The Heavenly and Hellish Onsens of Kyushu

by Louie Anne Batac

This month, we take you to Kyushu, Japan's third largest island, and one of the country's best kept secrets! Kyushu's subtropical climate and fascinating terrain offers travelers a wide-range of activities that are truly off the beaten path. Everything you could want in a Japan getaway exists right here, minus the hectic pace of the tourist-saturated hotspots like Tokyo or Kyoto. Five or six days in Kyushu would be ideal, but if only half that time is on your side, the one thing you must do (besides devour the famous Hakata Ramen) is to swim into one of the island's volcanoes!

Hakata Ramen
A bowl of hakata ramen's milky pork bone broth goodness is all you need to start off your Kyushu adventures

Well, not literally! There are nine volcanoes on Kyushu island, giving rise to some of the best onsen (Japanese hot spring) in the country. Each spring is unique in its water content, temperature, scenery, and setting. Some are casual and family-friendly while others are more intimate, secluded and surrounded by nature. Those seeking the latter can look to rural Yufuin Onsen in Oita Prefecture. With open skies at the foot of Mt. Yufuin, these onsen are consistently ranked as one of the top three in the region and a favorite among women.

Yufuin Onsen
Yufuin onsen in an open-air setting

Yufuin is also popular for its trendy main street, dotted with cafes and boutiques. A handful of establishments open their onsen to non-overnight guests so you can soak in with just a few hours to spare. Don’t forget to rinse before you enter the pool and observe onsen etiquette to maximize your comfort and enjoyment of the experience.

After a divine dip in Yufuin, stop by neighboring Beppu Onsen (also in Oita) for a rare opportunity to tour eight different "hells". Though these particular "hell" pools don’t allow for human frolicking (Would you really want to swim in hell, anyway?) there is much to see along the way.

Red Hell Onsen
Seeing "blood pond" is a risky attraction!

Try the tamago (eggs) boiled directly from the steam of “cooking pot” hell! You’ll find them in hanging baskets on the surface of the pool, or stationed on large rocks. Luckily, you needn’t retrieve them at your own risk as vendors will have the next batch of eggs ready for purchase. Just don’t leave any crumbs in your hand when you make your way to “monster” hell--the alligators in that hell pool bite!

Onsen Egg
How do you like your eggs?

Visitors will be relieved to learn that Beppu is the #1 hot springs producer in all of Japan, and those looking for more earthly onsen will be sure to find one among the many in town. No matter your preference, any onsen visit in Japan is sure to be memorable. Don’t stop with one when you can go hot-spring-hopping to many; and with temperatures as hot as 150 degrees Celsius, you could claim that you've been to hell and back!

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