Kyushu's Best Onsen Hot Springs
Kyushu's Best Onsen Hot Springs: see a listing of the best onsen resorts in Kyushu including Yamada Bessou and Takegawara Onsen in Beppu and Otobaru Waterfall.
- Yamada Bessou
- Takegawara Onsen
- Beppu Beach Sand Bath
- Mud Baths
- Hidden Onsen
- Otobaru Waterfall
- Onsen Food
- Kansai Kisen Ferry
- Japan Onsens
Onsens in Kyushu 九州の温泉
Public onsen bath in Yufuin, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu
Kyushu, Japan's southern-most main island, features not only a great variety of landscapes and cultural heritage sites but also a wide variety of onsen hot spring baths.
Having lived in the past in Beppu, Kyushu's most amazing hot spring town, I had the opportunity to travel far and wide across the island. Checking out hot spring baths was always one of the great pleasures along the way.
Based on those experiences, I will recommend here some of the most exciting or unusual onsen baths I've encountered in Kyushu, some of them quite famous, others being rather hidden spots.
The entries are ordered to work as a sort of itinerary. Further information including access, admission fees and opening times are provided in the added links.
Yamada Bessou, Beppu, Oita
Yamada Bessou 山田別荘
The Yamada Bessou is a traditional hot spring ryokan I highly recommend as a place to stay in Beppu. It's conveniently located in easy walking distance from both JR Beppu Station and Kitahama Beach.
Opened in around 1930, the Yamada Bessou has kept the old charm of its early days - or rather, those charms have been brought back to life in the late 1990s.
With vintage objects on display all over and rooms in early Showa Period (1927-1989) style, staying at Yamada Bessou feels like having entered a time capsule, circa 1930, indeed. Just that the sanitary appliances are strictly up-to-date 21st century.
The Yamada Bessou operates its own outdoor onsen bath (rotenburo). It's a short walk through the garden and it is sheltered from any outside views by densely growing bushes, also serving as a sort of roof.
That bath is a kazoku onsen (family bath). You need to reserve a time slot to use it with the persons you want to take a dip with.
The reservation is free for staying guests, people staying elsewhere can also reserve a slot, for a small fee.
Kazoku onsen are very common in Kyushu, hot springs you enter solely with your special someone, with your family or with friends you feel comfortable with sharing a bath in the nude.
Yamada Bessou website in English: yamadabessou.jp
Takegawara Onsen, Beppu, Oita
Takegawara Onsen 竹瓦温泉
The most famous of all Beppu onsen is the Takegawara, in easy walking distance from Yamada Bessou or JR Beppu Station.
Takegawara Onsen is housed in a large and very picturesque late 19th century wooden structure.
It offers two sections: the regular bath with clear water and a sand bath. Both are gender-segregated.
Both baths are also somewhat of a challenge. With 46 degree Celsius, the clear water bath is very hot even for Beppu standards.
At the indoor sand bath, female attendants will bury you in hot sand for about 15 minutes. Resting motionless under the heavy load of sand does feel like being in a sort of hot spring grave - once you get released however and head for the showers, you feel like freshly born.
Takegawara Onsen English-language website city.beppu.oita.jp
Beppu Beach Sand Bath, Beppu, Oita
Beppu Beach Sand Bath 別府海浜砂湯
You can have the same experience of a sand bath also right on Beppu's Shoningahama Beach, a short bus ride from JR Beppu Station. Just that there, you rest in your sand grave under the open sky and have a great view over Beppu Bay while being shoveled in.
It's your choice - getting the experience inside an impressive historic building or out on the waterfront.
Beach Sand Bath English-language website city.beppu.oita.jp
Steam rising from the Onsen Hoyo Land mud baths, Beppu, Oita
Mud Baths 泥湯
Taking the bus bound for Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) from the west exit of Beppu and getting off at the Onsen Hoyo Land stop will get you another quite unique hot spring experience.
Beppu Onsen Hoyo Land is a mud bath (doroyu) and it is, at least partly, operated as a konyoku onsen (mixed gender bathing).
