Beppu Onsen Guide

by Courtney Coppernoll     

Beppu (別府) is a small city on the northeastern coast of Kyushu, and is known as “the onsen capital of Japan.” There are literally dozens of different hot springs, from ritzy hotel onsen with ten baths to tiny local establishments with only one. One time, I even saw a man I was walking behind disappear into a bathhouse hidden at the back of a dark side street garage! Because there are so many, though, it can be hard to know which ones to try, especially if you only have a couple of days. So, I decided to make a short list of the onsen I was able to try during my three-day trip to Beppu, with a little information on each one, to help you narrow down your choices.    

Onsen #1: Kaimonji Onsen (海門寺温泉)

  

Hours: 6:30 – 22:30
Cost: ¥100
No. of Baths: 2 (1 lukewarm bath, 1 HOT bath)
Water Temperature: 102°F/39°C (lukewarm) and 109°F/43°C (HOT)    

This was the first onsen I visited in Beppu and it ended up being my favorite. Kaimonji is a very local place (as opposed to being tourist-y) so you’ll most likely find yourself sharing the bath with a group of “regulars” made up of baa-chans or jii-sans who take their daily baths here. The baths are pretty small, but that gives the place a cozy feeling and the locals are perfectly friendly. My second time here I even had one older lady tell me that if I married a Japanese man I would have cute half-Asian babies (still no idea how to respond to this, by the way, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!) This onsen was just rebuilt this year as well, so I was extremely impressed with how clean and modern everything was. You can bring your own “supplies” or purchase them at the front desk (small bath towels are ¥150, shampoo/conditioner is ¥30, and soap is ¥50-200).     

Onsen #2: Ekimae Koutou Onsen (駅前高等温泉)

 

Hours: Open 24 hours
Cost: ¥300 (includes towel, shampoo, and body wash)
No. of Baths: 2 (1 lukewarm bath, 1 hot bath)
Water Temperature: 99°F/37°C (lukewarm) and 106°F/41°C (hot)    

This onsen is showing its age a bit, and wasn’t quite as hot as some of the other onsen I went to. The hot bath, however, can be heated up by adding more hot water from a faucet on the wall. Also, if you want to bathe with a little more privacy, the lukewarm bath here is half-situated under the stairs that lead down into the bathing room, so it’s partially hidden from view. This onsen is part of a hotel, which is located less than a two minute walk from the east exit of Beppu Station. As far as I know it’s also the only onsen in Beppu that’s open 24 hours a day.    

Onsen #3: Hyotan Onsen (ひょうたん温泉)

 

Hours: 9am – 1am
Cost: ¥700 / ¥550 after 6pm (includes shampoo and body wash)
No. of Baths: 7 baths + 1 sauna
Water Temperature: Varies  

Hyotan is one of the major tourist onsen in Beppu. There are several different kinds of baths here, including an outdoor bath, waterfall bath, and “sand bath” (which involves wearing a yukata and being buried in sand). There’s also an outdoor courtyard for relaxing before or after your bath, a restaurant, and several different vending machines. Tour buses bring big groups of people here (including children) so it can feel a bit crowded and noisy compared to the smaller, local baths, but it offers a bit more “luxury” and a wider variety of baths and temperatures. The outdoor bath is particularly nice in the evening, and if you’ve got any back pain then sitting under one of the waterfalls can make for a nice massage. To enter, you first buy a ticket from a vending machine, which you then trade in at the front desk for your locker key and towel. The sand bath costs an additional ¥200 (yukata rental).    

Onsen #4: Beppu Onsen (別府温泉)

Hours: 5am – 9am and 5pm – 1am
Cost: ¥300
No. of Baths: 1
Water Temperature: VERY hot (109°F/43°C)   

This small onsen is part of the “Hotel Matsumi” (ホテル松美) and is directly across the street from the Kaimonji Onsen. At night it’s lit up with red and green neon so you can’t miss it (though you do need to go next door and pay at the hotel reception to use it). There’s only one bath, but it’s a scorcher! After sitting in the bath for only a couple minutes my skin had turned red (there was a  “water line” on my skin that clearly marked what had and what had not been in the water!) and I needed to get out to rinse off with cold water. If you like really hot baths, though, this could be the place for you. Shampoo and body wash is provided, but towels are not. Also, I found the floor here really slippery so be careful getting in and out of the bath.   

