Japan Day 21 – Kumamoto to Beppu

Thursday 26 January 2023

On yesterday’s schedule was Kumamoto, ETA 2 pm; castle and gardens, then today a drive to Beppu via a volcano lookout and a gorge where you can hire a boat and row through the gorge.

In reality, we arrived in Kumamoto long after everything was shut and aren’t prepared to veer off course today after yesterday’s struggles with Japanese road closures.


So, most of our plans are shelved, but we get up and take a walk up the hill to Kumamoto Castle, which has recently reopened to the public after being destroyed by an earthquake in 2016.

Kumamoto Castle

A lot of the grounds are cordoned off and it takes us a while to work our way round to the entrance which is on the opposite side to the city. At one point, we see a ladder and wonder if this is the entrance?!

Kumamoto Castle

Entry costs Y800. We don’t really have time to go in and get back to our hotel in time for check out, so the plan is just to visit the castle grounds and take some photos. But the toll booth is cunningly placed so you have to purchase a ticket before getting close to the castle.

Kumamoto Castle

We purchase our tickets and enter the ultra modern castle, which is laid out over 6 floors with a observation deck at the top.

Kumamoto Castle

We start climbing the stairs floor by floor. There is plenty of information, presumably about the castle. Who knows? I can’t read Japanese.

Interior of Kumamoto Castle

The old man is worrying about getting back in time and says we don’t have time to climb to the top. I point out there’s a lift. He says the lift is only for the elderly and infirm. I tell him to shut up and get in the lift.

View from Kumamoto Castle

We have a quick look at the view from the top, then descend back into Kumamoto and set off for our final destination in Japan; Beppu.

Goodbye Kumamoto

Drive to Beppu

We think we have perfected the art of driving on Kyushu as a foreigner; we program Google Maps, which doesn’t work, then hold the image next to the Japanese GPS, which we can’t read. Then line up the maps on both, put a red cross on the car GPS and then follow the green arrows to roughly our destination, depending on how accurate we were with the cross.

Drive to Beppu

In theory, Beppu is just 81 miles away, but we are being taken the long way round to stay on the expressway, bringing the journey to 130 miles. ETA; 2 pm. Let’s hope the expressways are actually open today and we’re in Beppu before 7!

Drive to Beppu

Today we actually make good time and are indeed in Beppu around 2 pm, despite stopping at a service station for a quick pee and mountain photo op.

Service Station Snow Clearance


Beppu is a seaside spa town, famous for its hot springs and the plumes of steam which randomly spew forth around town.


Hotel Aile

Our hotel for the next two nights is Hotel Aile which has its own Onsen (hot spring baths). We paid extra for a sea view, and have ended up in a triple room. The decor is a bit 80s, but its cosy and it’s nice to have some extra space.

Room at Hotel Aile

We take a walk along the sea front, which is sandwiched between the port and a petrochemical plant, through Matogahama Park.

Matogahama Park

Then we walk into town, where even the station has its own hot spring.

Beppu Station

Dinner at Bungo Chaya

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.

Dinner at Bungo Chaya

Then we return to our hotel, where the old man crushes his candy, while I don my Japanese dressing gown and check out the hot spring baths. There’s an indoor bath on the top floor and open air bath on the roof.

Onsen ready

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.

Hotel Aile Rooftop Bath

At night, Beppu Tower, which has the dubious honour of being Japan’s shortest tower, is lit up, which adds to the rooftop atmosphere. I say atmosphere, there’s actually only me up there…

Beppu Tower at Night

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