Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu’s famous onsen town

In September 2018, while we were still living in Fukuoka, we took a couple of days off to visit Beppu and celebrate Rob’s birthday. The only requirements for the trip were to relax, so I figured Japan’s most famous onsen town was the perfect place to go!

Beppu is a small city located right above Oita City in Oita prefecture on the east coast of Kyushu. The easiest way to get there from other parts of Kyushu is by train, but you can also fly from Tokyo to Oita. Beppu is famous for its hundreds of onsen – from 5-Star private ryokan to tiny indoor onsen and free public foot baths.

The Train Ride

We couldn’t wait to try out our own private bath with pure hot spring water. I booked a room at the beautiful Ryokan Nagomitsuki and train tickets for the Yufuin No Mori which is a lovely vintage-style slow-train.

We slept in and hopped on the train at Hakata Station around lunchtime. The train made a few stops in residential Fukuoka before traveling to Kurume, and later winding through the mountains until it reached Yufuin; a famous onsen village. Afterwards the train slowly descended towards the ocean, taking us to the seaside cities of Oita and Beppu.

Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
Paved streets in Beppu

Beppu City

The first thing we noticed when we hopped off the train was misty clouds of steam rising up everywhere throughout the city, giving the feeling of a Japanese steampunk wonderland. It must be a great way to stay warm in winter! We explored the residential backstreets of Beppu Daigaku before making our way to the ryokan, which is an amazing blend of modern and traditional Japanese design. The manager was waiting out front and greeted us kindly before explaining about mealtimes and showing us how the amenities in our room worked.

Ryokan Nagomitsuki

Our gorgeous room included a wooden bath on the balcony, overlooking the traditional Japanese garden. As soon as we saw it we had to try it out (Tip: if you don’t like scalding hot water you’ll want to add in some cold first!) The steamy hot spring water rushing out of the taps is full of minerals with healing benefits. It’s said that different types of water have different properties. You can learn more here.

The wooden bath and fresh evening air were so relaxing that we couldn’t help but take a nap afterwards. Later we put on our cotton yukata and went down to the dining hall for our incredible Japanese feast. I organised someone to speak to the chef in advance and he was kind enough to veganise all the courses for me, while Rob enjoyed many different types of seafood. We had tofu, noodles, rice, miso, fruit and dozens of different seasonal veggies. The 10-course kaiseki meal went far beyond our expectations! The chef did an amazing job of combining different textures, colours and seasonal flavours, and we left extremely full after 2 hours of non-stop eating.

Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
The bedroom at Ryokan Nagomitsuki
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town Ryokan Nagomitsuke
Steaming hot thermal water gushes out of the wooden bath on the balcony

We woke up at 7 and had a very relaxing morning hot spring bath with fresh air and the sounds of sleepy birds. Breakfast was at 8am and it was another traditional feast of tofu, miso, rice, fish, green tea and lots of veggies! In the soft morning light we could see how much care they’d put into creating the zen Japanese garden.

Beppu Jigoku Thermal Area

We checked out at 10 and headed to Beppu Station to store our bags, before catching a local bus headed to Kannawa Onsen. We didn’t do much research before the trip, but I’d heard about the Beppu Jigoku (Onsen ‘Hells’) and wanted to see a few of them. There are eight boiling hot onsen in the area (just for sightseeing, they’re too hot to bathe in!) and they all have different names and themes based on their colours and temperatures. The Jigoku areas are separate and cost roughly ¥400 to enter each one, or you can buy a pass to see them all.

Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
Kanawa Onsen starting point
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town

We found the Jigoku area a little too touristy for our liking, but they’re still an interesting part of Beppu, and worthwhile if you’ve never seen a thermal area before (we’ve seen a lot in New Zealand).

My favourite was Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond); it was unexpectedly quiet and the milky white water was very soothing to stare into for a while.

We also visited Kamadojigoku and Oniyamajigoku which featured varying shades of brown, blue and red from the minerals in the water. Kamadojigoku even has a free footbath you can try! This was by far the busiest Jigoku, so if you’re looking for somewhere quieter, take a peek into the entrance of each area before buying your ticket.

Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town Beppu Jigoku
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town

Kannawa Onsen backstreets

If you get all hot and bothered wondering around the steamy Jigoku, head back down the cobblestone path to the Kannawa Onsen town area. The magical backstreets are full of vintage shops and eateries, tiny onsen and nostalgic ryokan. Try out one of the public onsen or stop at a traditional restaurant for lunch.

Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town
Soaking in Beppu – Kyushu's famous onsen town

More to See

Beppu is also known for its hot sand baths which you can try down at the beach. If you’re looking for breathtaking views, take the ropeway up to Mt Tsurimi on a clear day for an amazing panorama of the city and the coast.

Getting There

From Fukuoka: Take the nostalgic and slow sightseeing train, Yufuin No Mori train or the express train, the Sonic. One goes through the mountains and the other runs along the coast. We took both to see all the views!

Getting around: take the local busses by waiting at the bus stop. The timetables are pretty accurate

Do you love onsen? Have you been to Beppu? Let us know in the comments!