We were up bright and early on New Year’s Day and had a brisk walk on a fresh winter morning to the bus station. Tenjin bus station was a strange one; located on the third floor of a department store-like building, the buses have to descend a long ramp down to ground level before continuing on their way. The three hour journey took us east to another new prefecture, and another new city called Beppu.
Beppu is famous for the “Beppu Hells”, a series of fantastic hot springs dotted around the mountains. The area was opened up for tourism by the scary guy in the statue by the station, and now is probably one of the most famous spots on Kyushu.
We arrived around lunchtime, and after dropping off our bags at the hostel jumped on a bus to the springs. The bus takes about 15 minutes to the first five springs, which are all within walking distance of each other; you need to take a second bus another 5 minutes to see the final two springs. Although you can get individual entry to each spring, most people bought a combo ticket for 2000yen allowing you entry to all seven. Each Hell has different characteristics, so it’s definitely worth getting the combo ticket.
First was the Sea Hell, which was bright blue and steaming hot. Probably one of the more visually appealing springs, it was so hot that steam was constantly streaming off of it.
Just up the road from the Sea Hell was the Mud Hell, through which hot water bubbled creating little mushroom-shapes (the Japanese name describes these as monks’ heads).
Next came the kamado Hell, which seemed to be a greatest hits of all the others, with some brightly coloured water.
The Crocodile Hell, whose waters supposedly provide the perfect breeding conditions for crocodiles. Although perfect for breeding, the conditions weren’t ideal as there were a huge number of crocs squashed together into pools which looked less than comfortable.
The White Water Hell was probably the easiest on the eye; a milky-white pool was surrounded by a well-sculpted garden.
A short bus-ride down the hill from the first five springs took us to the final two. The Blood Hell is probably the most-famous spring there, as it appears on all the posters and advertising. The big selling point is that due to the iron content of the water, they are bright red; by the time we got there, however, it was a little late in the day and the waters didn’t appear as vivid as I expected.
Finally the Tornado Hell; a natural geyser that is renowned for the frequency of its spurts. The geyser spurts (spouts?) roughly every 40 minutes for a duration of about 8 minutes; we arrived just as it was finishing, so due to that drop of bad luck had to sit around waiting for another 4o minutes for it to start again. The force of the spurt has been restricted by a stone roof which blocks the water’s passage; it’s said that if that hadn’t been placed there, the water would reach a height of over 30m.
We were only in Beppu for one day as on our whistlestop tour had to keep moving. New Year’s Day seems to be the one day in Japan where things actually close, so the only place we could find to eat was a random pasta place by a main road! After dinner we headed back to the hostel and had a good rest, ready to continue our journey the following day.