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A Myriad of Hot Spring Qualities and Bathing Styles


Steam rises from every quarter of the alley. (Photo courtesy of Oita Prefecture Tourism Association).

The Kyushu region, blessed with a mild climate and geography, and delicious foods from the sea and mountains, attracts large numbers of tourists from home and abroad. In the central part of Oita prefecture, located in the northeastern part of this region, is Japan's representative hot spring tourist spot, Beppu City. Close to 90,000 liters of hot spring water gushes out every minute, and 10 out of the world's 11 spring qualities exist here. The hot spring sources, of which there are said to be 2500, offer a variety of bathing styles and an abundance of specialties named after the hot springs. One can soak leisurely in a little-known spring in the mountains or hop from one hot spring facility to another. You'll want to enjoy your own healing journey to your heart's content.

Cooking with the hot spring steam

Steam spouting from every quarter of the city and a smell of sulfur that hangs in the air. Beppu is composed of eight areas full of individuality, including "Beppu hot spring" in the center of the city, "Kankaiji hot spring", located on a hill 150 meters above sea level with an outstanding view of Beppu bay, and "Kamegawa hot spring" by the coast, where you can experience a sand steam bath while listening to the sound of the sea. Among these, the atmosphere of a traditional hot spring town can be enjoyed at the popular “Kannawa hot spring.”

Located on the hillside of mount Tsurumi, it is a 25 minute-ride by bus from Beppu station. An anecdote, which tells of how Buddhist monks took control of, and pioneered the raging land almost 700 years ago, remains in this old-style hot spring village, which is characterized by conspicuous fumaroles of steam popping up here and there throughout the town in such numbers as to obstruct visibility. The streets are enriched with rest facilities where you can casually stop by with footbaths, stone saunas and the like.


Enjoy a total of eight hells on the “jigoku” tour, including the cobalt blue “Sea hell” (Umi jigoku), the “Blood pond hell” (Chinoike jigoku), in which the whole surface of the lake is dyed red, and the “Spout hell” (Tatsumaki jigoku) where hot water gushes dynamically from the hell. (Photo courtesy of Oita Prefecture Tourism Association).

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Ingredients are steamed all at once using steam
from the hot spring. Healthy cuisine with excess fat is removed - "Hell steamed” cuisine.
Rich flavored "Hell steamed pudding" steamed using vapor from the hot spring. (Photo courtesy of OKAMOTOYA).

In addition, the area around Kannawa hot spring is also known as the center of the eight "Jigoku" tour in the city. The name "Jigoku" means "Hell" in English and is said to have been so-named many years ago because of the jets of scalding water and steam at 100℃, and the eruptions of hot mud, which no-one could approach. In the intervals between ascending steam spouts, one can steel a peek at the hells, amongst which are the mystical cobalt blue hot water of the Umi jigoku or “Sea hell”, or the frequently erupting geyser of the Tatsumaki jigoku or “Spout hell”, and in so doing, experience the mystery and power of the earth.

A type of specialty cuisine which can only be enjoyed in Kannawa, is the “Hell steamed” cuisine, which uses the steam spouting from the earth. Until a few years ago, local residents and long-term hot spring guests were able to enjoy the cuisine in relative secrecy, but the opening of an experience facility three years ago ignited a boom. Preparation is simple and all that is required is to add the desired ingredients to a pot on the jets of natural steam and leave them to steam for 10~30 minutes. The minerals contained in the hot spring bring out the inherent flavor of the ingredients.

Take home a hot spring

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“YUNOHANA Koya” of Myoban hot spring, woven from straw and bamboo. (Courtesy of Myoban Yunosato). Yunohana” crystallized in the huts. (Photo courtesy of Myoban Yunosato).

