No visit to Kyushu would be complete without a stop in the famous spa city of Beppu(別府). Beppu is a city that appears as if it’s about to blow up, as steam rises from the ground at any given opportunity. A steady parade of tourists visit throughout the year for the hot springs. In addition to hotel onsen, there are many public bathhouses you can go to. Aside from the typical onsen you bathe in, one of Beppu’s biggest attractions is the “Jigoku Meguri (地獄めぐり)”, otherwise known as the “Hell Tour”.
The 8 Hells of Beppu are natural hot spring sites, and each one has been converted into its own miniature theme park. 6 of the Hells are situated on the same site, so they can be reached easily on foot. The other 2 are next door to each other, just a few minutes’ drive away. If you’re not driving, there are regular sightseeing buses you can ride that travel between the two sites. Although the tours are conducted in Japanese, there is good English signage, along with English language printed guides.
The entrance fee to visit all 8 Hells is 2,100 yen per person. I think it’s quite fun to visit them all and collect the souvenir stamps from each. Here’s a little more information about what you can expect to see:
1. Umi Jigoku (海地獄) “Sea Hell” –This is one of my personal favorite Hells and one of the largest. The main attraction here is the beautiful cobalt blue pond of boiling water, which stands at 200 meters deep. The gardens here are some of the prettiest I have seen during my time in Japan; manicured lawns framed by vibrant red painted tori gates and cherry blossom trees. This is a great place for scenic Japanese garden photographs, and, if you’re lucky enough to visit in late March, the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom.
2. Oniishibozu Jigoku (鬼石坊主地獄) “Shaven head Hell” – The name comes from the gray clay-like mud that bubbles up, reminiscent of the shaven heads of monks. Try taking some time out to sit down and enjoy one of the complimentary footbaths and soak your tired feet for a few minutes in the mineral enriched hot water.
3. Yama Jigoku (山地獄)“Mountain Hell”– Aside from a lot of steam, this is one of the least interesting of the Hells. To compensate for this, Yama Jigoku contains a mini zoo to keep people entertained. Here you will see a wide variety of animals, although, if you’re not a fan of zoos, you may want to pass on this Hell.
4. Kamado-Jigoku (かまど地獄) “Cooking pot Hell”– This Hell features a giant red demon mascot standing on top of a cooking pot. There are numerous ponds scattered throughout this site containing boiling water. If you have time, stop here to enjoy the foot spa and munch on a boiled egg cooked in the water straight from the ground, called Onsen Tamago.
5. Oniyama Jigoku(鬼山地獄) “Demon Mountain Hell” – Like the Yama Jigoku, this muggy Hell doesn’t have a whole lot going on. It’s now home to a large number of crocodiles, as apparently the Oniyama Jigoku contains the perfect breeding conditions. I felt a little uneasy here peering through the railings of the enclosure as it was the closest I had ever come to seeing one of these animals before.
6. Shirake Jigoku (白池地獄) “White pond Hell”– Not a clever name, but called so because of the chalky white appearance of the water. This large pond is surrounded by a peaceful Japanese garden, another nice spot for a bit of a time out. There are also you piranha tanks you could go see instead.
7. Chinoike Jigoku (血の池地獄) “Blood pond Hell” – The clay in the “Blood Pond” here is so hot that the steam is red. This is probably the most visually stunning of the eight hells, and worth the bus ride from the other site alone. They also have a great gift shop where you can purchase ointment made from the clay here, said to be effective against skin diseases.
8. Tatsumaki-Jigoku (龍巻地獄) “Waterspout Hell” – The final Hell is actually a geyser that erupts around every 30 minutes or so. Strong enough to reach over 50 meters in height, the geyser is kept contained by a rock enclosure so as not to wreak constant havoc upon the city.
The Hells are something very unique, not just to Kyushu but to the whole of Japan. So, if you are visiting the island, it’s definitely a must see attraction.
The Beppu Hells are open every day from 8am to 5pm and the whole tour takes around two and a half to three hours.
Top image / Chinoike Jigoku (血の池地獄): http://erikaishikoro.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-283.html
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