Travel

Top 10: A local's guide to the most unique hot springs in Kyushu

by Chris Ott

Contributing Writer

One of the great delights of Japan is its onsen (hot springs). Tens of thousands of steaming artesian oases dot the volcanic archipelago, welcoming the chilly with warmth, and the tired and sore with therapeutic succor. And for onsen enthusiasts, the island of Kyushu is one of the best places in Japan for some quality bathing.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, Kyushu boasts almost 21,000 facilities with onsen. Every minute, 695,000 liters of hot-spring water wells up from Kyushu’s volcanic interior.

Author Chris Ott in situ | CHRIS OTT
Author Chris Ott in situ | CHRIS OTT

With so many onsen, you can find one in any shape and form: super hot, lukewarm, sulfur rich, blue, orange, bubbling, muddy — you name it, there is a kind of water for you. Stunning views, closed in and cozy, traditional Japanese architecture, modern and chic, rustic and aged, somewhere in Kyushu awaits a place to please your senses.

Below is a list of 10 of the most unique and rare onsen Kyushu has to offer, treasures that may be unparalleled in all Japan. Yes, it’s quite the claim, but rest assured, it’s not hot air (though it is definitely hot water).

Hotel Grandspa Avenue Koraku no Yu, Fukuoka Prefecture

Alkaline onsen water is often referred to as bihada no yu, literally “hot water for beautiful skin.” This is because, like soap, the alkaline water cleanses the skin.

Hotel Grandspa Avenue Koraku no Yu has one of the most alkaline baths in the country, with an astonishing pH of 10. It’s some of the silkiest, slipperiest, smoothest water you’ll find, and you’ll leave feeling all the better for it.

Hotel Grandspa Avenue Koraku no Yu is a one-minute walk from Amagi Station. For information on hours and rates, visit bit.ly/hograndspa or call 0946-22-1215.

Tsukahara Onsen, Oita Prefecture

At the other end of the pH spectrum is Oita Prefecture’s Tsukahara Onsen, where you can soak in water with a pH of around 1.5. As acidic as stomach acid, it’s one of the most acidic baths in Japan.

Tsukahara is popular for its reported healing properties, said to help a variety of ailments from bruises and burns, to joint pain and dermatitis. Enter with care, as this onsen’s waters may not agree with everyone’s skin. Be careful not to get any water in your nose or eyes. Talk about a burner!

Tsukahara Onsen is best accessed by car. It is a 35-minute drive by car from Beppu Station. For information on operating hours and rates, visit tukaharaonsen.jp or call 0977-85-4101.

Free of charge: Beppu's Netsu no Yu | CHRIS OTT
Free of charge: Beppu’s Netsu no Yu | CHRIS OTT

Netsu no Yu, Oita Prefecture

Netsu no Yu is one of those “only in Japan” places: a well-maintained indoor onsen that is also entirely free.

Two doors and a number of signs mark the front of this onsen, but there is no front desk or coin box. From 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., you can soak for free in this bathhouse located in Kannawa, the famous onsen neighborhood in Beppu.

Netsu no Yu is a municipal facility and is generously maintained by the city. It is a wonderful gift to hot-spring lovers from a city that has more onsen establishments than any other in Japan.

The Kannawa area is a 20-minute bus ride from Beppu Station. For more information, visit bit.ly/netsuno or call 0977-21-1129.

Hoyoso Inn, Saga Prefecture

Located on the top of Hoyoso Inn’s roof is one of Kyushu’s finest seaside onsen, a single private bath that can be reserved for up to 50 minutes.

Sea and sky: Hoyosu Inn in Saga Prefecture has a private outdoor bath with excellent views over the Ariake Sea. | CHRIS OTT
Sea and sky: Hoyosu Inn in Saga Prefecture has a private outdoor bath with excellent views over the Ariake Sea. | CHRIS OTT

From the bath is an unrestricted view of the Ariake Sea, the inlet of water that runs between Saga and Nagasaki prefectures. With nothing but sky above and waters stretching to the horizon, here you can bathe in blue. It is a great spot to take a special someone that you want to impress.

Due to limited public opening hours, it is advised to call ahead and make reservations if you’d like to visit the rooftop bath. There is also an indoor bath available for more sheltered relaxation.

Hoyoso Inn is a 25-minute walk from Hizen-O-Ura Station. The Inn also offers a free shuttle bus from the station with prior notice. The private bath and indoor bath are available to day-guests from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Reservations for the private bath are accepted same day from 8 a.m. Private bath rate is ¥2,500 for 50 minutes. Indoor bath rate is ¥500. For more information, visit nikani.com or call 0954-68-3545.

Kujyukushima Seaside Terrace Hotel & Spa Hanamizuki, Nagasaki Prefecture

For some aficionados, an onsen isn’t complete without a cold water bath. The invigorating feeling of a cold dip after a hot soak is heaven.

Anyone searching for a top-notch cold bath need look no further than Kujyukushima Seaside Terrace Hotel & Spa Hanamizuki. It has one of the most revitalizing and refreshing cold water baths on the island.

