Jigoku Meguri : The Hell Tour
The Jigoku (Hell Springs) in Beppu, Oita are a stunning natural wonder of hot springs that reach temperatures of up to 98 degrees Celsius and are of different colours and consistencies. I recently had the pleasure of visiting these wonderful springs, and although I initially had no idea what I was in for, the tour turned out to be absolutely amazing!
As soon as you enter Oita you will notice many, many hot spring steam clouds all over the city. It definitely has a lot more onsen than any other place I’ve been to in Japan, and almost all of them are completely natural!
There are a total of eight hot springs in the entire Beppu Resort and each one is very unique.
The first hot springs that you will see on the tour are the Yama Jigoku, which are located in many areas and are bubbling all over the mountain. They release a lot of steam and if your camera gets caught in it, like mine did, you will have some cleaning up to do because the steams on this side of the tour are a tad bit sticky. Oh, and everything smells a bit like boiled eggs.
Next you will notice the grey mud bubbles called Oniishibozu Jigoku, which are mud springs that give a very ancient feel to the whole place because it does sort of look as if you have gone back to the Stone Age. However, this initial part of the tour is definitely not as exciting as the things that are about to follow!
As you move to other parts of the Jigoku Meguri, you will reach the first of the many breath-taking hot springs, the Umi Jigoku (sea jigoku). It is a very deep cobalt blue colour and it literally looks like a boiling sea! It was formed from a volcanic eruption 1200 years ago and is said to be up to 200 meters deep! It’s hard to imagine how such a tight tour was constructed around these giant hot springs, but you have the pleasure of coming very close to each one of them. Don’t try to touch the water though! It is literally boiling hot, and not only are you not allowed to touch it, but you will burn yourself in the process, and there will be nothing fun about that!
Next is the Kamado Jigoku, which is where all the animals are! I didn’t even know that there were animals on this tour, and I especially wasn’t ready for the Hungy Hungry Hippo! There is a hippo close to the entrance of the Kamado Jigoku that literally leans its chin on the side of the wall, opens its mouth very wide, and waits for you to throw food inside it! That’s all it does all day! Please don’t just throw anything into its mouth, because for 100 yen you can buy a big bowl of carrots and other vegetables right next to the hippo with which you can feed it.
Shiraike Jigoku & Chinoike Jigoku
The Shiraike Jigoku are beautiful white hot springs that also give out a lot of steam and are great for taking photos near them if you want to look really mysterious and majestic. And the very hellish Chinoike Jigoku is a very red hot spring that is the oldest one of the bunch by being formed more than 1300 years ago.
You will then approach Oniyama Jigoku, or better known as ‘alligator hell’. There are over 80 alligators in this place, and they all live together in huge pools. It’s a very surprising sight, because a few alligators may not look like much when you go to regular zoos, but when you face 80 of them you kind of start to feel the hairs on your back stand on end.
The last part of the tour is Tatsumaki Jigoku, the geyser that is Beppu’s National Treasure. It erupts approximately every 10 minutes or so, and there are many rows of benches right in front of it so that you can sit down with a nice hot cup of coffee and wait for it to erupt. It has one of the shortest resting periods of geysers in the world. The tour guide also told us that they had to build a special wall around it to stop it from reaching its full hight during eruptions, because it can reach up to 20 meters in hight every time it goes off!
I will say this though, I did not dress warm enough...
The problem is that you have to travel around for each one, which is great on a sunny day, but definitely not so great during the winter season. Even though you may think that the area around the hot springs would be, well, hot, this isn’t really the case so dress very warmly if you are going to visit the hot springs in winter!
As far as traditional delicacies of the area go, try the Onsen Tamago (eggs that have been boiled in the onsen), or the Jigoku-mushi-purin, which is a pudding that has also been made with the steam of the onsen.
The entire tour can take up to three hours depending on how slowly you decide to walk around it.
Ticket Prices for the whole tour:
Adults - 2,100 yens
High School Student - 1,350 yens
Junior High School Student - 1,000 yens
Elementary Student - 1,000 yens
The Beppu Jigoku Association
559-1 Kannawa, Beppu-City, Oita
TEL (0977) 66 - 1577
Website (in Japanese): http://www.beppu-jigoku.com