What is it like to visit Hot Springs in Japan

Hells Hot Spring in Japan

What is it like to visit Hot Springs in Japan

The city of Beppu in southern Japan is set on a steaming collection of geothermal hotspots.

Everywhere you look there are plumes of steam venting from the earth. Apparently it is the second largest source of thermal spring water on the planet after Yellowstone park in the USA. 

Hot Springs

The city is famous for the “Hells of Beppu” (“Jigoku”) consisting of eight hot springs (onsen)  These eight hot springs are for viewing rather than bathing.

Hells of Beppu hot spring
Hells of Beppu

6 of the hot springs are located in the Kannawa area whilst the other 2 are in the Shibaseki area.

Within each area you can walk between the hells but the distance between the two areas is about 3k away so whilst you can walk it is best to take a bus or taxi between the two locations. 

“Jigoku Meguri” is a “tour of the hells” when you visit all eight hot springs. It costs 400 yen (about £3.00) to enter each ‘hell’ or alternatively you can buy a booklet of tickets to see all of them for 2000 yen (about 15.00).

Hells Hot Spring in Japan
Hells Hot Spring : Image Inkmedia via Flikr

Each hell has a stamp and if you can be bothered to queue up you can stamp your tickets to show that you have visited the hot spring and keep as a souvenir.

The eight Hells are.

  • Kannawa District – Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell)
  • Oniishibozu Jigoku (Monks head)
  • Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell)
  • Oniyama Jigoku (Devil Mountain Hell)
  • Yama Jigoku (Mountain Hell…apparently has crocodiles)  
  • Kamado Jigoku, (Cooking pot hell)
  • Tatsumaki Jigoku (Tornado Hell)
  • Shibaseki District – Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell)
  • Tatsumaki Jigoku (Spout Hell….apparently this one is a geyser).

We did an cruise organised trip as I was on a Asia Cruise, to the Hells which also included a hot bath experience so we only visited 3 of the Hells. 

The first one we visited was Chinoike Jigoku (blood pond hell) in the Shibaseki District so called because it features a pond of boiling red water (apparently the colour is due to iron oxide).

The souvenir shops sells red clay products produced from this spring of hell, which are said to have medical benefits for eczema, burns, and various other skin disorders.

Then we drove to the Kannawa District for the next two ‘Hells’. The first one we went to was Oniishibozu Jigoku commonly known as “monks head”. 

Here the ponds were made of a muddy substance and the steam rose to the surface causing mud bubbles, which are said to look like the shaven heads of monks.

There was a foot bath at this location which was the prettiest of those we visited and looked like a round garden pond.

Unfortunately we were ushered onto the next hell as a group so that we could get our entrance tickets and didn’t have time to dip my toes into it.

The next “hell’ was located just a short walk across the car park. Umi Jigoku is commonly known as the “sea hell”

It features a main large pond of colbolt blue water but also has a few smaller orange coloured hells.

There is also a large pretty clear water pond which has lots of lotus flowers on the surface. At certain times of the year when the lotus leaves have grown large enough they put a green mat within the structure of the leaves allowing children up to a certain weigh to stand on the leaves and be photographed. 

It was the wrong time of year when I visited so I had to do with taking a picture of the board outside the obligatory souvenir shop. 

The foot bath here was covered over and wasn’t as pretty as the one at “monks head hell” but I didn’t have time to walk back to the prettier “monks head hell” footbath so I dipped my toes into this one. The water was quite warm and refreshing.

After visiting these 3 hells we went on to Hyotan Onsen for a hot spring bath.

The “Hells of Beppu” are too hot to bath in so you have to go to “onsen” to get the experience of bathing in hot springs.

hot springs in japan
image wikicommon

Hyotan Hot Spring

There are numberous onsen in Beppu but we were taken to one called the Hyotan hot springs.

Now the cruise was either sneaky and/or irrisponsible. The excursion information and the tickets clearly stated that swimwear was needed for the excursion, however once on the coach the Japanese tour guide dropped the bombshell that the bathing was done in the nude and there was no exception to this rule unless you paid extra money and hired a family onsen (kazoku onsen) where mixed bathing and bathing suits are allowed. 

Bathing was segregated with males and females having separate facilities…. but still it came as a bit of a shock to everyone especially as the average age on the coach was probably about 65yrs!!

It caused a bit of a munity on the bus and the poor tour guide got a lot of ear bashing. The other issue was that when we got there was also a notice which stated people with high blood pressure should not enter the bathing pools (thus exempting hubby!!!).

