Of course there are endless reviews of Japanese onsen available, but since this is a website for the people of Saga, I have also included some information about other onsens I have experienced around Kyushu.
There is a very large onsen (actually it’s a sentou – a normal bath rather than natural onsen) called Yuami (ゆあみ) within the Torius Mall, on the northside of Fukuoka city. Torius is better known amongst ALTs as the home of Costco. Entry to the onsen is 1000yen, but there are about 6 different tubs to choose from, including a large outdoor bath, special healing bath, tubs with spa-like bubbles and one that they add seasonal coloured salts/minerals to. There are also 2 saunas. Within the onsen building they also have massage facilities available (very reasonably priced) and a café/restaurant serving traditional Japanese food. Worth a stop if you have made the trip to Fukuoka; the hardest part is having to drive home after relaxing in the tub. Map link.
There are many onsen in the Aso area, the most famous of which is Kurokawa. With the ability to buy a ‘day pass’ that lets you sample 3 of the most well known bathhouses, this is a very popular destination for foreigners and westerners alike. But if you don’t have all day to be spending in baths (because you’re checking out the awesome volcano), perhaps consider these alternatives:
Jigoku Onsen (地獄温泉)
This onsen (part of Seifuso Ryokan) is most famous for its one large outdoor bath “water of sparrow”. I first went to stay at this place because the “Engrish” on their website was most intriguing and we were not disappointed with the uniqueness of this place.
The ‘water of sparrow’ bath, so-called because of the noise the constant small bubbles make as they reach the top of the water, is mixed gender. The water is cloudy, so a carefully draped towel should see you through from the changing area (separate genders) to the bath. The water is very acidic (so be sure to remove any jewellery) and has a constant smell of sulfur. If you can get past the rotten egg smell, this is meant to be one of the best healing baths on Kyushu. This also means it can get quite busy, so try to go at non-peak times.
The ryokan complex also has separate gender outdoor baths with lovely garden views/outlook and 2 indoor tubs (also separate) which can also be used by people just coming to bathe, although most visitors seem to just frequent the famous sparrow bath. If you stay as a guest at the ryokan, they also have 2 small private bathrooms for use.
Entry to the onsen only is 400yen. Map link.
Dondoku yu – next to the Arden Hotel in Minamiaso-mura
Dondokuyu is a public bathhouse at the foot of the west route leading up to the Mount Aso summit; a perfect place to relax after a day up the mountain. The bathhouse is very large and has a range of indoor and outdoor baths. The outdoor area in particular is lovely, with four different temperature baths set in a landscaped garden setting. One of the nicest onsen I have visited.
The bathhouse is attached to the Arden Hotel; bathing fee is included in all room prices and access is via covered walkway from the hotel lobby. Public access to the bathhouse is great value at 500yen. Map link.
Beppu is probably the most famous and well known hot spring resort in Japan, if not the world. It is certainly the largest in Japan, with hundreds of bathhouses dotted around that are fed by 8 major hot springs. The city is perched on a hillside overlooking Kyushu’s west coast. There are massive steam vents/pipes pumping out steam from the largest onsens that can be seen when you look across town. In fact there is so much hot water coming up from the ground here that the steam also rises through vents in the street and from the canals. The city of Beppu is about 3 hours drive from Saga city by expressway, or you can take a highway bus. Trains also go from Hakata to Beppu.
Of course there are many many onsens to choose from in Beppu, so these reviews are from but a very small selection:
The Hyotan onsen is a large bathhouse that is extremely popular, especially in the evenings, with cars often lining the street to wait for a parking space. It is one of the major ‘tourist’ onsen in Beppu. As a result, you may wish to visit in the morning for a quieter experience. Also, the washing area is not really large enough to accommodate the number of women there in the evenings, so you may need to wait.
