Beppu is associated in all Japanese minds with one thing : hot springs. This small town of 140,000 inhabitants in out-of-the-beaten track Oita prefecture would definitely not figure on a tourist map were it not for the astonishing geothermal activity underneath it, that has made its fortune.
There are no less than 3000 thermal springs ("onsen") in Beppu, attracting 12 million (almost exclusively Japanese) tourists annually. But Beppu isn't just any 'onsen' resort. Contrarily to the traditional ryokan and yukata atmosphere found elsewhere in Japan, Beppu is modern, concrete-built and has a well-deserved reputation for tackiness.
There are two kinds of onsen in Beppu : the ones for batheing and the ones for watching. The latter is typical of Beppu and is called "the Hells" ("onsen jigoku"). The "onsen jigoku" are :
- "Tatsumaki jigoku" ("geyser", with watersprout every 30 minutes)
- "Umi jigoku" ("sea", with hot, blue water)
- "Chinoike jigoku" ("blood pond", made of hot, reddish water)
- "Shiraike jigoku" ("white pond", with milky water)
- "Kinryū jigoku" ("golden dragon", with such a statue)
- "Kamado jigoku" (with a demon statue)
- "Oniishibozu jigoku" ("shaven head monks", with muddy bubbles)
- "Oniyama jigoku" ("demon's mountain", with crocodiles raised around the onsen)
- "Yama jigoku" (with various animals)
Chinoike jigoku ("pool of blood") hotspring, Beppu
Shiraike jigoku hotspring, Beppu
Admission to each "onsen jigoku" costs ￥550, but it is more advantageous to buy a combined ticket for the 9 places for ￥2000. The two most impressive are the Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku. The Yama Jigoku has a hippopotamus, an elephants, flamingoes and other animals, while Oni Yama Jigoku has crocodiles, but do not have any impressive hot springs.
Buses No 2, 5, 7, 17, 41 and 43 go to the Hells (get off at "Umi Jigoku Mae") from Beppu JR Station West Exit (15 to 20min, ￥320). Buses No 16 goes to the Chinoike and Tatsumaki Jigoku (10min, ￥180) from Kannawa Station (near Shiraike Jigoku).
Another attraction for those fed up with hot springs is the Hihokan Sex Museum (literally "Secret Treasure Hall", entry ￥1000), with displays of erotica mostly from Japan, India, Tibet and Paua New Guinea. The exhibits also include a giant wooden phallus, real size phalluses of two dozens animals, from whales and horses to dogs and rabbits, as well as numerous ukiyoe paintings and kama sutra statuettes. The museum is just opposite the Oni Yama Jigoku Onsen.
Onsen jigoku, Beppu
Yama jigoku hotspring, Beppu
How to get there
There are highway buses run by Nishitetsu to/from Hakata/Fukuoka (2h40min, ￥3,100, or ￥2000 if 4 tickets are purchased at the same time). Buses leave from Hakata and Tenjin stations, pass through Fukuoka Airport and arrive at Kitahama station in Beppu (10min walk from the JR station).
Trains between Hakata and Beppu take about 2 hours, or 90 minutes changing to the shinkansen line at Kokura (￥3,500). Limited express trains to/from Shimonoseki via Kokura take about 1h15min (￥2500).
Oita airport is 45 minutes by bus from Beppu. ANA has flights to Tokyo (Haneda), Nagoya, Osaka (Itami) and Okinawa, while JAL has flights to Tokyo (Handea) and Tokyo (Haneda).