The entry fee was 700 yen (about £5.30) for adults and 200 yen (£1.50) for children. The family onsen was extra and hired by the hour. It cost 2150 yen for the hour (about £16.30) for max 3 adults with an extra 500 yen (about £3.80) for each additional adult and 200 yen for each child (about £1.52). Children under 3 are free of charge.

You enter the building into the reception where you have to remove you shoes and place them in a locker. You then take the locker key to the reception desk where they take the shoe locker key and give you another locker key which is on a wristband and a complementary towel in a bag (just larger than a face flannel and certainly not large enough to cover modesty!!!) You can hire a larger bath towel for 100 yen (about 75 pence)

Before leaving the reception area you pick a pair of Japanese wooden soled shoes and enter the courtyard. Women’s facilities are to the left, men’s to the right and then also to the right is there the mixed hot sand baths for both men and women.

The central courtyard contained a number of picnic tables, a snack bar and a restaurant which specializes in food steamed using the natural steam from the hot spring’s geysers.

Also in the middle of the courtyard was a tub of boiled eggs, which were cooked by a continuous stream of boiling onsen water coming out of a rock. They were 70 yen each (53 pence) paid on an honor system basis whereby you are trusted to leave coins into basket located next to the eggs for each egg you consume.

There was also a ‘facial’ steam station where you could inhale the steam. Not only does the stream give a good facial cleanse it is supposed to be a cure from everything from rheumatism to acne to asthma. The steam definitely smells like rotten eggs.

Only about 6 of the females on the coach (including myself) decided to give the naked bathing a go but I am not sure how many of the men went for the experience.  Those that decided to forego the experience were left having a foot bath in the footsie located outside in the car park!!

Once in the changing room you got undressed, locked everything in the locker and then headed to the hot spring area trying desperately to cover your modesty with whichever towel you had. Before entering the hot springs you are supposed to shower yourself down.

There were several different sized hot baths inside and a larger one outside.  Each pool has a different name Gourd bath, Sake Cup bath, Cypress bath, Stone bath, Waterfall bath, Pebble bath, Steam bath and Outdoor bath

Towels were not allowed anywhere in the spring water as it is considered unclean and disrespectful for the material to make contact with the hot spring water.

Myself and the other 5 women decided to stick together and bare all in the enclosed open air hot spring where the hot water flowed into the pool by a waterfall. It was very beautiful, peaceful and once we had got over the initial embarrassment quite liberating sitting outside in the altogther!!!

Inside I decided to try the waterfall bath which had a row of very powerful waterjets which you sat under and it gave a fantastic massage on the shoulder area if you sat under it correctly, if not it was quite painful on the head!!!

The other facility available was a hot sand bath but this was an extra cost and not included on our tour.  

If you did this you get a cloth robe called a yukata issued to you at reception. You then get changed in the changing room and have to walk across the courtyard to the sand bath wearing nothing but the yukata and a pair of paper pants you are also provided with.

The sand baths are mixed so men and women bath in the same location therefore you actually get to keep the yukata on and paper pants on!!! The idea of a sand bath is that you dig a hole in the sand, lie in the hole and then cover yourself in the sand which is heated by the heat of the springs.

The deeper you dig the hotter the sand is. Once you have finished the sand bath you shake and brush the sand off  off and then go to your gender appropriate hot springs to take the naked hot bath. 

Afterwards everyone who dared to bare all to take the plunge stated that they had really enjoyed the experience and found it quite liberating, but admitted that had they known that bathing had to be done naked they wouldn’t have booked the excursion.

Kit Kats in Japan

Before getting back on the coach and returning to the ship I popped into nearby supermarket to see if I could find a Kit Kat.  Why? I hear you asking.

Well Kit Kats are extremely popular in Japan they are everywhere!!! Apparently they are so popular because the name sounds like the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu,” or “you will surely win”.

It is common in Japan to give Kit Kats as a message of good luck and is often given as a gift to students before exams. (They are even available in boxes so that they can be posted!!!)

Apparently there have been over 300 different flavours of Kit Kat in Japan and more are being created all the time.

There are seasonal flavours and nearly every region has a signature flavour sold only in that part of the country. 

Unfortunately the supermarket only had a Green Tea flavoured multi pack consisting of little individually wrapped two finger mini bars about 2″ long.  I’m not really chocolate fan and absolutely hate tea of any sort so I was rather surprised that I quite like the green tea Kit Kat I tried. 

Experience recorded by friend and fellow traveller who visited the hot springs on a cruise.

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