Onsen #5: Takegawara Onsen (竹瓦温泉) 

Hours: 6:30 – 22:30
Cost: ¥100
No. of Baths: 1
Water Temperature: VERY hot (109°F/43°C)  

One of the older baths in Beppu, Takegawara is a big, Japanese-style building that’s hard to miss. Because it’s a bit older there’s no shower area to wash your body before you get in the bath. Instead, you mix hot water from a small basin with cold water from a tap to wash with (don’t worry if you’re not sure what to do at first – the regulars are very friendly and they’ll help you out). The water in the basin next to the actual bath is extremely, extremely hot so I strongly recommend testing your mix of hot and cold water with your hand before you dump it over your head. Seriously, no one wants to ruin an awesome onsen weekend with first degree burns… The bath itself is also very hot, so signs in the room caution bathers to only spend a few minutes in the bath at a time. I have to say that, of all the baths I visited, I think I enjoyed the atmosphere most at this onsen. The high, vaulted ceiling and natural daylight streaming in from all the windows gave it a natural, peaceful sort of feeling, and I was able to relax almost immediately here. The ¥100 only covers getting in, but you can also buy a small towel (¥250) and soap (¥50) if you didn’t bring your own.   

Onsen #6: Tanoyu Onsen (田の湯温泉)

  

Hours: 6:30 – 22:30
Cost: ¥100
No. of Baths: 1
Water Temperature: VERY hot (109°F/43°C) 

Tanoyu is a small, local place about two minutes walk from the west exit of Beppu Station. The building itself is only about ten years old, but the bath area seemed a little bit worn. One thing that’s unique about this onsen, though, compared to others I went to, is that is has a faucet for nomiyu (飲み湯), or drinkable hot spring water. I didn’t try it myself, but I did see one obaa-chan use it to brush her teeth! The natural hot spring waters in Beppu are considered by some to be sacred, and to possess healing properties, so I guess in that case why not use it as much as possible, right? Like Takegawara, you’ll need to mix hot and cold water to wash at this onsen (again, the hot water is VERY hot so please be careful!), and you can bring your own towel and soap or buy them at the front counter (towel for ¥150 and soap for ¥50-200). 

Onsen #7: Tanayu Onsen (棚湯温泉)

Hours: 9:00 – 23:00 (admission until 21:30)
Cost: ¥1000 (¥1500 on weekends) / Free for hotel guests
No. of Baths: 10 baths + 1 sauna
Water temperature: Warm (100°F/38°C) 

Not to be confused with Tanoyu, this onsen belongs to the very upscale “Suginoi Hotel” (杉乃井ホテル). There’s one large indoor bath and a variety of outdoor baths, from shallow pools with built-in chairs to barrel tubs to a bath with jacuzzi-style jets. The temperature here wasn’t quite hot enough for me (which may have simply been due to all the extremely hot onsen I’d been to earlier), but the night view from the outdoor baths here was unbeatable. There are a few tiered baths just outside the shower area that give bathers an amazing view of the city and bay area. Like Hyotan, Tanayu is another major tourist onsen, so there were literally dozens of other guests using the baths at the same time, and quite a few children splashing around. So, if you want to practice your Korean or Mandarin, this onsen is perfect. If you want to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet, probably not so much. I will say, though, that I personally love outdoor baths, so Tanayu got some bonus points from me for placing all but one of their baths outside. Admission fee includes small and large towels, shampoo, conditioner, and body soap (essentially all-inclusive). 

Courtney’s Onsen Tips:

