Mar 282008

The next morning the weather was so cold and overcast that I seriously thought about spending the day indoors. There’s no doubt in my mind: traveling in the Summer is far superior. Sure, it can be uncomfortably hot and humid, but the skies are blue and the days are long. Going outside might make you stink, but at least it doesn’t make you freeze, shiver, and get pneumonia πŸ˜›

In the end I forced myself to go out, and it paid off wonderfully. Beppu is a city lying in a valley right on the coast – green mountains to one side and the blue ocean to the other. Today I hopped on a bus up a mountain to an area where I heard there are a few secluded ιœ²ε€©ι’¨ε‘‚. I followed the directions precisely: exit at Tsurumi Rei-En bus stop, turn left by the small flower shop and hike uphill till you come to the cemetery. Walk up the small road that hugs the right side of the graveyard until the road ends. Dive into the bushes to your left, and there’s the bath.

What I found was a small babbling creek with steam coming off it, concluding at a wooden shack and outdoors pool with little a old man soaking in it. “The water isn’t so hot today,” he said in oji-san Japanese. “That’s okay, I’ll still give it a try.”

The water was scalding.

As I sat looking up at the steam rising around me, mountains to either side, and ocean below, the clouds began to part – and it turned into a beautiful sunny day. The man left and another came. This one told me of another, more secluded onsen even higher up in the mountains. Go back to the round-about where the paved road ends, and to the left you’ll see an area where the shrubbery has been burned away. Climb up there and follow the path uphill until you reach a stone gate. Keep walking until you get to an area where the rocks are steaming. Turn right, climb up, and you’ll be right there.

I did what he told me, but apparently took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up walking in the exact wrong direction. I did, however, end up finding a stone gate, which confused me quite a bit – so I stopped and stared at it scratching my head for a couple of minutes while pondering where I’d gone wrong. Then another little old man in a minivan drove by. He apparently detected my confusion, as he stopped a few paces up the road and popped his head out the window. “Where you headed? Need a lift?”

He just happened to be on his way up the mountain to chop a christmas tree for his family. I’ve found that out here in the η”°θˆŽ, people are much more interested in talking with foreigners – I guess it’s because Kyoto has become so completely overrun by them that they’re no longer a rarity at all.

We drove back up the way I came, munched on a couple of mandarin oranges he had with him, and soon I was back on my own, climbing higher and higher.

The further I went the louder the trickling water became, the yellower the earth, and the more steaming vents appeared. It reminded me of the top of the volcano I climbed with my dad in Thailand; if I had a raw egg, I could’ve buried it and it would’ve been hard-boiled in minutes.

Soon I was soaking in front of yet another beautiful outdoors backdrop. My third onsen in one day (I also took one at the hotel where I stayed). This last week I’ve more than quadrupled the number of onsen that I’d been to over the previous 2 years in Japan.

But I wasn’t done. Because right at the base of this mountain lie Hoyo Onsen Land, home of some of the best mud baths in the country. And they’re all ζ··ζ΅΄ – something I’d never yet experienced. They were very interesting, although the mud was a bit thinner than I’d hoped (as Peder, who came here several weeks earlier, warned).

Then, after leaving, as I started walking down the hill, a man whom I’d talked briefly with in one of the mudbaths pulled over in his car. “Are you planning to walk all the way back into town?? That’ll take forever! Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.”

So friendly in the η”°θˆŽ!

He transported me down the hill, mentioning another spot he thought I might like – a mountain just one stop away on the JR line that’s completely overrun by monkeys.

I checked my Lonely Planet.



Dinner was at a local Korean restaurant. The chef, like almost everyone I’ve met here on Kyushu, was very friendly and talkative. We chatted about how he came from Seoul to make money, dreaming of one day studying business in the US.

Then I returned to my little onsen-ryokan, was greeted by a new but equally peppy little old lady, checked into the room next to the one from the previous night, and passed out.

