Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Kyushu, Japan Itinerary: Visiting the Hells of Beppu in 1 Day

       “Go to hell!” Such a strong expression used often to curse someone… Little did I know, it could be a well wish that one day you'll have the opportunity to visit Beppu!
Beppu attractions

       Beppu is a geothermal town in central Oita prefecture, featuring many (when I say many, I meant more than 2500 scattered around!) onsens of vermillion colors as well as purpose, except that the most famous few are not suitable to soak in (as hot as 150 C!!!)! The “Hells of Beppu” are 8 unapproachable natural hot springs designated as the “National Place of Scenic Beauty”. Hence, Beppu is also known as the Hot Spring Capital of Japan and some say the World!
       I’ve said it once, now I’m gonna say it again. I strongly feel that the Hells of Beppu are still not as popular among foreign tourists. Although I enjoy it that way, I think it deserves more attention. So now, will you go to hell with me?

Useful Pass in Beppu

       Once arrive at Beppu train station, go to the tourist information center to get your one day ticket. The Japanese tourist center is located in an office to your right at the entrance to the station while the Foreign tourist center is located in the mid of a hall just across the JR gates. Here, you’ll buy a day-bus mini pass at 900¥ and depend on your plans in Beppu, a combo ticket for all 8 hells (usable for consecutive 2 days).
       A popular activity in the area is Jigoku Meguri – “hells-hopping” in which tourists visit all 7 or 8 hells in a day. If you were to pay separately to enter each hell, the cost will be high (at 400-500 ¥ each). As we planned to see as much as we could, we decided that the ¥1800 combo tickets (arranged into a booklet) would work for us. Plus, it makes a nice souvenir at the end of the day! Discounts are available for kids: high schoolers only pay 1350 ¥ , middle school students pay ¥1000 while elementary school students pay ¥900.
       Alternatively, Kamenoi bus company offers a 2.5 hours tour of all 8 hells on holidays for ¥3740. Only Japanese guides are available but nevertheless, many foreigners frequent the tour. Reserve your seats here at the Tourist Information Center.
Remember, take this opportunity to ask for a bus timetable and the hells information spreadsheet.

Is the bus pass useful? 

       In most cases yes. The bus ride from Beppu station to Kannawa costs ¥320 while the one to Chinoike Jigoku Station cost ¥180. The bus fare for Chinoike- Beppu station is another ¥550 (approximately). They all add up to at least ¥1050 without a pass.

Getting there

Beppu train station
       Next, head to the bus terminal at the train station’s west exit #2 and get on the bus bound for Kannawa: 2, 5, 7, 9 or 41. Bus 5,7 and 9 are the fastest way to reach the first hell.
       This bus will take you to the main entrance of Umijikoku-mae under 15 minutes and your journey in hell starts from here. There are 9 hot springs altogether, but only 6 of them are within walking distance. To get to another 2 more remote hells (Chinoike and Tatsumaki Jigoku), you need to get to Kannawa Station and change to the 16/16A bus towards Shibaseki. In 5 minutes, the bus will stop you directly in front of Chinoike Hell (Chinoikejigoku-mae bus stop) and Tatsumaki is just around the corner. It is also possible to walk if you have the will, the journey will take 40 minutes (3km).
       After you are done with both hells, I highly recommend spending the rest of the day in Hoitan Onsen (near to Kannawa Station). Bus number 26/26A runs back to Kannawa Station. Alternatively, you can head out further to Yufuin. If you are not interested in any of those, the 16/16A bus will send you back to Beppu station in 40 minutes.
       Don’t worry, you won’t be lost once you get off the bus: there are signs everywhere, or, you can just go towards the direction of spewing steams.

Which Hell to visit? 

       This is a difficult question to answer. As each hell is completely unique. As I visited all 8 Hells in the booklet, I might as well just give you a visual tour:

Umi Jigoku – The Sea Hell
Average water temperature: 98 C
Umi Jigoku
The first hell we visited was the Umi Jigoku. It is named the Sea Hell due to the bubbling cobalt blue water in the main pond due to its rich content of iron sulfate. There is always a long pole with a basket completely submerged in water attached at its end. If you look close enough, you’ll be able to see that there are full of eggs in the basket! What you’ve witnessed is the Beppu way of cooking eggs. This hell is the largest of all, offering a large onsite souvenir shop, a secondary orange pond, a spacious tropical garden (the Japanese created this micro-climate by channeling the steams from Umi Jigoku!) with a path leading to the free foot bath, a lotus (bloom between May-November) pond where leaves are large and strong enough to carry small kids, and some food stalls selling Beppu specialties. If you only have time for one hell, I recommend visiting this one. 
 ✅ “ashi mizu” foot baths

Oniishibozu Jigoku – Monk’s shaven head Hell
Average water temperature: 99 C
Take a right after exiting the Uni Jigoku and you’ll find another hell. This hell is called Oniishibozu Jigoku or ‘Monk’s shaved head’ because the steam emerged from underground would surpass the muds, forming perfectly round bubbles that supposedly resemble a monk’s shaven head right before they pop! There is a free open-air foot bath but I honestly feel that it has the hottest water in all the free foot baths that I’ve tried. I couldn’t even last a minute. Adjacent to this hell is an Onsen Bath with multiple pools, which collect a 620¥ entrance fee.
Oniishibozu Jigoku
✅ “ashi mizu” foot baths

Yama-Jigoku (Mountain Hell)
Average water temperature: 90 C
This hell is not included in the combo tickets, so we did not go inside. Visitors who had been to this hell suggest that this one could be skipped if one is not interested in a mini zoo featuring flamingos hippopotamus and more. Anyhow, I think kids would enjoy this place very much.