  1. Drink water. When you’re in the onsen your body gets hot and sweats, which means you’re losing much needed moisture. So, after a visit to an onsen (especially if you were there for an hour or more) drink water or a sport’s drink like “Pocari Sweat” to rehydrate.
  2. Pay attention to your body. I’ve seen Japanese women in their 60s sit for ten minutes in a bath that’s too hot for me to even set foot in. If you get in a bath and start feeling too hot after a minute or two, don’t try to stick it out just to stick it out. Not only is it silly, it’s dangerous. Everyone has their own preferences and tolerance levels. Find yours and own it!
  3. Cool off between baths. Going along with number two, if you’re going to visit multiple onsen in a single day, give yourself a chance to cool down between baths. Multiple baths in one day is perfectly doable – I did four one day and three the next – but let your body have a breather (and rehydrate with some water!) to avoid overheating. This also applies while you’re in any one bath. If you’re sitting in the bath and start to feel hot, but aren’t quite ready to leave yet, use a shower or bucket to rinse off with cool/cold water for a couple minutes. Then, get back in the bath. I typically repeat this process three or four times before I finally feel ready to head home.
  4. Dress appropriately. This probably sounds a little strange since you’re a kind of, um…naked in the actual onsen, but this is for after your bath. Think about what you’re going to want to wear once you get out of that steaming hot water. You might look super cute in that lovely new sweater you just bought, but you’re going to hate putting it back on after a long soak in a boiling bathtub. If it’s cold outside, consider wearing layers. That way you’ll stay warm on the way to the onsen, but can take one layer off if you’re too hot after you’re done.
  5. Take your own “stuff.” Many of the smaller onsen in Beppu don’t provide towels or soap. So, pick up a cheap towel at “Daiso” and pack some travel size shampoo and conditioner to save yourself from having to buy new supplies at every onsen you visit (though once you buy a towel it’s yours to keep so you could always buy one at the first onsen you visit and then use that towel at all the other ones, too). The same goes for any “extras” you might want, such as a hair dryer, comb, or lotion.
  6. Don’t be offended. Almost every single time I got in a bath, everyone else got out. It’s nothing personal. The Japanese would just prefer not to catch whatever icky foreign diseases you might be carrying around (you most likely have swine flu, after all). If you’re Asian you should be all right, but if you look obviously foreign realize that this may happen. Just sit back and enjoy having that nice warm bath all to yourself.

LINKS:

All photos taken by Courtney Coppernoll (who apologizes profusely for the two that are very dark – she was only at those onsen at night).

5 thoughts on “Beppu Onsen Guide

  1. Hi Courtney! Thanks for this article 🙂 we just came back from beppu where we spent the weekend onsen hopping -went to 2 on your recommendation -thanks! If anyone is going and would like to know a good place to stay I highly recommend the YOKOSO ryokan -complete with steam powered ovens
    http://www.coara.or.jp/~hideharu/EngSmry.html
    English is spoken and the owners and guests were both very friendly and helpful! Thanks again!

  2. Hi! Nice post! I live in Oita and do a lot of onsening in Beppu myself. I was surprised to read about the fact that people got out of the bath when you went in. This never happened to me, although I am obviously foreign.

  3. – Fiona, I’m glad I could be helpful! If you went to any onsen not on my list I would love to hear about them, especially as there were a couple more I wanted to try, but didn’t have time to get to. Thanks for recommending a place to stay, too! My friend and I stayed at Khaosan Beppu, but I think we also looked at Yokoso. Maybe I’ll have to try that one next time!

    – Mischa, Soooo jealous that you live in Oita! I would be in Beppu every other weekend if I lived closer! I’m glad you’ve never had the problem with people getting out of the bath when you get in. I have friends who also have this problem so I know it’s not just me, but of course there have also been exceptions where people do stay in the bath when I get in (and a couple of nice ladies at Takegawara Onsen actually showed me how to wash off since I’d never been to an onsen without showers before). Those instances just seem to be very few and far between. Like I said, though, I don’t take it personally. I had a wonderful time in Beppu and would love to come back and visit again sometime soon.

  4. Hi – thanks for this info! My husband and I will be in Oita/Beppu for a few days and I’m feeling a bit apprehensive about the onsen as I’ve never done it before and my Japanese language skills aren’t too great. Are all of these onsen mixed baths or are they gender segregated? I’m worried that I’m going to disrobe in front of the guys and then find out that I wasn’t supposed to do that!

    I also remember reading somewhere about one of the onsen that is particularly popular with older folk, but I can’t find the reference again. Are there some that are for the oldies and some for the more shapely?

  5. Hi Kate,

    All of these onsen are gender segregated, so no worries about getting changed in the wrong place. If you feel a little nervous about that part, though, or just want to share a bath with your husband while you’re there, Hyotan Onsen offers private baths that can be rented on an hourly basis. There’s also an outdoor onsen called Kitahama where everyone wears bathing suits.

    In my experience I found that the smaller local places were more popular with the elderly while the bigger tourist-y places (Hyotan and Tanayu) had more younger people and kids. However, there’s no sort of “age limit” on any onsen. Anyone of any age is welcome to enjoy them all.

    Beppu is a fantastic place to try onsen for the first time, so have a great trip and enjoy all those lovely hot springs!

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