If you are one of those people who like to let your fingers turn wrinkly after a long swim or shower, you’ll love Beppu. Located on the western island of Kyushu, it is home to some of the most geo-thermal activity in the world. As a result, Beppu is the pinnacle of onsen culture. Thanks to nearby Mt. Aso, the entire town of Beppu is built on deep pockets of scolding steam. One might otherwise forget about this fact, and the charming little town built on it, if it wasn’t for the steam rising from cracks in the sidewalks, sewer vents and half-pipes. Leave it to the Japanese to have cleverly harvested it’s power by turning potentially dangerous cravats of heat to stellar onsens where one can get anything from a therapeutic sand bath to a steam inhaling session.
Beppu has marketed some of the largest–and hottest–bodies of water as “The Eight Hells.” These are not for dipping, however. Most of them are well beyond boiling point and serve better as a great place to take photos. While each are unique, the most noteworthy are Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) — a vibrant cobalt blue — and Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pool Hell) — which is a deep red and bubbles to the surface just below boiling point. Tourists can purchase tickets to each of the “Hells” for 400 yen, or they can purchase a ticket that includes all eight “Hells” for 2,000 yen. An afternoon is plenty of time to catch a bus to several of these “Hells,” although the more ambitious can walk to all of them.
The onsens at Beppu comprise some of the most diverse onsens in Japan. Sand baths, mub baths, fluorescent baths, outdoor and indoor baths, scented baths and more can be found here. One of the outdoor mud baths is so reputable, that even Mother Theresa paid it a visit. Beppu has mastered the zen of relaxation.
The steam has not only produced some of the best onsens in Japan, but it is also nature’s best boiling pot. Street vendors sit straw baskets of corn and raw eggs over cracks in the sidewalk for several minutes, and sell the finished products to locals and tourists. I have never had a juicier corn on the cob in my life. If you’re in western Japan, why not go to heaven in Beppu…or one of the hells?
For more information see the Beppu City Guide.