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Five Must-visit Hot Spring Towns in Kyushu

2023-12-27

The Kyushu region in southern Japan is warm in every sense of the word. Being down south, its climate is hotter than that of the Honshu mainland, and in general, its locals are reputed to be friendlier and more laid back. Geographically speaking, it’s also home to a number of volcanoes — several of which are active — which means that it’s blessed with a variety of onsen (hot springs).

Though Kyushu’s climate borders on tropical, it’s not hot and humid all year round. The region still has four seasons; it’s just that its winters are a little milder. So, rest assured that the weather in Kyushu won’t be too hot for you to enjoy onsen properly!

Among Kyushu’s many onsen locales, these five on our list are frequently considered some of the best. Add at least one of these to your itinerary when visiting Kyushu, and while you’re at it, brush up on your onsen etiquette!

 

1. Beppu Onsen (Oita)

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Boasting one of the largest concentrations of hot springs and the largest volume of hot spring water of any prefecture, Oita takes pride in being the “onsen prefecture” of Japan. And so, it’s only fitting that our roundup features two onsen locales in Oita.

First up is the bustling city of Beppu, Oita’s best-known resort town. If Oita is Japan’s onsen prefecture, Beppu is the onsen capital, with a spring water output volume second only to America’s Yellowstone National Park!

Here, you won’t find just one onsen locale, but rather eight of them. Collectively, these eight zones are called the Beppu Hatto (lit. “Eight Hot Springs of Beppu”).

And if having that many hot springs in just one city alone isn’t already enough, Beppu also has another claim to fame: the seven “hells” — hot springs that, while too hot to be suitable for bathing, certainly create quite the spectacle.

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Be it the aptly named Chi-no-ike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell), the bubbling puddles of mud at Oniishi-bozu Jigoku (Demon-stone Monk Hell), or even Kamado Jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell, so hot that it can steam food), each Hell is a destination in its own right, and there are even tour buses that take visitors on a journey to all seven of them.

Where to Stay

Beppu Onsen Yamada Besso

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For a trip back in time to traditional Japan without sacrificing modern comforts such as convenient access to public transit, stay at Beppu Onsen Yamada Besso. A stately ryokan just about 10 minutes on foot from JR Beppu Station, Yamada Besso is a well-maintained, family-run inn nearly a century old. It is imbibed with a nostalgic, homey ambiance, and it has a simple but relaxing outdoor bath surrounded by a lush garden.

 

2. Yufuin Onsen (Oita)

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Another outstanding onsen retreat in Oita is Yufuin, which is nestled in a scenic valley. Befitting Oita’s status as the onsen capital of Japan, Yufuin also has a strong claim to fame: it boasts the second-highest number of hot spring sources in all of Japan.

Yufuin is regarded as a more tranquil and rustic alternative to Beppu. In contrast to Oita’s most famous onsen locale, which can have a more commercial feel due to the sheer number of establishments catering to travelers, Yufuin is instead surrounded by idyllic landscapes.

Take a short walk past the town center and its charming shops, and before long, you’ll come across scenery like that out of a painting: rolling hills, rising mountain peaks, verdant fields, and quaint farmhouses. It’s no wonder Yufuin is a favorite getaway for Kyushu locals — and even visitors from other parts of Japan.

Some would also say that Yufuin gives off a more upscale vibe, as it has a relatively high concentration of luxury accommodations.

Where to Stay

Yufuin Onsen Yufuin Gettouan

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Pamper yourself with a stay at Yufuin Onsen Yufuin Gettouan, a resort complex consisting of villas built in the traditional Japanese style and inspired by teahouses. In addition to communal baths for all guests, guestrooms are furnished with private open-air baths.

The artistically arranged kaiseki (banquet) cuisine here is not only a feast for the appetite, but also for the eyes. At about eight minutes by taxi or complimentary shuttle service from Yufuin Station, Gettouan is a slight distance away from the town center, but its secluded location means that guests can enjoy peace and quiet in the heart of nature.

 

3. Ibusuki Onsen (Kagoshima)

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For a unique hot spring experience, Ibusuki Onsen at the southwest tip of Kagoshima Prefecture is the place to go.

As the main area is along the coastline, some of the hot spring baths — like the open-air baths at Tamatebako Onsen, for instance — offer fantastic views of the sea and even the mountains of Kagoshima.

