Beppu, which is situated on a bay in the north east corner of the island of Kyushu, is famed for its geothermal activity. Steam belches forth from vents all over town – a particularly wonderful sight on a cold winter’s day. In addition, there are numerous hot springs across the area, which can be bathed in, cooked over or just generally admired.
We chose to hire a car to drive round Kyushu, following a circuit around the north of the island. Roads are generally good, although if it snows, even the motorways are closed rather than cleared and the island comes to a standstill. It is possible to reach Beppu by train, but the bullet trains do not come this far (you will need to change at Kokura).
Once in Beppu, we mainly walked, apart from our trip to the 7 Hells, which we drove to. It is possible to reach the hells by public transport. Several buses (1/5/7/16A) will get you to within a few minutes walk of the first 5 hells. However, as the hells are in two locations, it would require three bus rides. The final two hells in Shibaseki District are a 20-25 minute walk to/from the bus stop. Or a 35 minute walk from the first group of hells.
Where we Stayed
We stayed at the Hotel Aile on the seafront on the outskirts of downtown Beppu. We paid extra for a sea view, and ended up in a triple room. The décor was a bit 80s, but the room was cosy and it was lovely to have some extra space – a rare occurrence in Japan. The hotel has its own hot springs; one inside and one on the roof, which I particularly enjoyed.
|Day 1||Drive to Beppu|
Accommodation – Hotel Aile
Dinner at Bungo Chaya
|Day 2||Jigoku Meguri (Hell Circuit)|
1) Umi Jigoku
2) Oni-ishibozu Jigoku
3) Kamado Jigoku
4) Oniyama Jigoku
5) Shiraike Jigoku
6) Chinoike Jigoku
7) Tatsumaki Jigoku
Drive to Beppu
This morning we set off for our final destination in Japan, Beppu; a seaside spa town, famous for its hot springs and the plumes of steam which belch forth from vents all over town. In theory, Beppu is just 81 miles away from Kumamoto, but our GPS takes us the long way round to stay on the expressway, bringing the journey to 130 miles. ETA; 2 pm.
Today, we actually make good time and are indeed in Beppu around 2 pm, despite a stop at a service station for a quick pee and mountain photo op. And a further stop on the outskirts of Beppu by some large stone heads for more photos and to buy lunch.
Accommodation – Hotel Aile
We locate our hotel for the next two nights; Hotel Aile which is on the coast with sea view rooms and its own hot spring baths, including one on the rooftop with views across the bay.
Once we have checked in, we take a walk along the sea front, which is sandwiched between the port and a petrochemical plant, through Matogahama Park, a pleasant seaside park with gardens, waterfalls and public art.
We walk back along the road past Beppu Tower. Built in 1957, it has to be said that Beppu Tower has seen better days. The Tower, which has the dubious honour of being Japan’s shortest tower, allegedly has an observation deck with 360-degree views, although it doesn’t appear to be open. The tower does, however, look cool at night when it is illuminated.
Beppu tower is supposedly open from 9.30 am until 9.30 pm and costs Y200 for the 5th floor observation deck or Y800 for the 16/17th observation decks. Or you can buy a package to visit both for Y1000. How this differs from two individual tickets is beyond me – I couldn’t even work out how to get in!
We continue walking into town, where even the station has its own hot spring. There’s also a famous statue, Kumahachi Aburaya; a well known local businessman who was popular with children – he even has one hanging off his coat. It reminds a little of Jimmy Savile. Next!
Dinner at Bungo Chaya
Adjoining the station are some excellent cheap dining options. Beppu’s cuisine includes toriten (chicken tempura) and dangojiru (miso soup with thick noodles). We find a little restaurant which serves a set meal including both dishes for Y1150 (£7.15). Add a pint of draft beer and the price comes to about £10.
After dinner, we return to our hotel. There are plenty of hot spring options in Beppu for those keen to explore. But I’m happy just staying at the hotel. I don my Japanese dressing gown and check out the hot spring baths. There’s an indoor bath, which is nice, and an open air bath on the roof, which is amazing. It may be freezing outside, but the water is around 40 degrees, so it’s lovely lying on the hotel roof naked watching day turn to night above me.