The bath water is a rarity: orangish brown, rich with iron and other minerals. It’s also 100-percent kakenagashi (uncirculated fresh spring water). This onsen is a must for anyone looking for a place where you can alternate between hot and cold water and let time and stress slip away.

Kujyukushima Seaside Terrace Hotel & Spa Hanamizuki is a 10-minute taxi ride from Sasebo Station. A shuttle bus runs once an hour from Sasebo Station. For information on operating hours and rates, visit saspa99.jp or call 0956-28-5151.

Kafutei, Kumamoto Prefecture

Of all Kyushu’s onsen, you may only find one that is perfectly complete: Kafutei.

Yes, there are bathhouses in Japan that have better views, water quality or atmosphere. However, this refuge is an amalgamation of forethought and aesthetics, offering up every kind of amenity and luxury that can be found at an onsen.

The perfect soak: Kafutei in Kumamoto Prefecture offers up every kind of amenity and luxury that can be found at a Japanese hot spring. | CHRIS OTT
The perfect soak: Kafutei in Kumamoto Prefecture offers up every kind of amenity and luxury that can be found at a Japanese hot spring. | CHRIS OTT

These include kakenagashi, unchlorinated spring water; indoor and outdoor baths; an expansive view over rice paddies and hills; a cold water bath; a sauna; hinoki (Japanese cypress) flooring and baths; and free lockers, cotton swabs, razors and a water dispenser.

Perhaps most importantly, this onsen was designed and is maintained with meticulous care and attention to detail and ambiance. There is not one hose, tool, pipe, exposed wire or broken fixture diminishing the visual perfection of the place. There are no handwritten laminated signs in the onsen, only professionally made, tasteful notices that blend in with the overall aesthetic.

Kafutei is best accessed by car. It is an hour’s drive from Kumamoto Station. For operating hours and rates, visit www.kafutei.co.jp or call 0120-3141-60.

The scalding sauna bath of Iwai Onsen | CHRIS OTT
The scalding sauna bath of Iwai Onsen | CHRIS OTT

Iwai Onsen, Kumamoto Prefecture

Inside Iwai Onsen you’ll find something that is almost unheard of: a bath inside a sauna.

This is no ordinary bath, either. It is filled with exceptionally hot water piped straight from the ground. The water is so hot that it doubles as the sauna’s heat source.

For anyone interested in a steam and soak, it’s best to visit this onsen in the winter. Only then does the sauna bath cool enough to allow for a quick dip.

For those looking for a simmer rather than a boil, Iwai Onsen also has wonderful indoor and outdoor baths that can be enjoyed throughout the year. And worry not about your travel schedule — Iwai is open for your bathing pleasure 24 hours a day!

Iwai Onsen is a 25-minute walk from Hitoyoshi Station. For more information, visit iwai.ecgo.jp or call 0966-24-8385.

Gokuraku Onsen, Miyazaki Prefecture

Gokuraku Onsen is home to what is probably the most carbonated hot spring in Kyushu. It is a true treat and a bath there feels akin to a world class spa treatment.

Post-bath, the highly carbonated water will leave your skin glowing. The price for that glow? Tingling testicles and a slight face burn. It really is that bubbly.

Gokuraku Onsen is best accessed by car. It is a 20-minute drive from Kobayashi Station. For information on operating hours and rates, visit gokuraku-sanga.com or call 0984-42-3326.

En plein air: For the adventurous, Kagoshima Prefecture's Me no Yu onsen is a completely natural outdoor bath. | CHRIS OTT
En plein air: For the adventurous, Kagoshima Prefecture’s Me no Yu onsen is a completely natural outdoor bath. | CHRIS OTT

Me no Yu, Kagoshima Prefecture

For those seeking an exceptional natural onsen, Me no Yu is the place.

Me no Yu is a natural pool formed in rocks and is filled with hot water that seeps into it from below. It is the only 100-percent natural onsen in Kyushu. Human hand neither constructed the bath — as far as one can tell — nor fills it with water.

This one-of-a-kind natural pool is only for the most adventurous. It is located in the forest, about 100 meters from the road. There is no privacy or changing rooms, just nature.

Beware, the water temperature and level can fluctuate greatly here and may not allow for a dip.

Me no Yu is best accessed by car. For its location, visit bit.ly/menoyu.

HealthyLand Resort's Tamatebako Onsen | COURTESY OF HEALTHYLAND RESORT
HealthyLand Resort’s Tamatebako Onsen | COURTESY OF HEALTHYLAND RESORT

Tamatebako Onsen, Kagoshima Prefecture

The view from HealthyLand Resort’s Tamatebako Onsen outdoor bath was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2017 on TripAdvisor. It has the kind of stunning panorama that will leave you feeling giddy with excitement, wanting to share the experience with another.

Between the shimmering blue horizon stretching out beyond the bath and the majestic cone of volcanic Mount Kaimon rising up from the distant coast, it is a view that will leave you in awe. Visit on a bright blue, cloudless day, when bath water and sea merge into one.

HealthyLand Resort is best accessed by car. It is a 15-minute drive from Ibusuki Station. Buses also run from the station to HealthyLand. For information on operating hours and rates, visit bit.ly/healthyland or call 0993-35-3577.

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