Kamado Jigoku – Boiling Oil Hell
The people of Oita once used this hell for cooking, and the name sticks. Once you are granted admission, you’ll be greeted by Aka-oni, the red demon dancing (?) on a cooking pot.
It is definitely the most happening hell, and there are more things to do, and naturally, more tourists too! The hell is very popular among Koreans… unlike my recommendation to visit Umo Jigoku if you only have time for one, many Koreans would choose this one instead and I definitely can see why.  
There are 3 larger ponds of different colors, one has the color of used cooking oil, another one is orange and there is an aqua blue water pond similar to the ones seen in Umi Jigoku. Once in a while, a guide or staff would do a short performance blowing cigarette smoke towards the water and it creates a huge huddle of steam in return! The food stall right next to the cooking oil pond sells Jigoku-mushi (onsen steamed gourmet): everything from vegetables to  hard-boiled eggs. Ice-creams are sold too! You can then enjoy your foot while sitting in a free foot bath.
Before you go, try to gulp a mouth full from the fountain of spring… but beware, the water is extremely hot (80 C)! Just beside it, they have a little rest area where you can fell the hot spring passing underneath the tiles. On the other side, you’ll find a steaming area to warm your hand or face while inhaling the steam (I heard its beneficial for people with asthma). It was a very soothing experience in cold winter.
✅ “ashi mizu” foot baths

Oniyama Jigoku – Monster Mountain Hell
This is a very homey hell if you know what I mean. This hell has the perfect temperature for breeding reptiles so someone decided to import in masses of crocodiles from Sarawak, Malaysia! There are not much to see in this hell unless if you come at the right time. On every Saturdays and Sundays (from 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.), and Wednesdays (from 10:00 a.m.), the crocodiles will get fed with chickens. The steam pressure in Oniyama Jigoku is pretty intense, some say it is strong enough to pull 1 and a half train carriages!
Oniyama Jigoku

Shiraike Jigoku – White pond hell
Average Water temperature: 95 C
The hell features a milky white main pool, a result of boric acid, salt, sodium silicate and calcium bicarbonate combined. However, the pure color can occasionally have a green tint. The place isn’t huge, but you’ll be entertained by tanks of piranhas and other tropical fish.
Shiraike Jigoku

Chinoike Jigoku – Blood Pond Hell
Average water temperature: 78 C
Don’t turn away because of the name. Okay, I exaggerated in the previous post. The water isn’t as red as blood, it is more orange than red. Some say it looks more like a pot of tomato soup. The reason lies behind the bright color is the acidic iron and magnesium-enrich clay oozing from underground. These clays are used to produce local skin products that said to help any skin conditions (you can buy some from the stand next to the pool). Not so scary anymore, is it? Chinoike Jigoku is crowned the most photogenic hell in Beppu.

✅“ashi mizu” foot bath
foot bath here has the coolest clear water of all 4 free foot baths, so it is most suitable for anyone too heat-sensitive. but for me, I prefer the one at Umi-Jigoku.

Tatsumaki Jigoku – Tornado Hell
Average water temperature: 150 C (Hottest of all)
End your tour in Beppu with a mind-blowing bang! Tatsumaki is the last hell on the list, featuring a boiling geyser similar to the old faithful in Yellowstone... The most interesting part about this geyser is the fact that it is the only geyser in the world that erupts so frequently (every 30-40 minutes for up to 10 minutes!). The next eruption time is clearly written at the entrance. The erratic spout can actually reach a dangerous height of 50 meters, luckily a stone plate was placed above the geyser to prevent it getting out of control.  
Tatsumaki Jigoku

What to Eat in Beppu? 

The most obvious choice you have are hard-boiled eggs. They aren’t just any eggs, those are eggs boiled using the hells! We tried them in the oil hell
Other than that, try pudding made by hot spring steam (Jigoku Mushiyaki Pudding).

What to do in the hells? 

Enjoy “ashi mizu” foot bath and Collect hell stamps for free!!!

Other things to note: 

The hells are open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

Beppu Scenery
       All in all, I am pretty happy with our decision to visit Beppu in Kyushu instead of going up north to Hokkaido. Our initial plan was to ski in Hokkaido but Kyushu turned out to be more fun! I just have one question bugging me: How do the people of Beppu survive Summer? It must be a real hell!

---- The End----

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