The Hells of Beppu (別府の地獄), Japan

On the northeastern coast of the island of Kyushu lies Beppu, one of Japan’s best-known resort towns. For centuries, Japanese people have been flocking to this hot spring paradise to relax and cure their ailments. In addition to all the onsen (Japanese hot spring baths), Beppu also hosts 7 “Hells” – amazing hot springs near 100°C. These are much too hot to swim in so why would you go?

The reason is simple: each Hell has unique properties that set it apart from the others – temperature, mineral deposits, and size create stunning displays of colour, water, and steam. It is a spectacle that should not be missed. Let’s dive in (but only figuratively since we don’t want to be cooked alive):

The Hells of Beppu Tour

The Hells of Beppu Tour refers a route that lets you take in all 7 hells. All 7 Hells are located in the Kannaawa district of Beppu. Five are located together and the other 2 are located a couple of kilometres/miles away using a very convenient local bus.

There is an accompanying ticket that also gives you access to all 7 hells. You can do them in any order, so I will present them in the order that I visited them.

Mountain Hell / YAMA JIGOKU (山の地獄)

The first hell that I visited was the Yama Jigoku, or Mountain Hell, a hot spring with a compact zoo attached. Actually “zoo” might be taking it too far because there is only one type of animal: crocodiles. Even in Kyushu, the farthest south of Japanese four main islands, the winters become too cold to support crocodiles. That is, with the exception of Beppu’s Yama Jigoku, which supports a large crocodile population year-round.

To be honest this was the most boring of the Hells of Beppu for me. While the crocodiles seem to be well looked after, the smaller pens are really just metal cages with some water in them. In these ones, the crocodiles were kept separately. This could be due to their temperament or other reason but it just seemed sad to me. The crocs in the larger pens seemed to have a good environment and be content with their surroundings.

I was not there at feeding time but if you go at those times, I am told that the crocodiles are very active. It makes sense – I enjoy food too!

Cooking pot hell / Kamado Jigoku (かまど地獄)

The Cooking Pot Hell, or Kamado Jigoku, was my next stop. The name comes from a myth in which steamed rice was cooked using this hell (the steam gets to 90°C).It was and offered to the guardian god for the Kamado Hachimangu Shrine Festival. Ever since it has been known as the Kamado Jigoku.

While the name refers to the largest body of water that you see in the complex, there are actually several hot springs here. Some of which have their own unique mineral composition. That is why the pictures (below) have a wide range of coloured hot springs. They are all heated by the same subsurface source, so they are referred to by the same name.

In addition to the creation of its name, this Hell is also the one that spews the most hot spring water in Japan. Another thing to check off the bucket list!

It was a night-and-day contrast with the Mountain Hell. Whereas the Mountain Hell is a very dull colour, the cooking pot hell is anything but. A myriad of pools and colours as well as the planets around them make them a much more interesting site to visit.

Additionally, since this is the cooking pot hell, you can also buy food that has been cooked using the steam of the Hell., which is a speciality of Beppu. At the Cooking Pot Hell, I had a steamed matcha pudding, which was absolutely delicious. 10/10 would recommend it.

This hell is also one of the ones that offer a foot bath, a concept which is also popular in Beppu. This water is a cooled version of the water that comes out of the source of the Hell. You can drip your feet in for free and there are even free foot towels available for you when you get out. Definitely worth the time!

Sea Hell / Umi Jogoku (海地獄)

After the footbath and matcha pudding of the Cooking Pot Hell, Umi Jigoku, or the Sea Hell, is a completely different experience. By area, the Umi Jigoku is the largest of the Hells. The Sea Hell heats not only the hot spring with the same name but also some surrounding lakes, raising them to tropical temperatures. As a result, the Sea Hell combines the best of Japanese gardens and tropical climates, creating the Japanese version of a tropical garden. Cranes forage among tropical water lilies and palm trees are a common sight, especially the closer to the hot spring that you go.

You enter through this combo Japanese tropical garden and then go through a large building that serves as the entryway to the hot spring part of the Sea Hell.

If you were to ask me which was my favourite Hell, it would be difficult to choose between the Cooking Pot and Sea Hells. I liked the atmosphere at the Sea Hell the best. With the Shrine, the gardens and the greenhouse which uses steam from the Hell to grow plants, it was a whole package that felt like an entire experience in and of itself.

The Hell is the main attraction in this complex but the gardens really stood out for me as well and I also enjoyed the building you have to go through to get to the Hell. It is a combination omiyage (souvenir) shop and a museum/art gallery of the Hell. It is very easy to spend a lot of time there and the gifts you can get are reasonably priced and a delicious treat to take back to your coworkers to say “I am sorry that I went on holiday, had fun without you, and left you with all that work”.

