Here’s a heavenly thought: In the city of Beppu, sprawled between the mountains of northeastern Kyushu and the sea, steam from thermal waters constantly emanates from street gutters, public pools and ryokan with onsen. Beppu, home to thousands of hot-spring vents, is one of Japan’s most popular onsen destinations. The area produces the largest volume of thermal waters in the country and as a result, perhaps the most varied range of baths.
Then there’s hell. Umi Jigoku is a park built around a hot-spring complex that formed from the eruption of Mount Tsurumi over 1,200 years ago. In the early 1900s, local authorities set up tourist facilities around this park, around the same time that jigoku meguri, or “hell tours”, around the area’s many hot springs began. Today, you can spend half a day exploring the entire facility, which includes a gallery that details everything you need to know about the hot spring — from how it came to be, and the folklore it has inspired.
But the main attraction is Umi Jigoku itself, a hot spring of cobalt blue waters surrounded by a Japanese rock garden. Clouds of steam usually obscure the surface, roiling in almost 100°C temperatures. Known as Sea Hell because of its blue color, this is one of the eight “hells” of Beppu hot springs that are too hot to take a dip in.
Umi Jigoku is accessible from Beppu Station by taxi, from JR Beppu Station by bus, and by private car. Entrance fee is JPY400 (Php185) per adult. umijigoku.co.jp
Sometimes you just need to take a break from sightseeing. Luckily, Kyushu is dotted with quaint little onsen towns, where the pace of life is blissfully slow. In the town of Ureshino, in Saga prefecture, one street corner features all the essentials of the good life: a little square with a public foot bath of warm hot-spring water, a shop selling mineral-rich skincare products, a kiosk of various-flavored ice creams and a men’s grooming salon. Enjoy the restorative powers of a foot soak and a matcha soft-serve.
Discover Northern Kyushu with JR Kyushu’s Northern Kyushu Area Pass (JPY10,190 or Php4,785 per adult, valid for five days). The pass gives you access to JR Kyushu’s large network of Shinkansen, local and limited express trains. With frequent trips to most destinations, you’ll have greater control over your schedule and more time to enjoy the view. https://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/