Vast bustling area of Beppu Hot Spring
We arrived at Shin-moji Harbour in Fukuoka by car ferry. After we stopped over at Beppu Hot Spring Recreation Land, we drove by our motorbikes toward main city to find an inn for that day.
We were planning to stay at a "guesthouse" that night to save our accommodation fee.
In Japan, cheap lodging house for backpackers are called "guesthouse". This kind of cheap lodging houses are called "hostels" or "backpackers" in foreign countries, but these words are not commonly used in Japan. "Hostel" means some of the affiliate rest house of "Japan Youth Hostels Inc.".
We found 2 guesthouses in our map. One is named "Kan-nawa Guesthouse" in Kan-nawa area, and the other is "Beppu Guesthouse" near Beppu Station.
Kan-nawa Guesthouse, a inn like a private house
First, we headed to Kan-nawa Guesthouse. As we didn't have detailed map or information like its address or phone number, we had difficulty finding the guesthouse.
This is Kan-nawa Guesthouse, whose exterior looks same as neighboring houses. As this guesthouse is located in residential area far from stations, it may be bit inconvenient for people without cars or motorbikes.
Looking closer, we found a signboard on the second floor window, and many motorbikes were parked.
Though we were planning to have dinner at a nearby restaurant, there were few places to eat within walking distance of the guesthouse.
Also, there was only one small bathhouse around Kan-nawa Guesthouse, compared to main Beppu area where we can find many natural hot springs available at a low price. As Kan-nawa Guesthouse was not satisfactory for us, we decided to move on to check another inn, "Beppu Guesthouse".
"Beppu Guesthouse", conveniently located near Beppu Station
Beppu Guesthouse is located in bustling area in front of Beppu Station, and the traffic around there was busy during evening rush hour.
This is Beppu Guesthouse, a big building renovated from a hospital.
It seems that there are many restaurants around the guesthouse. As we asked for vacancy at the front desk, we were able to find availability at the dormitory.
First floor was for common space including a kitchen and a lounge room. After checking in, we went upstairs and found out that guest rooms on the second floor is for men, and guest rooms on the third floor is for women. Guest room floor reminded me of a hospital rooms, which it originally was.
I was assigned a share room of 10 square meter with two bunk beds.
Nobody was in the room then, but one of the bed was used and a big suitcase was left.
I put my baggage on the bed, changed my clothes to an easy-fit, got ready for Onsen with a towel and a soap, and then went out into Beppu town.
There are many louche place in famous hot spring area
We came to Beppu by our motorbikes not by train, so we took this opportunity to have a look at Beppu Station.
This is Beppu Station.
As we were strolling the main street, we found a louche movie theater.
For Japanese people, taking a bath means not only washing our body but also a recreation means.
Decades ago, only men could enjoy hot springs as a leisure, while women rarely had chances to leave home.
Therefore, there are many X-rated shops in famous hot spring area in Japan, such as pornography movie theaters, skin houses or adult entertainment shops, where men debauched away from home.
Nowadays, all films screening were sound and sane.
After decades, main guests of the hot springs now are women and family. Recently, old-fashioned louche places for men are disappearing in many hot springs, because of their vulgarity.
Looking closely, all the screening films were unknown and off-the-track.
At the entrance of the theater, there was a signboard which announces that minor actress Tomomi Nishimura would come to the theater as a publicity for a movie featuring her.
Ekimae Koto Hot Spring, a hot spring containing an inn without meals
After passing by the theater, we saw a small western-style building by the street. This is a public bath called Ekimae Koto Hot Spring.
There was a inn without meals at the second floor of the Ekimae Koto Hot Spring, and we saw a sign of vacancy at the entrance. We wished we could have chose this inn rather than Beppu Guesthouse, because it has a hot spring and its exterior is attracting, while their room charge is almost the same.
As we entered the building, there was a ticket vending machine by the side of the reception. We bought a ticket, and yet the lady at the front desk kept talking on the phone. It sounded like it was a personal call regarding her cooking recipe, something like "No, I don't put soy sauce in it…" She hold the phone when we submitted our ticket to her, but we were surprised to see how easy her job is.
If you use both nuruyu (tepid water bathtub) and atsuyu (hot water bathtub), you will be charged extra
There are no open-air bath or mixed bath in Ekimae Koto Hot Spring. It consist of 2 indoor bathes, one for men and one for women.
Both of them have nuruyu (tepid water bathtub) and atsuyu (hot water bathtub), which cost extra charge.
We often see hot springs with several bathes of different temperature, but they usually don't cost extra. How stingy, let us use both at a single price!
