Japan Onsen Guides: Beppu Onsen Oita Prefecture
Beppu Onsen 別府温泉
by Johannes Schonherr
Beppu, picturesquely wedged between the mountains and the sea, is not only Japan's hot spring central but in fact, it has the world's second-largest number of hot springs - only Yellowstone Park can boast of more.
On most days of the year, you can see thick clouds of steam wafting out from the Kannawa and Horita neighborhoods. There, the springs are boiling and the steam comes out everywhere between the houses, even through the asphalt of some parking lots.
In the 5 years I've been living in Beppu now, I've tried a good number of the springs myself and I've also taken plenty of visiting friends to the baths. Now, where would I take you if I were to be your local guide?
First of all, I would recommend you a very traditional Onsen Ryokan to stay at. That would be the Yamada Besso, only a few minutes walk from Beppu Station and located in the old ryokan district. The Yamada was built in 1930 and it still looks exactly like an inn from that period - modern appliances aside. The 1930s were Beppu's golden age at that time international cruise ships called at the port and brought celebrities like Charlie Chaplin to town. The young lady of the house speaks good English - and she has taken up the habit of wearing a kimono. You couldn't find a more classic Beppu inn than this.
The Yamada has 3 hot springs on the premises, all free to use for staying guests. Two of them are inside the building. I would however recommend the outdoor one for a first taste of Beppu onsen. Protected from view by trees and wooden shades, this outdoor bath is a kazoku onsen, translating to family hot spring bath. At most public hot springs the baths for men and women are separated. Not so in a kazoku onsen. This, you can enjoy together with your wife, girlfriend or mixed bunch of friends.
Now, even while you will be a private party there, you've got to follow Japanese bathhouse rules. With means, you wash yourselves outside of the hot spring pool before you enter it. Make sure, no soap leaks into the pool! Then enjoy a relaxing time in the hot water. That's what a Japanese hot spring is all about after all - relaxing in a hot pool. Let the water slowly flush out the stress from your brain, flush out the aches from the muscles. Relax.
Enjoy the traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, rice and pickles at the Yamada and you are ready go exploring the vast variety of hot springs around town.
The bath that has always been the most popular among my friends is the Onsen Hoyo Land in the Myoban district. This is a doroyu, a strongly smelling mud bath. Also, it's a konyoku onsen, which means "mixed bathing". Men and women can enjoy the open-air hot mud pools together in the nude. Get covered with mud, relax and have a good time!
If you arrive in winter, it gets even better. There is nothing like a hot mud bath while refreshing flakes of snow are slowly coming down on your skin soaked in hot muddy water.
One of the stranger experiences you can have in Beppu is the sand bath. There are several but best is certainly the Beppu Beach Sand Bath. There, you buy your ticket and receive a yukata, the light bathhouse coat people wear in other Japanese cities only inside hotels but in Beppu also often on the street. Proceed to the showers, clean yourselves, don the yukata and walk outside to the hot sand spot right on the beach. There, friendly women will bury you in hot black sand. Only your head sticks out and yes, it really feels like being in a hot grave.
15 minutes is the max, any time longer might very well turn out to be too much. But the ladies will rescue just in time - and this is the best moment of the whole experience. Getting out of the steaming grave! Take a long shower to make sure you wash all that sand off your body - and you will feel re-born. Or, as some of my friends put it, like having survived a premature burial deep in a volcanic pit - which the sand bath arguably is. In any case, it's a memorable adventure.
By now, you will certainly ask: "How hot is a hot spring?" There is no easy answer to that question. In the small family pools, you can regulate the temperature of the water by yourselves. Make it as comfortable as you like. In the mud bath, the various pools have different temperatures, choose which you like best. In most public baths, it's in the 30s Celsius. Not too hot, just comfortable.
But if you like a bit of a challenge, try the Takagawara Onsen. That's in a very traditional wooden building dating back to 1879 and located in the old Kitahama nightlife district. This classic vintage bath is separated by gender and its pools are a merciless 42-45 Celsius. If your blood gets that hot, you will fall into a fever coma. But if you stay in the pool only for a little while, say 10-15 minutes, the hot water will be really purifying.
You will want to have a cold beer right after that bath. I always do. The next store selling it is about 2 minutes away if you walk briskly to the right from the bath house exit. Enjoy it with your friends on the benches right outside the historic bath. Life can be beautiful!
3-2-18, Kitahama, Beppu city, Oita , zip code: 874-0920
Rooms in the main house are about 10.000 Yen per person including breakfast. See their price table here.
How to get there: 8 minute walk from Beppu Station. Walk out the East Exit of the station and down Ekimae Dori, the main street. Turn left just before the Daily Yamazaki convenience store. Then, the Yamada is on the 3rd intersection. They have a pick-up service from the station. Call for it in English.
Open daily 8:30-20:00
Myoban District, Beppu
(website is in Japanese only but has good pictures)
Tickets are 1050 Yen per adult, 570 Yen for children.
How to get there: Take the Kamenoi bus no 5 bound for Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University or the buses no 41 or 43 bound for African Safari from the West Exit of Beppu Station to Konya Jigokumae bus stop. Tell the driver where you want to get off. The bus ride is about 25 mins.
Opening hours: from Apr. to Oct. 8:30 - 18:00 （Enter before 5pm); from Nov. to Mar. 9:00 - 17:00 （Enter before 4pm）
Tickets are 1000 Yen per person.
How to get there: Take the no20 or 26 Kamenoi bus bound for Kannawa from the East Exit of Beppu Station to Rokushoen bus stop. Ask the driver to inform you once you arrive at the kaihin sunayu (beach sand bath).
Opening hours: 6:30 - 22:30
16-23 Motomachi, Beppu
Tickets are 100 Yen per person for the regular bath. The Takagawara also has its own indoor sand bath, admission 1000 Yen per person.
How to get there: Walk the main street from the East Exit of Beppu Station towards the sea until you see a shopping arcade called Ginza to your right. Enter this arcade and walk through it till you see a big sign telling you to turn left for the Takegawara. Follow the directions of the signs from now on. But basically, it's just straight down that one alley you enter once you turn left in the arcade.
The Kamenoi bus company operates many lines which will get you basically everywhere within the city. Buy a day pass for 900 Yen at the Tourist Office and travel on all Kamenoi buses all day long.
Note however, that this pass is not valid on buses of the Oita Kotsu bus company.
Beppu has two Tourist Information Offices (Tel: 0977-23-1119). One right inside Beppu Station, the other on Ekimae Dori, the main street leading from the station to the sea. It is located at the corner of Ekimae Dori / Ginza shopping arcade. Both are open daily from 9:00 to 17:00.
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