The bathhouse has a range of indoor and outdoor baths, as well as a sauna and ‘waterfall’ area. The ‘waterfalls’ consist of (natural hot spring) water pouring from about 6 pipes mounted high up a wall. The idea is that you stand or sit below one and get a great massage! Highly recommended. The indoor baths are a range of temperatures; the large outdoor bath is in a landscaped garden setting that is nicely lit up at night.
The complex also offers an indoor sandbath area (where you can don a yukata and be buried in hot sand), private baths and serves food in the central outdoor courtyard.
Open 9am – 1am. Entry is 700 yen, or 550 after 6pm. Map link.
Shibu no Yu（渋の湯）
This tiny, basic bathhouse was close to our accommodation so I checked it out as a change from the other more major onsen we visited in Beppu. There are a number of these very small onsen around town; they are generally very small, very basic and very cheap, but still tap into natural hot spring water sources. At this one, tourists should pay 100 yen to use a locker and store their belongings; locals use their own name tag to ‘reserve’ a basket for their stuff.
Nothing is supplied here, so you will need to bring any products with you. The bath is very small and washing area has only 2 taps. Most people wash with water drawn from the bath. The bath itself was very small (maybe 1.5m x 2.5m) and the water was very hot – just the way the locals like it.
I would have liked this bathhouse except that the local people there seemed very territorial and did not appreciate a foreigner in their midst. I was blatantly told to go and wash over in the corner by another woman who claimed that where I was washing was in fact her own ‘spot’. Although mine was not a particularly enjoyable experience, I would still recommend trying a small place like this as a really authentic onsen experience. Map link.
Myoban Yunosato (湯の里）
Just outside of the city part of Beppu, in a part of town known as Myoban, sits this beautiful outdoor onsen perched on a hillside. The washing area is completely open-air, as is the large bath itself. The whole place is fenced, but only neck-high, so when standing you can see out over the beautiful valley below. In fact, despite not being tall myself, I found I needed to crouch slightly so that people from the carpark area and hotel below would not be able to see more than my head and neck. Nevertheless, the feeling of openness here and the view were well worth it.
The large bath is high in mineral content (alum and sulfur), with cloudy water, but no real sulfur smell. The water coming out from the source point was quite hot, but the bath is large enough and outdoor so that various temperatures are achieved in different parts of the same bath. Unfortunately you can’t see the view over the valley from the bath. There is also an indoor bath, but it is so small and basic that it really doesn’t compare to the beautiful outdoor setting, which includes several benches for sitting/resting on.
The onsen also serves some food that has been steamed in the onsen steam, with small tables and chairs available to eat at. Below the onsen is a hotel with restaurant, as well as a tourist area where you can see how sulfur is extracted from the ground here.
To access this onsen from Beppu you will need a car. It’s about 15-20 minutes drive from the city. Open 10am – 10pm. Entry is 600 yen. Map link.
Onsen Hoyo Land
On the way to the Myouban onsen area, you can find another hidden gem – Onsen Hoyo Land. The main attraction here is a mud onsen, and appears to be popular with tourists coming to the area although it was not as crowded as I expected and we were the only foreigners. The recommended bathing ‘process’ is a little complicated here, so some Japanese will go a long way although is probably not mandatory as the reception staff explain to you using a map of the place.
The changing and washing area is very basic, with soap and other bathing products not permitted. No problem – you will first enter a bath high in sulfur content (cloudy water, a bit smelly), sure to clean you off. Next you will move to an indoor mud/water bath that is difficult to enter, only luke warm and is not the most pleasant feeling. I’m not really sure the purpose of this bath, except to maybe ‘get you ready’ for the real mud.
Then you move to the outdoor mud pool area. Here the baths are separated by a wooden barrier in the water but are otherwise mixed gender. That is, you can see the men sitting in the other half of the pool. The good news is that a special entry-way has been created for women so that you enter the muddy (cloudy) water and then shuffle along in a crouched position so that the men can’t see anything.