Near the summit of Mount Tsurumi, at a height of 350 meters above sea level, is the little-known spring area of “Myoban hot spring,” known for its milky white sulfur springs and mineral mud baths, which are rare even in Japan. The production method of “Yunohana” (flowers of the hot spring) bath salts, by which the natural components contained in the hot spring are condensed, has been handed down from generation to generation for 300 years. Yunohana crystals, formed by causing a chemical reaction between the hot spring vapor and blue clay, are created in “YUNOHANA Koya”, woven out of bamboo and straw, like ancient dwellings. The salts are effective in moisturizing skin and maintaining body warmth after a bath.

“Takegawara hot spring,” with its specialty sand bath, is not to be missed in the central Beppu hot spring area. The current building was re-built in 1938 in the magnificent architectural style of the so-called “Kara hafu irimoya” (Chinese-style gable gambrel roof) and has remained as such, and has been designated as a national modernization heritage. Ten minutes from Beppu station, this entire district can be visited and has become a popular spot, immersed in a nostalgic atmosphere, interspersed with such attractions as Japan's oldest shopping arcade completed a century ago, communal bathhouses, and back alley views.

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Warm your body from the core, by being covered with sand heated by the hot spring, at the steam bath of “Beppu Kaihinsunayu.”
Rare even in Japan, the mineral mud bath of “Beppu recreation land.” The specific gravity of the mud is heavy giving the feeling of floating in the water.
The gorgeous Kara hafu style roof of the municipal “Takegawara hot spring” is a landmark and a symbol of Beppu tourism.


Japanese macaques of Takasakiyama. (Courtesy of Takasakiyama Natural Zoo).

Takasakiyama, which can be reached by car in fifteen minutes from Beppu station, is home to Japan's largest colony of Japanese macaques, and the wild monkeys live in a natural state without cages. At this natural zoo, one can observe a total of 1300 monkeys at close proximity, comprised of two colonies led by two boss monkeys. Legend has it that you will be blessed with good luck if monkeys running up to the feeding grounds pass through between your legs.

A treasure trove of seafood


Sashimi of “Seki horse mackerel” fished off the coast of Oita Prefecture using a pole-and-line method.

The Bungo Strait, off the coast of Oita Prefecture, has a fast tidal current and is a treasure trove of seafood, blessed with abundant feed. In particular, “Seki mackerel” and “Seki horse mackerel,” fished by local fishermen using a pole-and-line method and put into a fish tank to prevent injury, are a premium brand, which is well-known across the country. If eaten as sashimi, the lean flesh has an almost crunchy texture with a moderate amount of fat and a rich flavor.

Dangojiru” (dumpling soup) is a famous example of home cooking, unique to the locality, consisting of vegetables and flour dumplings stewed in a miso soybean paste soup. A rustic sweet, “Yaseuma,” uses the same dumpling dough and is sprinkled with kinako soyabean flour and sugar. “Toriten” (chicken tempura), savory chicken fried in oil, originated in a Beppu restaurant. One bite and the meat juices flow from the lightly textured thin batter.

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Dangojiru” home cooking including seasonal vegetables stewed in a miso soybean paste soup. (Courtesy of SHINANOYA)
Japanese style sweet, “Yaseuma,” served on a "Onta-yaki" plate, a noted product of Oita, characterized by its geometric pattern. (Courtesy of AMAMICHAYA).
Freshly fried delicious "Toriten” (Chicken tempura). (Courtesy of SUGANO)

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"Beppu towel" with the charm of classic illustrations of nearly a half century ago. Brushes and combs of crafted boxwood which bring out the gloss and increase the shine as they are used. (Courtesy of BEPPU TSUGE KOUGEI).

As a memento of your trip we recommend “Beppu towels,” reprinted from woodblocks produced in the 1950s. Classic illustrations drawn on the towels, including pictures of a young girl with a ribbon on her head or a young baseball player, convey a charm that is absent in today's generation. There is a growing interest in boxwood crafts “Tsuge zaiku” as a representative craft of Oita Prefecture. Hairbrushes made from shaved hard boxwood and soaked in camellia oil have a reputation for not damaging your hair.

(March 2014)

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