Kyushu, which has one of the highest number of onsen (hot springs) in Japan, has many famous hot spring towns. The real pleasure of these towns is getting to relax in the hot spring water after a day of sightseeing, as well as getting to enjoy fantastic food. This article lists seven famous hot spring towns in Kyushu.
1. Yufuin Onsen (Oita Prefecture)
Yufuin is an onsen town that is always among the top in rankings of onsen towns. Its appeal is not only the onsen (hot springs), but also the majestic mountains and the rich nature at the foot of Mt. Yufu. There is a horse-drawn carriage for tourists, which is an incredibly popular way to enjoy the rustic scenery. There are approximately 70 souvenir shops and cafes along Yunotsubo Kaido, where you may lose track of time shopping and eating. The sight of the morning mist over the beautiful lake, which has onsen water and freshwater, from fall to winter is fantastic. There are ryokan (inns) that open up their baths for day-use, as well as pubic baths that can be enjoyed at reasonable prices.
2. Beppu Onsen-kyo (Oita Prefecture)
This onsen district, where you'll see steam coming off of hot springs all around the town, has the highest quantity of onsen water in Japan. There are several hundred onsen in the town, and the eight onsen villages with different spring waters and atmospheres constitute the Eight Hots Springs of Beppu, each with their own history and charm. Hyotan Onsen at Kannawa Onsen, which is one of the eight, was awarded three stars by the Michelin travel guide. Their large onsen facilities, which have great atmospheres, are popular among foreign tourists. Jigoku-meguri, a tour of various onsen outlets with varying colors and scenery, is a tourist activity through which you can experience the wonder of nature.
3. Kurokawa Onsen (Kumamoto Prefecture)
This is an onsen district with 24 Japanese-style ryokan on both sides of Tanoharu River Valley. It has the appeal of an old-school onsen town with no flashy signs. The open-air baths at these inns are available not only to overnight guests, but also to day visitors. If you purchase an Onsen-Hopping Pass (1,300 JPY (incl. tax)), you can go to three open-air baths. If you visit all 24 onsen baths, you'll be recognized as a master visitor of Kurokawa Onsen, and will be awarded a special gift. There are seasonal events, including the Yu-akari (bamboo illumination) event in the winter, in which bamboo lanterns help create a mystical scene.
*Yu-akari: December 22, 2017 (Fri) - April 1, 2018 (Sun)
4. Ibusuki Onsen (Kagoshima Prefecture)
This onsen is famous for the natural sand baths that have lined the shore for 300 years. A sand bath is a type of onsen where except for your head, every part of the body is buried in sand that has been warmed up by the onsen. This is the only place in the world where you can experience it! When the hot sand is piled on top of you, your whole body will start to sweat in about ten minutes, and you will feel refreshed. Yamakawa Salt Processing Plant, a relic left from an industry that utilized the hot onsen water, is a popular tourist spot where you can experience the onsen’s energy.
5. Kirishima Onsen (Kagoshima Prefecture)
This is an onsen district with a historic feel that’s located at an altitude of 600m - 850m on Mt. Kirishima, a mountain with a variety of myths and legends. It has nine unique onsen of varying sizes, and is known as Japan's first honeymoon destination where Sakamoto Ryoma, who was active at the end of the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), took his wife in 1866. It is a mountain with many legends, so a tour of spiritual sites – including Kirishima Shrine, which is considered to be a power spot, and hikes on the Kirishima Mountain Range, which has varying sceneries depending on the season – are recommended.
*Shinmoedake on Mt. Kirishima is an active volcano that erupted in 2017. Be sure to plan safely by checking the eruption alert level before visiting.
6. Unzen Onsen (Nagasaki Prefecture)
This is an onsen resort that was designated as Japan's first national park. It remains cool in the summer, so in the 1870s, it was popular among foreigners as a summer resort, and Helen Keller was among the people who stayed there. In 1935, Unzen Kanko Hotel (now known as a well-established hotel) was built as a luxury hotel with state-of-the-art facilities for foreigners. The hot spring water has sulfur in it and is highly acidic, and the famous Jigoku Onsen is filled with the smell of sulfur. To visit the Jigoku Onsen area, which is free to the public, walk about 60 minutes on a path. You can enjoy a hot onsen egg (100 JPY per egg (incl. tax)) that has been steamed in the hot spring and local cider (200 JPY (incl. tax)) on the way.
7. Ureshino Onsen (Saga Prefecture)
This onsen is one of Japan's three famous onsen for beautiful skin, and is known around the country as an onsen that will make your skin smooth just by soaking in it. It is an onsen that has been known for ages, with written reference to it in the early eighth century, as well as a legend in which it healed the wounds of soldiers. If you get tired from sightseeing, take a little break at Siebold's Foot Bath in the middle of the town. It is free and open to the public 24-hours a day. The Ureshino Onsen Yu-dofu is another prize of the onsen. The tofu, simmered in Ureshino's hot spring water, has a silky texture that is sure to get you hooked.
Kyushu, which is blessed with an abundance of quality onsen water, has many hot spring towns that have developed through the ages, together with hot springs. They are wonderful places to appreciate the gift of nature, as well as to rejuvenate your body and soul through not just hot springs, but also with great food and scenery.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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