Entering Onsen Hoyo Land, men and women enter separate doors, leading to separate dressing rooms and showers.
Once stepping outdoors after the shower, however, guests have the option of staying in their respective gender-separated areas or heading for the konyoku (mixed) pools.
Both the segregated and the mixed pools feature mud-heavy hot water. Scoop the mud up from the ground and smear it all over your body and even your face. It's very healthy, said to be curing all sorts of skin diseases.
Just don't go there expecting any sight of a young Japanese beauty. Japanese girls tend to be shy and almost never enter the mixed bathing areas. Japanese old ladies do enter, though.
European tourists on the other hand tend to be a lot less inhibited - going there with a party of friends sharing baths in the mud pools all without costumes would raise no concerns at all.
Beppu Onsen Hoyo Land English-language website enjoyonsen.city.beppu.oita.jp/hoyolandonsen
Nabeyamanoyu, Beppu, Oita
Close to Beppu, there are a number of hot spring baths hidden in the mountains. They are located far beyond the end of poorly maintained mountain roads. Taxi drivers might refuse to take you up those roads - rightly so. Those roads are truly axle-breaking. It's better to walk them after taking a taxi to the end of paved stretch.
There, in the mountains, you find well maintained but absolutely unsupervised small onsen baths, usually of the muddy variety.
Go there with friends, undress, do as you please. But wait - the custom of cleaning yourself before entering the bath applies here as well. Even if just a rubber hose is provided for such pre-bath cleaning, use it.
The perhaps best well know of those hidden onsen is the Nabeyamanoyu (鍋山の湯), about a one hour walk from the Beppu Onsen Hoyo Land. See the location here on google maps.
Otobaru Waterfall, Beppu, Oita
Otobaru Waterfall 乙原の滝
Getting tired of all that hot spring water already? Walk up the valley behind the Rakutenchi Amusement Park and you will find a fairly large natural waterfall, the Otobaru Waterfall.
It's in a very secluded area and it has very few visitors. Ancient Buddhist stone statues have been placed on the rock walls surrounding the waterfall centuries ago.
Feel free to take a shower under the clean water plunging down the rocks from far above.
The expensive way: You can take the cable car up to the Rakutenchi Amusement Park, walk around there a little and then exit the amusement park via the back door. The amusement park might be of little interest though.
The cheap way: walk from the west exit of Beppu Station to the ground station of the cable car, then walk up the path parallel to the cable car. It's not that easy to find but there is one.
In either case, behind the back exit of the Rakutenchi Amusement Park, you find a tiny village. A small stream flows through the village. Follow that stream upwards. Beyond the village, into a forested valley and further up. After about a 40 minute walk, you will get to the Otobaru Fall.
Onsen steamed eggs and corn on sale, Kannawa, Beppu
Onsen-Steamed Food 地獄蒸し
Kannawa is the center of Beppu onsen. The neighborhood features not only many onsen ryokan guest houses, it is also home to the Kannawa jigoku (hells), boiling pools of hot spring water. Those are not for bathing, of course, they are however a popular destination in their own right.
In Kannawa, the steam of boiling onsen wells is used to prepare a type of food called jigoku mushi. Street stalls sell onsen-steamed eggs and various types of vegetables - the sulfurous steam giving them a very special taste.
There are several restaurants however, where you can prepare your own jigoku mushi dishes, the most famous and most easily accessible being the Jigokumushi Kobo on Kannawa's Main Street.
Just reserve a spot at one of the steamer pots (you can do that in person, no need to call in in advance), buy the food you want to steam either at the restaurant itself or at a nearby supermarket.
Fish, sea food and vegetables are steamed rather quickly, a whole chicken will take 3 hours.
The restaurant staff will teach you how to place the food into a basked and how to place the basket into the steamer. They also tell you how long each item needs to be steamed.
Working the steamer is quite an exciting adventure. Then sit down with your meal and a cold drink. It's delicious.
After the meal, you might want to take a little walk. Explore the back alleys of Kannawa. On cold but also on hot rainy days, they are shrouded in thick onsen steam, partly noisily jetting out of the strange contraptions used to direct the hot water to its destination at a hotel pool, ryokan or public bath, partly quietly wafting out of the gutters. Those street scenes feel like being straight out of a very strange ghost movie.
