you will be give the title of “Master of Beppu Onsendo”. Apparently, the buses are easy and convenient to travel around these onsendo, so all you need is time and motivation.
However, if you don’t have so much time, I recommend you to try at least a few while being here.
Beppu Beach Sand bath
This place is the most famous sand onsen across Beppu because of its magnificent view with the ocean. The place is not huge, but it can accommodate 10 people at once, alternating between two locations. The experience costs 1500¥ (or 13.500¥ for 10 times) and it includes a yukata that is given to you to worn while being buried under the sand. You will only stay under the sand for 10-15 minutes, however they say it’s enough to make you feel refresh. If you don’t have an onsen towel with you, you can purchase one for about 320¥.
If you’d like to spend more time around, watching the other people getting “buried”, there is a free foot bath nearby for you to enjoy.
This onsen offers two entrance tickets. The first option costs 1500¥ and includes a sand onsen which provides you access to several other onsen after, including facilities like showers, shampoo, hair dryer and so on. The other option is way cheaper, 300¥ only and it includes only the onsen, with no facilities provided (no shower). I tried the 2nd one as in the same day I had already experienced the sand onsen , but it was nice to meet the locals and get that authentic experience.
This hand onsen is the easiest to access, as it’s exactly in front of the station. Especially during winter, this should be heaven on Earth.
As a city, I wouldn’t say Beppu is impressive, maybe not at all. However, the surroundings, the views and the onsen of course are making this place special. If you’d like to have a walk there is a huge coastline, or if you’d like to stay covered there are several galleries with shops and restaurants.
Not precisely a touristic place in Beppu, but the city park is really beautiful in spring. I saw the pink colors from the bus, which instantly made me stop and have a look. From tulips to cherry blossoms, there is something for all to enjoy.
If you’re looking for some fresh air or a splendid view, head towards Mt. Tsurumi, located in the Aso-Kuju National Park. This is the mountain source for all the onsen around the area. There is a bus you can take from the train station to come to the base in only 30 minutes. Particularly in spring, the area is known for the cherry blossoms.
From here, if you’d like to continue your way up till the mountain pick, you can take the gondola for 1600¥ return. From the peak of 1375m high, you can admire the surroundings including the Beppu Area, Mt. Yufu, the Kuju Mountains, the Chugoku and Shikoku regions.
As Mt. Tsurumi has been considered a sacred site since ancient time, you’ll be able to see many statues around, including the Seven Deities of Good Luck. There is a path you can follow to visit the objectives which it won’t take more than an hour. However, I recommend you a break up there and a picnic (but buy food from the town, as the options are limited out there). There is no restaurant or cafe up on the mountain, so bring what you need in advance.
With only 2 days in Beppu, I couldn’t explore all the attractions around. But if you have more time, there are two packages you can take advantage of. The first one is the African safari, which costs 4000¥ and includes the entry fee, the jungle bus and the bus ticket till there. The second option is the monkey marine ticket. It costs 2840¥ and it covers the entry fees for the aquarium, monkey park and the bus fare. It is way cheaper than buying independently (2600¥, 520¥, 480¥), so for both options head to the tourist office center inside the Beppu train station.
To move around the area is not cheap at all. That’s why I recommend you the 1 day or 2 days unlimited bus pass for 1000¥/1600¥. If you’re looking to go even further, towards Yufuin, there is another fare of 1700¥/2600¥ for 1/2 days. For information, ask at the tourist information office.
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and one day you’ll visit Beppu onsen by yourself. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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