Before heading to the colorful Hells of Beppu, I stopped by my friend’s recommended onsen in a cave to get a unique bathing experience.
The place is called Kabeyu Onsen. I had to drive through continuous mountains in the western part of Oita Prefecture to get there. There is a never-ending supply of hot springs in Oita, and before reaching Kabeyu Onsen, I’d already encountered tens of local hot spring inns along the route. Kabeyu Onsen is located on a wider road, though the bath itself is located a bit below, next to a river.
As the bath is outdoors, I had to pay the entrance fee at the hotel before walking down the stairs to the cave. I walked down a few steps, and quickly stopped as I saw a naked man dip in the bath. Right—I did not know that the onsen is mixed gender! I quickly ran back to the hotel to borrow a bath towel (only had a face towel with me before) so that I could cover myself in front of the opposite gender.
The “changing area”After getting changed at the changing area with little barriers, I dipped in the lukewarm bath.
Bathing In A Cave
A bath straight out of a caveThere is no showering facility at this bath, but as the spring water flows in constantly, you will be cleansed nonetheless. The bath is very deep, you can easily immerse your entire body in the water with the easy temperature. The locals dug this bath more than 300 years ago and you will see a slanted rock wall with a few Bodhisattva figurines on the wall.
Though this bath is mixed-gender, most local male visitors don’t bother covering their private parts. I was honestly quite surprised, but gradually I’d learnt to not care about it! (Meanwhile holding my bath towel tight).
According to the signs near the bath, the lukewarm spring waters are great for relieving body pains. As the waters are alkaline, you will also feel that your body feels smoother than before.
Below the main bath, there is a smaller one down in the river. It is also mixed-gender and lukewarm. It may feel a bit more private as the bath is smaller and cannot be seen from above. The local onsen hoppers told me that the most popular season for this bath is fall for autumn foliage. However, many families with children like to come to the river to enjoy fishing alongside bathing too.
Besides the two mixed-gender baths, ladies have an extra option of an indoor cave bath. It is located just above the main bath. There is a more proper and private changing area with lockers and baskets. After taking a few steps, you’ll find a small bath. Since it’s dug out of a cave, I felt like I was treasure hunting in an unknown territory.
This indoor bath felt a bit warmer than the other two baths, perhaps because it was indoors so heat is trapped. There was only my friend and I when we visited Kabeyu Onsen so it was a very nice, calming experience in nature.
About Kabeyu Onsen
Business hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Entrance fee: 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children
There are no English signs so please refer to “壁湯温泉 福元屋” (pronounced Kabeyu Onsen Fukumoto-ya) when you’re looking for the spot on the map or on local signs.
By Car: Get off the Kyushu Expressway at Tosu Junction and enter Oita Expressway. Exit at Kokonoe Interchange then enter national route 210 towards Housenji. Finally, turn left to merge with route 387 for about 10 minutes.
By Public Transport: Take the JR train on Kyudai Main Line to Bungomori Station then hop on a 20-minute bus ride to get to the hot spring.
If you’re staying overnight at the hotel, you can arrange to be picked up by the hotel at Bungomori Station in advance.