Read more about Kannawa Jigoku Mushi here
Sake is served at the Gorinka Ryokan, Yufuin, Oita
Yufuin, a town about 25 km inland from Beppu, is Beppu's main competitor for hot spring visitors.
While Beppu used to be a hot spring town traditionally geared towards groups of male visitors, a large and still thriving red light district included, Yufuin began to be marketed from the 1970s on as a sort of opposite to Beppu.
Yufuin being female-friendly, Yufuin being family friendly was the strategy. Nestling in a large valley, Yufuin features no high-rise buildings. Instead, most buildings are small wooden structures, many of them housing onsen ryokan with their own private baths.
Those ryokan range from the very luxurious to quite affordable but still very enjoyable.
My personal favorite is the Gorinka Ryokan (お宿 五輪花), a sort of tiny private village consisting of cottage guest houses, each with its own hot spring bath attached.
Once you enter your little house, staff will serve you a wooden tray with sake and glasses. That's meant to float on the bath water, the sake being imbibed while you rest in the hot water.
Groups of friends can rent those houses, enjoying the baths and the sake together.
Getting there: The easiest way is taking a taxi from JR Yufuin Station. The ride is about 700 yen.
While Yufuin can easily be reached from Beppu by bus or train, travel to the tiny onsen villages further out is most comfortably done by rental car.
One prime example of a remote but very pleasurable onsen village is Yunohira, about 10 km south of Yufuin.
Crammed into a narrow river valley, the main street of the village is one narrow steep road lined with onsen ryokan as well as public hot spring bath houses.People walk down the street in their geta wooden sandals and yukata bath robes freely.
If you look for a very picturesque but very quiet and relaxing bathing spot, Yunohira is the place to go.
Yakushinoyu, Amagase, Oita
Amagase 天ヶ瀬温泉 薬師湯
Traveling further west and shortly before reaching Hita city, a well-maintained historical town also known as the "Kyoto of Kyushu" due to the ancient streets in the city center, you reach a tiny town called Amagase.
Amagase is located on the banks of the Kusu River. While Amagase offers many hot spring hotels and ryokan, the most unusual bath in town is the Yakushinoyu, an open air bath in the dry part of the river bed.
Located in the center of Amagase, the Yakushinoyu is a communal bath. It's unattended and you just put 100 yen into a box if you want to use it.
It's not for the squeamish, though. There is hardly any dressing shelter and the bath itself is quite out in the open.
People used to visiting public nude bathing beaches in the west might just like it the way it is. For Japan, it is an absolute rarity.
Relaxing in the bath and watching the river quietly flow by a few feet away is quite a pleasure and I highly recommend it.
Find the Yakushinoyu Onsen in Amagase on Google maps here
Minami Aso Lunar Observatory, Kumamoto Prefecture
Minami Aso Lunar Observatory 南阿蘇ルナ天文台
Visiting the Aso Caldera should be on everyone's itinerary when traveling through Kyushu.
The Aso Caldera with all its volcanic history and presence also has very interesting onsen on offer.
But none of them is as far out as the Minami Aso Lunar Observatory. It combines hot springs with great French food and Kyushu's best views of the stars.
The Minami Aso Lunar Observatory features Kyushu's largest star-gazing telescope, the largest privately owned telescope in Japan.
A typical stay at the observatory ryokan includes a large French-style dinner making good use of locally grown products including the famous beef raised on the meadows of the Aso Caldera.
Then, you head for the indoor hot spring rock baths. After a good relaxing time in those, the sky is finally pitch-black dark.
Time to head to the observatory for a free tour (for staying guests) and to take a peek through the gigantic lens.
It's a guided tour. Sometimes the owner himself, sometimes one if his aides will explain to you all those stars you spot. Depending on the season, the mysterious ring around Saturn may be in clear sight, the Pleiades star cloud may stand out as a cluster of intense lights.
