Exploring Kyushu Part 3: Beppu, an All-Round Steamy Affair
Say the word “Beppu” to any Japanese person, and they will probably conjure up images of bubbling “hell” hot springs, steam billowing from sidewalks and pervasive smells of sulphur. Beppu is known as the hot spring capital of Japan, and for good reason. It has more hot spring spots than any other city in Japan, and from the moment you set foot in the modest, quaint town, you can’t help but fall in love with it.
We once again used the 3-Day Northern Kyushu SUNQ Pass we had previously purchased, taking the direct bus from Nagasaki to Beppu. At roughly 4 hours, the trip is not a short one as it pretty much travels from one side of Kyushu to the other. We were dropped a short walk from Beppu Station, and took a taxi to our accommodation for the night: Hotel Shiragiku. But more on that later.
Despite the dreary weather, we didn’t want to waste a moment, and so promptly received advice on where to eat the famous Jigoku Mushi and how to get there, as well as were lent a couple of umbrellas. Conveniently, the bus stop was located right outside the hotel so it was fairly straightforward.
“Jigoku mushi”, which translates literally to “hell steaming”, is a unique way of cooking found in Beppu, using powerful natural steam. One of the most famous places to have a hands-on experience of this method is Jigoku Mushi Kobo. Here, you can “cook” your own food in super hot steamy ovens for 500 yen per 30 minutes (30 minutes is all most people need). However, because there are only a limited number of ovens, and because this place is wildly popular, come early and be prepared to wait. The sign notified us of a 40 minute wait, but we ended up having to wait for nearly 90 minutes. Fortunately, you can use the steam and normal foot spa for free while waiting.
When it finally reached our turn, we were ravenous but fortunately the steam is so hot the food doesn’t take too long to cook. Staff will help you steam the food using a timer, sending you away to eat the food while you wait for the rest to be done.
Half-boiled egg + broccoli + tomato = 7 mins
Eggplant + shiitake + seafood = 15 mins
Sweet potato = 30 mins
The food was beautifully coloured after being healthily steamed, and the flavours were gentle and moist. We munched non-stop, dipping foods in salt or soy sauce as required.
After finishing our meal, we walked over to begin the Jigoku Meguri, a visit of 7 boiling “hells”, hot springs with water temperatures of almost 100 degrees celsius which are for beholding than soaking. At any of the 7 Hells, you can buy a pass booklet for all 7 Hells for JPY 2,000. With the SUNQ Pass, you even get 10% off.
The Hells were impressive and diverse in their colour and composition – there was a mud-looking one, a blue lake, a red “blood” lake, and even one filled with crocodiles.
Note that although five of the Hells are located closeby, two of them, Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Lake Hell) and Tatsumaki Jigoku (Geyser Hell) are 2.8 km away. So unless you are feeling particularly energetic, you will need to take a bus to get there. All the Hells close at 5pm, and since we were a little pressed for time, we only made it to the 5 close by.
Hotel Shiragiku (See Rooms)
After a steamy (and somewhat wet, due to the rain) day out, we headed back to Hotel Shiragiku, where dinner was an extravagant kaiseki course eaten in a private room.
As expected of a facility in Beppu, the hotel included both a Grand Bath and an outdoor open-air bath, both of which will do a fine job of soothing away the day’s tiredness.
Breakfast the next morning is a buffet at the restaurant on the 10F. The food is mostly Japanese-style but also features a delicious selection of breads, fruit and yoghurt.
Hotel Shiragiku is like a ryokan hidden inside a hotel – it has the atmosphere, service, and luxury of a traditional Japanese inn, but the convenience of a hotel. Located near the main station and with a bus stop right outside serving popular spots like Jigoku Mushi Kobo, Jigoku Meguri and the Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University, it’s definitely worth a stay.
Model: Takuya Komatsu is an actor/singer active in Asia. Originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, he has starred in dramas such as Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo 2013 and Fire Boys (2004), as well as released an album in Taiwan.