  12 Responses to “Japan Notes 4 – Hidden Baths”

  1. Hey, I remember that first rotenburo! Camping out at the top of the cemetery in front of the bushes leading to it was a bit eerie, but jumping in at two o’clock in the morning underneath a starlit sky was sublime πŸ™‚

  2. Wow, pretty cool idea…did you do that on your own? I’m surprised it’s allowed πŸ˜›

  3. Yeah, I did a solo cycling and camping trip across Korea and Japan. I did not know about the legality of camping outside designated camping spots at the time (2002) but later met a couple in Kyoto who said they write Lonely Planet guide books and that camping is allowed on all public grounds in Japan (hence the number of homeless in all the parks – camped with them also). Tried this out again last summer and this time even met a few fellow gaijin doing the same. Great times and some of the best experiences in my life.

  4. Damn, that’s awesome man! I assume you read my “Tour de Japan” posts? (which I’m sure seem totally wussy by comparison πŸ˜› )

    Also, if you’re into long-distance biking you should check out this guy’s site. He’s done some INSANE trips – New Zealand, Europe, Korea, USA, Malaysia, Taiwan, and all over Japan…

    You have any documentation/blog-type-stuff on your journey?

  5. cool pics…..seems very serene

  6. Thanks, dude!

    I’m not so much into long distance cycling as I am into adventure. I used a bicycle in Japan as a tool to experience the country to the extreme. Cycling and camping offered ultimate freedom. No special planning, only a few pre-selected places of interest and three simple rules to follow: if it rains, stay put. If there’s an earthquake, enjoy the massage. If a volcano erupts, get the hell out of there!

    I’d read and loved ‘Tour de Japan’ and it gave me the inspiration to redo this destination. But as you know, there is one thing that can play havoc with your itinerary in the summer months and that’s typhoons. Having previously gone through three (not very fun when you’re outdoors 24/7), I spent pretty much the entire last trip checking Accuweather for forecasts and visiting places that were dry. I ended up spending a lot of time on the Sea of Japan side of Western Honshu which turned out to be a great place. In Matsue I enrolled in a short course in making traditional Japanese sweets. Speaking only ten words of Japanese didn’t really help my cause, but monkey see-monkey do. Gaijin san was elected the top pupil and presented with a special gift box. Nice πŸ™‚ My artisan skills were later proven to be lacking when my Hagi clay coffee mug came out looking like something a five-year old would make in kindergarten…

    Photos and stories of my travels used to be accessible at geocities but that’s no longer the case and I lost the content. Bummer.

  7. Sounds like you’re the exact same type of traveler as myself. Awesome. How long did you spend on your trip? Ever done that in other parts of the world? One thing I really love about Japan is that it’s so clean and safe that virtually nowhere is off-limits; you always know you’re going to be okay. That is definitely not the case anywhere else I’ve been.

    If you ever make it back for more Japan-biking, you should definitely do the loop around Biwako. The West coast is a bit industrial, but the East and North sections are spectacular, with beaches, forests, and official campgrounds everywhere.

  8. Our travel styles are definitely similar, which is why I drop by and check your site.

    The last trip to Japan was supposed to last a month but was cut down to half when I encountered trouble with the girl back home. Biwako was scratched due to the weather but remains on the to-do list. The great thing about the country is that despite three visits totalling three months I haven’t tired of it.

    Like you said, Japan is definitely the safest place on earth, especially if you’re going to do something outrageous. I was stopped frequently by police for various traffic violations and even spent a week camped out in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho red light district but nothing bad ever came of it. I quickly discovered that as a foreigner in the face of trouble all one has to do is turn on some charm or feign ignorance and you become untouchable.

    That definitely does not work everywhere and each of the sixty countries I’ve visited so far required a different approach to maximize the experience.

  9. Damn dude, SIXTY countries! Mind if I ask how old you are/what you do for work? I hope to get to 60 myself someday, heh πŸ™‚

  10. I’m 29 and I sell drugs. The prescription variety of course but this line opens up conversations really well when I meet people πŸ˜‰

  11. Hah! Now that is what I call a great opener!

    I gotta come up with something like that πŸ˜†

  12. Wow! That beautiful place! Must give a peace of mind!

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