Three hours of train ride and twenty minutes more on the bus would not stop us from going to the famed Hells of Beppu. I first heard about hell in Religion class in grade school, got a very clear idea of how it works at the Haw Par Villa’s Courts of Hell in Singapore and read about it Dante’s Inferno. It’s obvious that I would want to see Japan’s version of it.
Hells of Beppu
Japan’s hell, or “jigoku” region is located in Kannawa and Kamegawa who earned their hellish reputation back in ancient times when people understandably feared the non-stop fuming gas expulsions and rotten egg stench that emanated from these areas. Even a ways from the site of the Hells of Beppu, we could already see numerous plumes of smoke and smell the signature scent of sulfur that signaled the end of our half-day journey.
The “Oniishi Shaven Head Hell” derives inspiration from the bubbles of hot gray mud that boil up to look like the shaven head of monks. Looking at those pools of mud I thought, there is indeed a section of hell reserved for religious figures who lead less than impeccable lives.
The walk to the next hell was quite scenic, through a manicured garden and a lily and lotus pond. Not to mention the souvenir shop where you can buy certain Eggs of Beppu to bring home.
The largest at 200 meters deep, Umi-Jigoku was so-named because of its cobalt blue hue, akin to the cool sea (umi) on a warm sunny day. But do not be deceived by this pool as its temperature is a scalding 98°C.
To visit this hell would cost an additional 400 JPY because it is no longer part of the hot springs group. Here, same as with the other hells, hot spring steam is everywhere and the temperature of the pond is 90°C. For me, the most interesting part of it is the multicolored pool.
If Umi-Jigoku welcomes visitors with gardens and souvenirs, Kamado-Jigoku has its Aka-Oni, the great red demon at the forefront. The name of this hell comes from an ancient myth wherein steamed rice was cooked using the 90°C gas discharged by the pool then offered to the Ujigami (guardian god) during the Kamado Hachimangu Shrine Festival, no doubt to fight off the demon. Funny though that Aka-Oni standing on an enormous cooking pot serves as the symbol of this jigoku.
Unlike its comrades, Oniyama-Jigoku only gets its name from its district. However, it is also known as the Wani-Jigoku or “crocodile hell” as crocs have been bred here since 1929. Is this the hell reserved for corrupt government officials and traffic enforcers? Pool temperature is 98°C.
Shiraike-jigoku or “white pond hell” actually looked like a typical provincial house with a pool. If you’d ignore the persistent steam that rise off at the sides. Groundwater from this pool starts off as colorless but turns bluish white when it hits the surface where there is a decrease in pressure and temperature. Inside that house-like structure are a variety of tropical fish that live off the heat of the pool.
Chinoike-Jigoku is Japan’s oldest natural jigoku. Here, the pool’s color comes from the red clay dissolved by the boiling water. This sometimes causes even the steam to turn red. It is also designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty.
Our last stop was Tatsumaki-Jigoku, a geyser declared as a natural monument by Beppu City. Like all geysers, it spouts steam and boiling water at regular intervals. However, what makes it especially famous is that it only takes 30 minutes in between spouts.
Our stint at the Hells of Beppu took a little more than three hours. I must say, it was a real sensory experience – the colorful and strange hell sites, the omnipresent smell of sulfur, the sound of boiling water and mud, the heat from the pools mix with the fascinating tastes of marron ice cream, red pepper ice cream and kabosu daifuku. Uh-huh, like all tourist spots, eating places are abundant at the Jigoku Meguri. Later on I might get inspired to write about them, too.
Journey to the Hells of Beppu
- Fly in via Fukuoka
- From Hakata Station: Board train bound for Kokura
- From Kokura Station: Board train bound for Beppu Station
- At the bus stop: Take Bus 2 to Umi Jigoku Mae (Blue Hell Area) – 330 JPY
- After Shiraike Jigoku: Take Bus 16 at Kannawa Bus Stop – 190 JPY.
- Note: Bus will not give out change so choose your coins wisely!
- Get off at Chinoike Jigoku Mae
- After Tatsumaki-Jigoku: Take Bus 16 at Chinoike Jigoku Mae bound for Kamegawa Station – 140 JPY.
- From Kamegawa Station: Board train bound for Kokura
Going to hell costs money:
- 1800 JPY – entrance fee to 7 hells (Oniishi Bozu, Umi, Kamado, Oniyama, Shiraike, Chinoike and Tatsumaki)
- 400 JPY – entrance fee to Yama Jigoku
October 19, 2016
***all photos were taken using iPhone 6