Forget Tokyo and Kyoto. They’re a lot of fun and very beautiful, sure, but if you want a real taste of the Land of the Rising Sun, you’ve got to venture out into the sticks. Rural Japan is where you’ll discover the heart of this magnificent country, brimming with traditional charm and authentic atmosphere. Japan is divided into four main islands, but only one of them contains the legendary ‘Eight Hells’. It’s named Kyushu, and it’s situated at the very south of the (particularly narrow) archipelago that makes up the familiar map of Japan.
Kyushu is home to many legendary sites from feudal Japanese eras, including Kumamoto Castle, the breathtaking Yotoku Inari shrine, and the solitary cave where undefeated samurai Minamoto Musashi wrote his enduringly popular book on strategy, The Book of Five Rings. But no tour to Kyushu is complete without a stop off at Beppu, home of the ‘Eight Hells’. By now you must be wondering what exactly these terrifying sounding ‘Eight Hells’ are exactly, and why on earth you’d want to travel to see them. Before all is revealed, have a look on BUCKiTDREAM to see if any other intrepid travelers have braved the hateful eight, and keep that BUCKiTDREAM planner handy as we take you through the closest thing to Hell on earth that we’ve got on offer (unless you count Washington D.C. in 2017).
Enough suspense; the Eight Hells of Beppu are naturally occurring hot spring sites. As a region, Kyushu has long been associated with the traditional hot spring bath, known natively as onsen, though the Eight Hells are a little more stylistic than your run-of-the-mill public bathhouses. Though you can’t bathe in the Hells (and to be honest, would you fancy it if you could?) each Hell has its own theme, and are easily within reach of one another. Six of them can be found on the same site, while the other two are a mere few minutes drive away. It costs around $20 to see all eight, and while the tour is in Japanese, there’s loads of handy English signage to steer you through your Dantean journey.
As it’s Japan, each Hell has its own name and distinct niche in the set. The first Hell you encounter is the ‘Sea Hell’, the largest one on offer. It probably gets its name from the disarmingly bright blue pond at its center, where the boiling waters reach over 200 meters below the earth. The ‘Sea Hell’ comes complete with a beautiful traditional garden, complete with shrine gates and sakura trees, making it one of the more relaxing and inviting Hells on offer.
The second one you encounter is certainly more bizarre. Known as the ‘Shaven Head Hell’, this Hell is comprised mostly of gray, clay-like mud, and gets its name from the way it bubbles up from under the earth like a monk’s head. This Hell comes complete with complimentary footbaths, so do take some time out to bathe those feet, before moving deeper into the Eight Hells.
Next one up is Mountain Hell, which is exceptionally steamy. This one also features a pretty comprehensive zoo, where you can view a variety of animals up close and personal; though if you’re not partial to wildlife, you can easily retitle this one Animal Hell. Moving on, we come to the most bombastic of the pack; the intimidatingly titled Cooking Pot Hell, which features a statue of a raging demon atop its peak. The name should also be taken literally, as you can enjoy the local unique delicacy of a boiled egg cooked straight from the boiling earth at this stop.
Then we come to the fifth Hell, named Demon Mountain Hell. This one could aptly be described as a literal ‘Hell’ as it contains the stuff of nightmares. The conditions of this particular hot spring have rendered it the perfect breeding ground for crocodiles; a pack of them infest the muddy waters. You can peer in pretty close to the reptiles too, as they all slither around underneath you. Thankfully, Hell number six is much more restrained; known as the ‘White Pond Hell’ due to the chalky white color of its waters, this hot spring is surrounded by a beautiful traditional Japanese garden, reminiscent of the first stop on the Hell tour. There are a few piraña tanks knocking about, but if you’ve had enough of things snapping at you, you can just focus on the zen-like tranquility of White Pond.
The Japanese undoubtedly have a taste for showmanship, and the final two Hells are certainly the most dramatic. The first, known as ‘Blood Pond Hell’, boils to such a degree that it turns the bottom-lined clay a muddy red, which in turn dyes the water a visually-stunning hue of dark crimson. Looking literally like a pit of Hell, the seventh stop on the tour is worth the price of entry alone. Winding up the tour is the final Hell, known as the ‘Waterspout Hell’. This is less of a hot spring and more of a full-on the geyser, which is prone to erupting every half an hour or so, reaching over 50 meters in height. Luckily for visitors, the geyser is contained within a rock enclosure so you won’t fall victim to this explosive finale.
The Eight Hells of Kyushu are a unique, exciting and exotic day out, in a country which wrote the book on unique days out. Avail yourself of the visitor-friendly Japan Rail Pass to chug your way from Tokyo or Kyoto to Kyushu via bullet train, and get ready to enjoy all the mystical magic the ancient island of Kyushu has to offer!