Awake at 8.22 am. In the rooftop bath by 8.30. I still haven’t got the hang of Japanese public bath etiquette and I’m not sure how to improve without observing others, which might look a bit weird and pervy between two naked strangers. But I have a lovely bath, even if I am lying on my back like a giant starfish with tits, while the Japanese ladies are sitting demurely in huddled balls around the edges. Also I don’t think I’m doing dressing/undressing right. The Japanese ladies get completely naked before removing their masks, while I’m more a mask first, knickers last kind of girl.
Jigoku Meguri (Hell Circuit)
After breakfast, we set off to visit the Hell Circuit, aka the 7 Hells of Beppu. The hells are seven hot springs for viewing rather than bathing, where you can see steaming pools in red, white and blue, bubbling mud pools and other hydrothermal activity. Each of them has adopted a theme. Five of the seven hells are located in the Kannawa district (around 3 miles north of the town centre and the final two (Chinoike Jigoku and Tatsumaki Jigoku) are the Shibaseki district (2 miles further north).
Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) is probably the biggest and the best, which is kind of unfortunate, because it sets expectations several of the other attractions can’t live up to.
Here, steam rises from a blue pool. As we arrive, the wind picks up, which sends the plumes in every direction. One minute, you can see the pool, the next you can’t see anything as the sulphurous steam swirls around you. Then it starts to snow, so we have ice and steam at the same time.
The hell is set in a garden where there are a few smaller, orange coloured hells and a large pond. There is also a steam heated greenhouse with a lily pond and banana plants.
Oni-ishibozu Jigoku (Demon Monk Hell) is so named because the bubbling pools of mud are said to resemble a monk’s shaved head.
Kamado Jigoku (Oven Hell) sells food cooked in the steam, as demonstrated by a demon cook statue at the entrance.
Visitors can drink the hot spring water, enjoy hand and foot baths, inhale the hot spring steam and try various snacks cooked in the hot spring.
There is also a man demonstrating I don’t know what with a blow torch.
Oniyama Jigoku (Devil’s Mountain Hell) has dozens of forlorn crocodiles crammed together in a tiny, concrete enclosure. Grim.
Shira-ike Jigoku (White Pond Hell) has a vaguely white pond surrounded by a garden. Inside are enormous fish in tiny tanks they can hardly move in. Also grim.
We drive up the road to Shibaseki District for the last two hells.
Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pool Hell); when the steam subsides it reveals a pond of deep ochre.
This is one of my favourite hells as the steaming red pool is stunning and there are also provides plenty of props for that all important photo op.
Tamatsuki Jigoku (Tornado Hell) has a geyser which erupts roughly every half an hour. A stone arch has been erected to prevent the geyser from reaching too high, but it’s still interesting to watch the controlled mini geyser, while a recorded message boasts that the geyser erupts more regularly than Old Faithful or any geyser in Iceland.
The Hells are open daily from 8 am until 5 pm. Entry costs Y400 per attraction or you can visit all 7 hells for Y2000. There is an 8th hell (Yama Jigoku) which isn’t included and which we didn’t go to because it consists of a ‘compact petting zoo’.
On the way back into town, we stop at Yukemiri Observatory, which I read about on the Drive Japan website. They said it was hard to locate and they weren’t kidding.
We find the entrance at the third attempt. A small concrete tower on the hillside provides views of the steaming town below. The view would probably be better if it was darker, but I have a date with a hot spring…
On the way back into Beppu, we stop at the Global Tower. This strangely shaped tower, which looks a bit like stacking a deck of cards, has a glass viewing box situated 100 metres off the ground.
The tower is open daily from 9 am until 9 am in summer (until 7 pm between December and February). Entry costs Y300.
As it’s our last day in Japan, it’s time for some souvenir shopping. We walk from the hotel, across the bitterly cold Kitahama Park, to an enormous shopping plaza; YouMe Town. To be honest, it’s so enormous that it’s difficult to locate anything I’m looking for and I soon give up and return to the hotel for more hot spring action. For those with a higher shopping tolerance level than me, YouMe Town is open daily between 9.30 am and 9 pm.
Time for a final dip in the rooftop hot bath. After 3 weeks in Japan, today I finally convince the old man to take a public bath. He’s a bit concerned about getting naked on the roof in sub zero temperatures. I tell him he needs to be more concerned about ridiculous he looks in his yukata!
- Trip Taken: January 2023
- Updated: May 2023
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