Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Home Away From Home

Our next stop was yet another area famous for its onsens. After travelling through Kyushu, we have concluded that the whole island is one steaming mess of volcanoes and hot springs. Paradise, if you ask me! Our travels brought us to two places: Yufuin and Beppu. We had read that Beppu was a bit too 'Las Vegas-y', so we decided to stay in a youth hostel in Yufuin, and do a day trip to nearby Beppu. Good choice.

Beppu is famous for two things: its jigoku, or hot spring 'hells,' waters that are pretty to look at but not so pretty to touch, and its onsens, or hot spring baths. You may recall we had already seen some jigoku when we travelled through Unzen. Well, in Beppu, the jigoku don't come free... it's ¥400 a pop, and there are 8 jigoku. But thanks to the wonderful Aoyama family, who you'll remember we spent a night with in Ebino Kogen, we could see all of them for FREE! It turns out a friend of theirs runs one of the most famous of these jigokus, so they were able to get us set up with a special pass. Thank you!!

The first jigoku we visited, where we got the free pass was called (translated) 'Blood Hell'. I think you can figure out that's due to the red water. The water becomes this colour because it actually dissolves the clay due to its heat.

Each of the 'hells' were surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens, with all the typical elements... ponds, running water, waterfalls, large stones and boulders, stone lanterns, and gorgeous plants and trees. Of course, it helped that there were palm trees and that so many of the flowers were in bloom!

I absolutely love the bright blue water of this one...

We really liked this one too. It was called something like 'Monks' Heads'. The mud bubbled up in such a way that it actually looked liked bald men's heads!

A lot of onsen towns create free 'foot and leg' baths that anyone can use. And people use them all the time. They'll plunk themselves down, take off their socks and shoes, and rest for five minutes or so while their feet soak. A lot of tourists carry around small towels for this purpose. And it's actually very soothing, especially after you've been walking around and touring for a while.

After checking out the jigoku hells, we decided it was time for us to enjoy our own onsens. Being expert bathers by this time in our trip, no simple onsen would do! So we chose a rather unique one. In Beppu, on the mountainside, lives a man with a bento, or lunch box catering business. The thing is, he loves onsens so much that he decided to build his own rotemburos, or outside baths, in behind his catering business. For ¥1000, you can buy a bento lunch and enjoy a dip in the rotemburo. Your lunch is prepared for you while you bathe!! I had read about this in the Lonely Planet, and had already highlighted it, but we decided we definitely had to go once the woman at the tourist office recommended it to us for its fine views of the city. It was incredible! The women's side had a natural steam sauna too, so I was in spa heaven. Jeff was lucky enough to have the men's one all to himself, so he took the opportunity to finally get some onsen pics!

Oh, and yes, Beppu was definitely Las Vegas-y. As we drove through it, we kept coming up with comparisons to Niagara Falls and its tackiness. Check out the picture of this love hotel!! Total Jurassic Park rip-off! We had heard love hotels could get really outrageous, but we had never seen one quite like this! We agreed that while Beppu was the tacky Niagara Falls, Yufuin was the Niagara-on-the-Lake equivalent. Lots of expensive little shops, museums, funky art galleries... and yes... everyone was eating ice cream too! All just a bunch of cone lickers, I tell you!

And finally, a note about the title of this entry. The Yufuin youth hostel was definitely a home away from home. By this time in our trip, Jeff and I were both getting tired, and both getting a little tired of being essentially 'homeless'. When we walked into the Yufuin youth hostel, we felt like we had come home. It was beautifully decorated, with gleaming hardwood floors, and tatami mat bedrooms; soft music was playing in the common room, inviting us to come and stay awhile; beautiful natural-style hot spring baths were available for our use; and the owners and staff were incredibly kind and warm. A one/maybe two night stay quickly became three. There was something about the place that invited conversation and relaxation. After dinner, the hosts often came into the common room to share small talk and tea with their guests. And we met some really fine people here, including Neil (Jeff's hiking buddy) and crazy Avi. Below is a picture of the group of us as we all said good-bye.


yukihiro said...

Hi, I found your site when I made surfing via I've been to Beppu and the Jigoku-onsen a couple time, so good old memories were recalled. I look forward to see your travel report. nice text and nice photo. thanks

Suzanne said...

When I was travelling across Canada,the hostel in the Yukon, was probably one of, if not my favorite location. I fell in love with hostels and think they are awesome and such a community and become your family away from home. It is great!