Beppu is one steamy city. Seriously.
Poke a hole almost anywhere in the ground in this seaside city and you’ll release a massive amount of hot air. Oita is considered the onsen capital of Japan and Beppu is arguably the place with the highest proliferation of hot springs per square kilometer.
But the most famous onsen in Beppu are the ones that are actually too hot to enter. These are the jigoku, or “hells”. Bubbling away at the average temperature of 100* Celcius, each pool has something unique about it. Six of the onsen are clustered together on the slopes of the Kannawa District, while the last two are a short distance away in the Shibaseki neighborhood.
1. Umi Jigoku
This was probably my favorite of the hells. The waters are a stunning cerulean blue … if you can see them through the swirling steam the ground emits. The surrounding gardens are beautifully landscaped and in summertime, the pond is awash with lotus blooms. During Obon week (mid-August), they actually have a program where kids under 20kg can stand on the massive lily pads in the pond.
2. Oniishibozu Jigoku
Right next to Umi Jigoku, this hell looks like someone trying to boil a pot of clay on the stove. The bubbles that emerge from the depths of the pool are actually a bit mesmerizing. This is the only onsen that offers an actual “people onsen” right next door (¥600 for adults, looked quite attractive from a difference).
3. Yama Jigoku
Truthfully, there wasn’t much going for this “mountain” onsen, directly across from the Oniishibozu hells. The “mountain onsen” has a small bubbling pond and the rest of the grounds are devoted to a small, somewhat sad, zoo. Little kids may enjoy feeding the clutch of baby rabbits in one of the pens but in truth, all of the animals would be better off elsewhere.
4. Kamado Jigoku
Just down the hill a bit, this is the “cooking pot” onsen. Watched by a collection of vigilant oni (demons), this is the onsen in which to grab a bite to eat. Enjoy onsen pudding, onsen tamago (eggs hardboiled in the onsen waters) and various snacks. There is a footbath on site and a place where you can steam open the poors on your face for that perfect, glowing complexion.* (*Individual results may vary. 😛 )
5. Oniyama Jigoku
I’d like to tell you I took stock of the surroundings of this “monster mountain hell” but I pretty much just kept my head down and walked through from beginning to end without seeing much of anything. Why? This onsen is home to a number of alligators, an animal that I have … weeeeeeelllllll, loathed is such a very strong word …. since my childhood. (No, I never had a terrible encounter with an alligator. Just a lifelong irrational fear.) As with the other “yama” onsen above, this isn’t one that’s really worth a stop.
6. Shiraike Jigoku
“White pond onsen” has some nice landscaping and a host of interesting fish that live in aquariums around the pool. Alright, not THAT interesting. But I found them more palatable than the alligators. The highlight of this onsen is its position across from a very good pudding shop. This is also the southernmost of the six onsen in the Kannawa cluster.
7. Chinoike Jigoku
This onsen carries the moniker of “blood pond”, appropriate since the color of the water here is a bold red. A small path leads up the side of the cliff to give you an overview of the entire onsen here. It’s hard to judge which is larger here; the pool or the souvenir shop you have to pass through to reach it.
8. Tatsumaki Jigoku
This onsen reminded me of “Old Faithful”, the geyser that erupts every so many minutes in America’s Yellowstone National Park. The geyser here erupts with greater frequency and a longer duration, if you don’t catch the “show” in time, there is a short walking trail you can explore in the meantime. In spring and summer, the trail is lined with various flowers and a host of butterflies.
You can visit each of Beppu’s hells individually (admission is ¥400 per onsen) or buy a combination ticket for ¥2100 that admits you too all eight jigoku. Frankly, if you’re short on time, I’d hit the first two on the list and, if you can, maybe the last two because they’re also visually unique (though more difficult to reach). Nowhere else in Japan can quite measure up to Beppu’s hells – if you’re in the city, it’s worth at least a bit of your sightseeing time.