October 21, 2011
Beppu, located on the northern coast of Kyushu, claims to be Japan’s largest hot spring resort area.
Most Japanese towns like to put something distinctive right outside of the main entrance to the train station, something to characterize the town. It might be a large building with an unusual design, or an impressive sculpture, or maybe just a big ornamental tree.
Visitors arriving in Beppu are greeted by the statue of a jolly man who appears to be wearing a cape with a naked baby oni clinging to it.
The inscription says “The man called ‘Shiny Uncle’ who loved children. Statue of Kumahachi Aburaya, father of tourism in Beppu.”
Beppu’s most notable geothermal features are on display in establishments called Jigoku (Hells). These are, admittedly, somewhat cheesy tourist attractions, but they are different from the cheesy tourist attractions I am accustomed to so I went to see them anyway. The weather was unfavorable, raining on and off, which probably meant that they were much less crowded with tourists than they usually are. Of the eight major Hells, I managed to get to the six that are within easy walking distance of each other.
Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell) is named for a large pool of boiling water that turns the rocks white.
Oniyama Jigoku (Demon Mountain Hell) uses steam from its hot springs to heat a greenhouse dedicated to exotic plants and animals that thrive in a hot moist climate.
The sign says “Danger! Do not tap on the glass!” I guess you don’t want to make them angry.
But the main attraction of Oniyama Jigoku is the crocodiles. Lots and lots of crocs.
If those don’t impress you they have a really big stuffed one in the exhibit hall.
Kamado Jigoku (Oven Hell) is named for the ancient tradition of cooking food in geothermal steam.
Drinking this water is supposed to extend your life. Of course it might just burn your tongue.
Tourists can bathe their feet in the hot water or sample the cuisine.
Instead of the traditional eggs (hard-boiled in sulfurous steam) I tried some sweet buns, which were actually quite good.
Yama Jigoku (Mountain Hell) has a small zoo with presumably heat-loving animals.
Oniishibouzu Jigoku gets its name from its pools of boiling brown mud. The bubbles are supposed to resemble the shaven heads of monks (bouzu).
The prettiest of the Hells is Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell).
The lily pads in this pond are large enough to support a small child, which they demonstrate in an event held each summer.
Umi Jigoku gets its name from this 200-meter-deep pond of cobalt blue boiling water.
This Hell has a Shinto shrine.
It also has a shrine to Jizou, which seems appropriate since he is the Buddhist deity most concerned with getting people out of Hell.
All posts from this trip.