Did you know that the Japanese name for the Pleiades is Subaru and that the car company was named after it? Just look for the car maker's logo the next time you see a Subaru in a parking lot - it consists of a number of small stars. I never knew the meaning of those stars - until the guide in Minami Aso explained it.
Website partly in English: via.co.jp/en
View from a balcony at Ryokojin Sansou, Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Kirishima Ryokojin Sansou 霧島 旅行人山荘
Kirishima is a mountain range in southern Kyushu, stretching over the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures. Most of it is part of the wilderness of Kirishima - Yaku National Park.
Kirishima is a very active volcanic area and it occasionally makes the news with volcanic eruptions, especially of the Shinmoedake Volcano.
The Kirishima Ryokojin Sansou is an onsen hotel high up in the top range of the Kirishima mountains.
From afar, it looks like a regular modern hotel. It's not. Sure, the Ryokojin Sansou offers modern amenities, great food and both Japanese and western style rooms.
It offers however much more. You are out there in the midst of wild nature surrounded by forests. Views from the balcony of your room offer views to grazing deer right below. Clear weather provided, they also offer views all the way to Kinko Bay and the iconic and very active Sakurajima Volcano.
The Ryokojin Sansou offers a wide variety of onsen baths, most of them rotenburo (open air) style.
One of them, the Osumi no Yu, provides you with the view towards the Sakurajima Volcano while you are lounging in the hot water.
Other open air baths are scattered about in the nearby woods. Lighted-up paths lead to them.
You are very likely to see wild deer close-up right from your bath.
Rumors have it that wild boar also like to get into the vicinity of those forest baths. That tinges the bathing experience with a bit of danger though the chance of actually encountering boar is very low.
Staying at the Ryokojin Sansou also gives you the chance to explore the nearby wilderness with all its deep blue lakes.
Nearby farmer markets offer bananas and mango grown in Miyazaki Prefecture. To me, they are the tastiest bananas and mango I ever ate. Absolutely delicious.
View over Kinko Bay from Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture
Ibusuki is located about 50 km south of Kagoshima city, on the very southern end of Kyushu Island.
It's a very scenic town, situated right where the Kinko Bay merges with the Pacific Ocean.
Ibusuki is especially famous for its sea-side sand baths, facing Kinko Bay. So, if you didn't get a chance to take a sand bath in Beppu, here you can also get the full experience.
My favorite onsen hotel in Ibusuki is however the Ibusuki Seaside Hotel (指宿シーサイドホテル). Located right on the Kinko Bay beach, the Seaside Hotel has retained the flair of an old Showa era tourist hotel.
The hotel was opened in 1960. Of course, it has been brought up to modern standards during its long tenure but the old charm still prevails.
It is the kind of modern hotel people stayed at when they visited the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games but decided for a further exploration of the country.
As with many onsen hotels, you need to reserve your dinner when booking your room. Dinner is only served during a certain time span in the early evening.
There are, of course, other options of eating in town on your own if you don't want to book the hotel dinner but they are mostly limited to rather basic food like curry, ramen or Korean barbecue.
What I liked best about the staying at the Ibusuki Seaside Hotel was, beside the grand balcony overlooking Kinko Bay, the onsen bath on the ground floor.
As great as the views were from the balcony in the evening, the view from the bath in the morning topped it.
Stretching out comfortably in the large indoor bath of the hotel, I could see the sun rise over Kinko Bay through the large glass front. It was a powerful sight before heading to the rich breakfast buffet.
English-language website of Ibusuki Seaside Hotel ibusuki-seaside.co.jp
Entrance to the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Yakushima Island 屋久島
If you have made it that far south of Kyushu, you may just as well take the ferry trip to Yakushima Island from Kagoshima Harbor.
Now, Yakushima is an UNESCO World Heritage Island for all its ancient cedar tree forest. It's gorgeous and you can actually swim in some of the island's rivers. They provide clear fresh water and an incredible scenery.
Yakushima has also quite a number of onsen baths.
My favorite one is the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen (平内海中温泉). Located in the southwest of the island, this onsen is often below sea level. You can only access it at low tide.