As I thought it was not worth paying for both, I decided to take tepid bath only.
In women's bath, there was only a woman and her small son. It was not so crowded as I expected, though the hot spring is at convenient place, in front of the station.
In Japan, small children can use bath of different sex with their parents. Age restriction is not so strict, and we often see boys 7-8 years old and under with his mother in women's bath.
Bathing area was made about one meter lower than dressing room, and there was a small washing space with two showers and two bathtubs, only for 3 people each.
When using a public bath, we usually follow a manner to wash our body before entering a bathtub, to keep the bathtub water clean.
It is desirable to rub your full body thoroughly with a soap, but some people just wash their body by shower water.
There are pails equipped in a washing area, but it is better to use shower water rather than dipping up bathtub water by pails, because some people don't like that. However, when I tried to use shower of the Ekimae Koto Hot Spring, only cold water came out from both showers. I guess water heater or boiler was either broken or cut off.
I think front desk lady should have told us about the cold water beforehand, rather than chatting.
As I can not use hot water, I directly dipped up bathtub water to wash my body.
There were two types of bathtubs of different temperature, but both of them were lukewarm. it seems that hot water supply to bathtub was also stopped.
Compared to mad bath of Hot Spring Recreation Land we previously visited, water of Ekimae Koto Hot Spring was clear, odorless and simple thermal hot spring. That is the strength of Beppu, you can enjoy different kind of hot springs.
Heat of the water was tepid so that I can lounge for hours, but I got out of bath after half an hour, not to make my buddy wait.
This is how hotel rooms in the second floor looked like.
In Beppu, there are lots of cheap business hotels or inns containing hot springs to choose from, so it is not recommended to stay in guesthouses without hot springs, unless you have particular purposes such as self-catering or communicating with like-minded companions.
Night at huge entertainment drinking district in Beppu
We left Ekimae Koto Hot Spring, heading to Beppu main area to have dinner.
Beppu hot spring area has a main arcade in its center, surrounded by small shopping streets crossing the city.
In May 2013 when we visited Beppu, they were holding a collaboration event between Beppu Hot Spring area and Tatsunoko Production, an animation film production company, whose famous work includes Speed Racer or Gatchaman.
Many life-sized panels of animation characters were displayed everywhere around Beppu area. We saw a panel of Speed racer hero, and found out that Kanji character "別" taken from "別府(Beppu)" was designed on his chest.
You should go to Izakaya, Japanese style bistro, to try local foods
We headed to Izakaya, a Japanese style bistro. There are plenty of Izakaya in Beppu.
Many Izakayas display red lanterns and a big curtain called "Noren" in front of them to welcome visitors.
Izakayas with this kind of old-fashioned look are sometimes exclusive for local repeaters, but that does not apply to izakayas in tourist resorts like Beppu. Some izakayas may have English menus for foreigners.
Izakaya menus mainly consist of seafood such as sashimi (raw fish). Like sushi, sashimi and tempura, Japanese seafood is famous around the world.
Other than that, they serve various kinds of dishes with different cookery in Izakaya, according to local fish species and local food culture. Izakaya guests are mainly local people, and you can enjoy specialty and unique cookery there.
Next to Izakaya with red lanterns, there are many garish neon for Japanese pubs.
These Japanese pubs called Snacks are like hostess bars, where guests are entertained by gorgeously appareled ladies. there are lots of Snacks in Beppu entertainment area.
In 1980s, when I was a child, there were many snacks in tourist resorts. However, after economic boom around 1990, Japanese tend to travel abroad, and domestic tourist resorts became declined.
Though people came back to domestic tourist resorts after bubble economy burst, they didn't spend much on night town as they used to, and many of the Snack towns in Japan became like ghost towns.
However, In Beppu, glittering, tacky, out-of-date onsen style was still there.
Light of Beppu snack areas gives Japanese astonishment and nostalgic feeling.
"Wow, such good sight is still left!"
In Beppu, you can still see big buildings whose tenants are all snacks, which is rarely seen in other areas.
In a corner of snack buildings, we found a foot spring, "ashiyu"(not for drunken people or dressed-up hostesses, I guess). You can see that public side (at daytime) and underside (at nighttime) of society is blended in Beppu Hot Spring area.
Kyusyu soy sauce, too sweet for Japanese
At first, we were optimistic about finding a place to have dinner among numerous izakayas, but gradually found out that many of them were occupied.
After several tries, we finally found a izakaya with open seats. We ordered sashimi (sliced law fish) of a horse mackerel. As it was caught inshore, it really looked fresh and appetizing.
I poured soy sauce in my plate, dipped sashimi slice in, put it into my mouth… wow, how sweet! It tasted so sweet and strange, like confections. How come?