Apart from this main bath area, I was recommended by the lady at the reception to venture further to a more removed bath, as the quality is much higher. To get there, you will need to leave the comfort of the opaque mud bath and walk through the complex to a separate bath area. The area you walk through is accessible to both genders and can be seen from the main bath. So, a rather large modesty towel is a plus.
Although somewhat daunting to reach, we were rewarded by venturing to this outer bath. Given the necessary access route, the number of women was small and so it was much less crowded. As with the main bath, the entry point is separated but then both sides of the bath can see each other. The main drawcard at this bath was clearly the quality and volume of the mud. The whole bottom of the pool is mud and you can scoop it up and lather it all over. Apparently it has great healing properties and does wonders for the skin.
When you have finished in the mud bath, you return the way you came and there is a cool water shower to wash off all the mud.
I think I did feel rejuvenated once I came out, but this bath was really all about the experience. Entry is 1050 yen, but this sure beats the price of a mud wrap at any salon I know! Highly recommended. Open 9am – 10pm. Map link.
Located in the main ‘hell (jigoku) tour’ district is this cute, fairly modern onsen, tucked away behind the mud hell (Oniishi-Bouzu Jigoku – actually ‘Hell of Priest’s head’). Entry is right next to the entry point for this hell. The changing and washing area were clean and looked fairly new. There is a simple indoor bath, quite large, and a more landscaped outdoor bath and outdoor deck area to relax. There is also a raised bath up some stairs that is smaller but gives a feeling of being in the trees. We went at night, so it is unclear whether during the day you would actually get a view over any of Beppu from this area.
We went to this bath based on its pamphlet and a recommendation – it looked to be an onsen high in mineral content with lovely aqua blue water. On this count we were disappointed; certainly at night there was very little blue to be seen and the water did not seem to have any special effects on our skin. Still a fairly nice bathhouse if you are staying close by. Entry is 500 yen. Map link.
Yakushima is an island off the south coast of Kyushu, famous for its ancient cedar forest. A large part of the island is designated as natural heritage area and offers spectacular hiking opportunities. As a highly mountainous (volcanic) island, Yakushima also has quite a number of natural onsen dotted around the island.
JR Hotel Onsen, Onoaida
This onsen is located within the JR Hotel and seems like a popular stop after a long day’s hike; it was quite crowded when we went. The hotel is perched on a clifftop on the south coast of the island. The main indoor bath has a full glass window with fantastic view looking out over the coast of Yakushima and the sea. It also has a small outdoor bath. All washing products and towels are provided. Entry is about 600 yen. Map link.
Hirauchi Seaside Onsen
This onsen is an outdoor bath located in a tidal pool. Yes, it is directly in the ocean; in fact it is covered at high tide and so can only be accessed when the tide has gone out. There are a variety of small concrete bathing holes with range of temperatures from luke warm to very hot. The pools fill from water coming up from underground; there is a slight sulfur smell.
The main thing to note is that this onsen is mixed gender and there is no changing room. You will need to just take your clothes off and leave them on the ground or hanging over a rail, and use your ‘modesty towel’ to walk down to the baths.
Apparently some tourists sometimes come to look at the bath as a tourist attraction and not even get in, which can be daunting for people (especially foreigners) wanting to bathe here. However the experience of being outdoors with no protection, just naked with the sea, is pretty awesome. Highly recommended as one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. Entry is a 100yen ‘donation’ that you can choose to pay.
This onsen is located at the start (or finish) of one of the hiking trails on Yakushima (leading to falls or further up to Miyanoura-dake), making it a great place to rest your weary body after a long hike. There is a free foot bath outside.
In the bathhouse, facilities are fairly basic, with no washing products provided and only cold water coming from taps. Most people wash with water scooped out from the bath.
This place appears to be dominated by locals because it is free for residents to use. It is also very popular with older folk who like the EXTREMELY hot water. Entry is 500 yen. The woman who runs the place is not welcoming at all, but if you like a really hot bath, this is the place for you.
Onsen reviews written predominantly by Penny Fox (Taku ALT 2009-12, Shiroishi ALT 2012-14)