The onsen hot springs gush out inside rock pools, filling them with hot water at low tide.
Ocean waves might still crash over you while taking a hot bath on a windy day. You sit inside the sea - in the warmth of a hot spring. It's quite amazing.
The Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen is a communal hot spring. Put 100 yen into the provided box before entering it.
Bathing is konyoku - mixed gender style. There are no dressing partitions, so this is a place for the rather uninhibited.
But no matter how adventurous you are, scan the pool you are going to enter very carefully, especially if you get to the bath right after the tide subsided.
Poisonous sea snakes also like the warmth of the hot springs - you don't want to share a bath with one of those.
Right next to the onsen is the Minshuku Kaichu Onsensou (民宿 海中温泉荘), a small ryokan guesthouse offering rooms and food for very reasonable prices. It's a great place to stay - and it always has the information on the time of the tide changes.
Explore the Yakushima Island when the local tide is high while being sure to catch the low tide for a bath at the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen.
Minshuku Kaichu Onsensou on google maps (info includes tel. number, address, etc.)
Kansai Kisen Ferry
Kansai Kisen Ferry 関西汽船フェリー
Beppu, the hot spring center in the northeast of Kyushu would be the best place to start any Kyushu onsen tour. Beppu can of course easily be reached by a flight to Oita Airport from Tokyo Haneda. Beppu is only 40 minutes by bus from Oita Airport.
I personally would however recommend a slower but much more interesting way getting there: the Kansai Kisen Ferry connecting Osaka directly with Beppu.
The ferry, offering cabins in a wide array of designs and prices as well as cheap common sleeping areas, leaves the Osaka terminal in the early evening. Many people get on deck to see the city slowly vanish in the sunset.
Then, it's time for dinner. The ferry's large self-service restaurant offers a great variety of Japanese and international dishes. Mostly small items that you can combine at will on your tray before heading to the cashier.
Relax, have a few drinks and look out the restaurant windows. The brightly lit up city of Kobe will pass by. Shortly after, the ship passes through below the Akashi Kaikyo Road Bridge connecting mainland Honshu Island with Awaji Island just off the shore of Shikoku. The highway crossing the sea is the main road connection between Honshu and Shikoku Island, another one of Japan's main islands.
The impressive bridge is lit up in a blueish light and many people scramble to take a photo shot of it.
Once the ship is past the bridge, total darkness has set in. This being a night boat, unfortunately almost no glimpse of the many islands of the islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea can be had.
Soon, things get quiet on the ship, people settling down to sleep.
Now is the best time to head out of your cabin to visit the onsen hot spring bath.
That's right, there is a large bath on board. Your cabin is equipped with yukata robes, gowns typically worn on the way to the bath. Strip down to your underwear, put the yukata on, get in the sandals also provided.
On board, wearing the yukata in public areas is absolutely acceptable.
The hot spring bath is divided by gender. Make sure to get into the entry marked 男 (otoko) if you are a man and to dive down below the noren curtain labeled 女 (onna) if you are a woman. English-language signs assist, of course. Also, as always, the curtains for the male section are blue, the curtains for the female section are red.
Once inside, undress and head for the showers next to the bath. Scrub yourself well. You need to be clean before entering the bath.
The bath itself is just for relaxation, for stretching out your body in the comfortably hot water.
There is no cover charge for the bath and you can stay in the hot water for as long as you want.
The boat enters Beppu Bay in the early morning. Persistent public speaker announcements make sure you won't oversleep even if you had another glass of shochu or two after your bath.
Breakfast is on offer at the ferry's restaurant. Make sure, though, to get on deck soon. The sight of Beppu city is unique: between the houses covering the area between the bay and the mountains right behind, hundreds of steam columns rise up to the sky.
Those belong to the famous Beppu onsen. How many you will see on any particular morning depends much on the weather. In hot dry air, the steam columns dissolve quickly. On cold and rainy days, however, the whole city seems to be engulfed by hellish steam clouds. It's an unforgettable view.
Kansai Kisen Ferry website in English:
Read more about Kyushu hot springs