One night in Beppu in Kyushu (we spent two!) will be enough to make you realise why it’s one of Japan’s most famous hot spring (onsen) resorts. Those clouds rising above the buildings and in the mountains thankfully aren’t fires, but are in fact steam rising from vents in the earth.
With so much steam, there’s plenty of opportunity for a proper Japanese onsen experience. Aside from the conventional onsen baths (there are as many as eight springs in Beppu, meaning it produces more hot spring water than any other resort in Japan), you can also partake in a sand bath or mud bath. Being buried up to your neck in naturally-heated sand and/or mud is very good for the skin, after all!
A train from Fukuoka (Hakata station) to Beppu takes just under 2 hours and is fully covered by the JR Pass. We were lucky enough to catch a dance performance in the train station before taking a taxi to our hotel high up in the mountains (for the best views of Beppu, head for higher ground). I’ll eventually do a blog on the hotels I’ve stayed in whilst travelling in Japan but, in case you’re planning a Beppu trip now, I highly recommend the Suginoi Hotel, where we had great views of both the sweeping bay and rugged hills.
Beppu is a very popular destination for Japanese and Asian tourists, and the only westerners seemed to be staying at our hotel! Many of the visitors and residents were of retirement age and the city itself felt like to tranquil sort of place a lot of people retire to – even though it’s technically a city. Given the steep mountains and spread of buildings, the best way to get around is via reliable tourist bus or taxi.
Despite Beppu’s reputation for onsen, we didn’t actually spend that much time in them because our next destination was the hot spring town of Kurokawa, meaning potential hot spring overload. We sampled Onsen Hoyo Land’s mud baths and the Suginoi Hotel’s rooftop onsen, which offers amazing views of the city. Japan Guide has a handy Beppu onsen guide, which offers much more useful recommendations…
Beppu is definitely somewhere to chill out and unwind but if you want to do some sightseeing – head to the hells of Beppu!