Apparently, it was because of soy sauce. I have heard that soy sauce in Kyusyu is sweet, but the taste was beyond my expectation.
After half a day in Kyusyu, this was the first time for me to realize that we were in a different culture. By then, it had not sunk in yet that I was in Kyusyu, because its climate or scenery was not so different from Tokyo.
Taste of soy sauce was the first culture shock for me.
At any rate, that sauce was too sweet for me. I decided to take Tokyo soy sauce with me next time.
Oita local specialty, toriten (chicken fritter)
Next thing we ordered was toriten, which I definitely wished to eat in Beppu.
Toriten, local specialty of Beppu, means chicken fritter. It is similar to karaage, deep-fried chicken, Japanese universal food. Compared to spicy-taste karaage, toriten tastes light. People dig toriten into ponzu sauce, mixture of soy sauce and squeezed citrus juice.
In that izakaya, toriten was made of chicken brisket. I had an stereotype image that chicken brisket is rather tough and dried out, but that toriten made of brisket was juicy and tender, lighter than thigh meat.
Compared to crispy batter in Tokyo, its texture was soft and fluffy, like flitter.
This is motsunabe, popular food in Kyusyu area.
Motsunabe means a hot pot stew made with offal meat and vegetables like leek and cabbage. Is this beef or pork? It was hard to tell, as I don't often eat motsu (offal).
I suggest that you eat motsunabe quickly while it is hot, because fat congeals when it gets cold.
As we left izakaya and came back to guesthouse, several families with small children were preparing their dinner at the kitchen.
If you travel with small children, their rambunctiousness sometimes makes you feel uncomfortable. However, in a guesthouse, you can casually mingle with families with similar situation, and children can play together.
It was around 9:00 PM, too early to go to bed, but we decided to rest in our guest room as we were buzzed a little bit.
I had a concern that people should socialize with roommates in guesthouses. However, this time, I did not have to communicate much with my roommates except greeting. I was relieved to be able to have my private time.
I guess I am not so suited to sharing a room with strangers.
Takegawara Onsen (public bath) opens at 6:30 in the morning
As I slept early, I woke up past 6:00 AM next morning. We decided to take a morning bath at nearby hot spring, "Takegawara Onsen".
There was another ashiyu (foot spring) by buildings for night clubs, though it looked like a scullery with onsen water rather than foot spring.
Now we arrived at Takegawara Onsen. This onsen, made in 1879, used to be a humble shack with a bamboo roof. In 1938, it was rebuilt into a substantial building as it is now.
Takegawara Onsen opens at 6:30 AM, and the charge is remarkably cheep, only 100 yen. It is cheaper than a canned juice in Japan.
Though the building is old, it was handled with care, and the floor board was polished bright like a mirror.
Takegawara Onsen has indoor bath for men and women each, together with a sand bath. Sand bath, opens at 8:00 AM, was closed then.
Immediately after it opened, there were many people in the bath and I couldn't take a photo. Bathroom was similarly made to Ekimae Koto Hot Spring we visited the day before. There was a dressing room near the entrance, and bathroom and bathtub was made at lower place.
Size of the bathtub was smaller than I expected, and the space was for not more than 7 or 8 people. I recommend visiting there early in the morning (just after it opened), as it would be so crowded in daylight of holidays, and the bath water gets dirty.
Water was relatively hot when I entered in the bathtub. It was about 42 degrees Celsius, suitable temperature for me, but one of the regular visitor was complaining about its tepidity.
At Takegawara Onsen, source of hot spring in men's bath is different from women's bath.
According to the table of composition put up at the lobby, source of hot spring in men's bath is different from women's bath.
Women's bath: sodium hydrogen carbonated spring
Men's bath: sodium calcium magnesium chloride hydrogen carbonated spring
Takegawara Promenade, an arcade designated as a cultural heritage
We left Takegawara Onsen, and took a different route to go back.
By a chance, we passed Takegawara Promenade, the oldest wooden arcade in Japan, made in 1921.This arcade was designated as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
We can feel its historic ambience from motives around. In 1920s, when there was no neon billboard, tiles decorated in western design looked gorgeous and attracted people's eyes. Now, surface of tiles is undulating and looks fragile.
There was a good old snack here, too. It was closed in the early morning, but I guess people would gather there at night, singing karaoke and talking about their grandchildren with middle-aged hostesses.
We returned to our guesthouse, get prepared and checked out.
Now, its time to set out.
Beppu guest house
1-12 Ekimaecho, Beppu, Oita Prefecture 874-0935
This post is also available in 日本語.