But while the hot spring baths are already delightful enough, Ibusuki is better known for a different kind of bathing: sunamushi, or sand bathing.

The sand at Ibusuki is warm due to natural heating from subterranean hot springs. Said to have originated in ancient times, the practice of sand bathing is believed not only to be good for the skin, but also to bring about health benefits such as improved blood circulation and increased blood oxygen; think of it as a sauna by the sea!

Many accommodations and other facilities in Ibusuki give visitors the chance to try sand bathing. It’s quite easy, and if you’ve never experienced it before, don’t worry, as staff members will guide you. Just lie in the sand as staff cover you from the neck down, then relax, enjoy the experience, and let the sounds of the sea soothe you. Finally, after 10–15 minutes, you’ll have worked up a proper sweat, so it’s time to get up and rinse the sand off.

Where to Stay

Ibusuki Onsen Sunamushi Onsen Ibusuki Hakusuikan

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One hotel to offer sand bathing is Ibusuki Onsen Sunamushi Onsen Ibusuki Hakusuikan, a luxurious ryokan-style resort facing Kagoshima Bay. Featuring a variety of indoor and outdoor hot spring baths and a selection of rooms that offer sea views, Ibusuki Hakusuikan is a place where the options for self care indulgence are seemingly endless. In addition to the must-try sand bath, not to be missed is the indoor bath that’s designed to resemble a village from the decadent Genroku era.

 

4. Ureshino Onsen (Saga)

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Located in Saga Prefecture, the small but scenic Ureshino Onsen is considered one of Japan’s top three hot spring locales for bihada-no-yu — skin-beautifying waters. Its alkaline waters are rich in sodium bicarbonate, which turns your skin soft and silky smooth. Locals will say that you’re not supposed to rinse yourself after bathing in these waters; otherwise, the rejuvenating and moisturizing effects will be lost.

Hands down, the town’s most iconic building is Siebold-no-Yu (Siebold’s Bath), a distinctive red-roofed, European-style building. Named after a German physician and botanist who lived in Kyushu for a time and enjoyed bathing at Ureshino, Siebold-no-Yu is an affordable public bath that gives day trippers and/or those on a budget a chance to experience Ureshino’s waters for themselves.

Where to Stay

Ureshino Onsen Chagokoro no Yado Warakuen

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Ureshino Onsen is also known for high-grade green tea, which you can sample for yourself at a number of establishments in town. But how about experiencing both tea and onsen together? The luxurious ryokan Ureshino Onsen Chagokoro no Yado Warakuen makes full use of Ureshino’s two main specialties with its tea-infused open-air bath. For added effect, large tea bags are also available for guests to submerge into the water!

 

5. Kurokawa Onsen (Kumamoto)

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Deep in Kumamoto Prefecture’s Kuju mountain range is the centuries-old riverside town of Kurokawa, an onsen locale that’s surrounded by nature. Though not exactly obscure and in fact fairly popular among locals, it still looks and feels more secluded than some other hot springs thanks to the lush forest that blankets the area.

It’s no understatement to say that you’ll be very close to nature at Kurokawa Onsen. There are several riverside baths in the area, and some accommodations and baths are tucked away in the forest, farther from the town center.

What’s more, those who just can’t get enough of Kurokawa’s hot springs can save a few hundred yen by purchasing a wooden pass called a nyuto tegata, which enables the holder to go hot spring hopping at up to three bathhouses.

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The best time to visit Kurokawa Onsen is in winter, not only because the cold weather will make you appreciate the warmth of the hot springs even more, but also because of this town’s magical wintertime illumination event, Yu Akari. From mid- (or late) December to the end of March (or early April), Kurokawa comes aglow at night thanks to hand-crafted bamboo lanterns that adorn the town, especially by the riverbanks.

Where to Stay

Kurokawa Onsen Yamamizuki

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An excellent choice for an overnight stay at Kurokawa Onsen is Kurokawa Onsen Yamamizuki, a ryokan in the heart of the woods. (Worry not; a complimentary shuttle service is available for guests from the Kurokawa Onsen bus stop.) While some rooms come with private baths — either indoor or semi open-air — you won’t want to miss the outdoor bath, considered the best in Kurokawa and one of the best in Japan. Situated right next to a river and surrounded by forest, this bath will enable you to enjoy fine hot spring waters and the beauty of nature.