別府海地獄-秋休み2022年 | Beppu Sea Hell – October 2022

Hell Of the Monk’s Head / Oniishibozu Jigoku (鬼石坊主地獄)

The Hell of the Monk’s Head, the fourth in our list of 7, is another garden Hell experience. This beautiful garden is punctuated by thermal mud springs bubbling among the rocks and releasing steam. This one is a much more typical Japanese-style garden. Here are some images:

White Pond Hell / Shiraike Jigoku (白池地獄)

The fifth stop on our tour and the last one in this location was the Shiraike Jigoku or the White Pond Hell. The White Hell Pond is a water-based hot spring, the minerals of which cause the water to turn a greenish-milky white colour. In addition to the hot spring, there is also a small aquarium with tropical fish that you can walk around. It is small and there isn’t much in the tanks in terms of environment but they do have a wide range of fish for the size of the aquarium itself.

Going to Chinoike Jigoku and Tatsumaki Jigoku

To get to the Blood Pond Hell and Spout Hell, you need to take a bus from the other five Hells to the bus stop for the other two. Getting there is very simple: get on the 16A bus or number 6 bus heading to Beppu Station and get off at Chinoike Jigoku Mae bus stop. If you are doing this route in reverse (visiting these 2 first then going to the other 5), get on the 26A or the number 20 bus heading to Beppu Daigaku (Beppu University).

However, before you do, I recommend walking through the Kannawa district first, especially if you have not seen a more traditional Japanese town. A lot of the architecture makes this place amazing. There are also some restaurants that specialise in steamed food, the speciality of Beppu. At others, you can even steam your own food (you can bring food yourself or purchase the raw version there). A big thing to do is to steam eggs. It gives the boiled egg a saltier flavour than usual as well as hints of sulfur from the gases of the Hells. Definitely not for everyone but certainly worth trying. Meat and vegetables are also popular steamed-cooked options, again adding salt and a slight sulphuric taste to the food.

Another attraction is the steam that comes out of the vent in the streets. You can definitely see it is an onsen town. There is also an overlook where you can see the steam rising from various parts of the Kannawa District.

Blood Pond Hell / Chinoike Jigoku

If you like pools of blood, the Blood Pond Hell is the place for you. Almost blood red water caused by iron oxide with tonnes of steam wafting from the water, this is the coolest of the Hells with water only ta 78°C/176°F. This Hell consists of a gift shop and the Hell itself but there is also a foot bath. Don’t worry! The temperature of the foot bath is not nearly as hot as the Hell, so you can dip your little piggies in without losing any. There is also a nice stream nearby.

Here are some of the pictures from the Blood Pond Hell:

Spout Hell / Tatsumaki Jigoku (龍巻地獄)

The final Hell that I saw (and the last on this list and also in the tour) was the Spout Hell, or Tatsumaki Jigoku. Raather than being a pool of water with water bubbling through it , this Hell is a geyser. In fact, it is one of the most active and reulgar geysers in the world, erupting in 30-minute cycles for approximately 6 to 10 minutes each time. In other words, you can go at any time and within 20 minutes, you will be seeing the water rising out of the spout.

Unlike the other Hells, this Hell also does not have anything surrounding it in terms of animals or plants. Instead, this Hell actually has a hut. This is to stop the water from rising so high. If it were allowed to rise to its full height, it would be between 30 and 50 m (approximately 100 to 164 ft). Also instead of the surroundings, there is a kind of semi-circular stadium-like seating where you can wait and then watch the spout when it does erupt. It is a great sight and goes on for a very long time (comparatively).

Here is a video of the spout:

別府龍巻地獄-秋休み2022年 | Beppu Spout Hell – October 2022

And here are some more pictures:

Getting to the Hells of Beppu and Getting A Ticket

Getting to Beppu itself can be a bit tricky. The easiest way of course is to drive, which takes about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can take the express train from Fukuoka via Kitaakyushu (no need to change) heading to Oita city. This ticket will cost you about 6,470 yen (as of 1 November 2022). As a further alternative, there are also busses that go from Fukuoka to Beppu ending in Oita. Other combinations of the above transport methods also exist.

Once you are in Beppu, there are several buses that go from Beppu station to the Hells. The most common/easiest to get there are the 16A and the 26A, which are circular routes that go clockwise and anti-clockwise around Beppu, respectively. The 16A will get you to the Kannawa district the fastest. If you use the bus, I recommend getting a city bus ticket. It will give you unlimited bus rides throughout the city of Beppu. There is also a wide ticket, which will take you to Mt Tsurumi and Yufuin. The price of the ticket is (as of 1 November 2022):

  • 1-day Beppu city bus ticket: 1,000 yen for adults, 800 yen for students and 500 yen for children
  • 2-day Beppu city bus ticket: 1,900 yen for adults, 1500 for students and 900 yen for children
  • 1-day Beppu Wide bus ticket: 1,500 yen for adults

I highly recommend this as long as you take the bus for more than 2 trips. For this trip, you will need to take the bus 3 times just to look at the Hells. It will be at least a round trip to get to the Hells and a trip between the Hells, so the ticket will be cheaper. If you go for the 2-day ticket, it will be even cheaper. There is also a 2-day Wide ticket but I was unable to find the price.

Thanks for reading! Want to do some more exploring? Have a look at the travel map:

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