Walking around the relaxed, coastal city of BEPPU (別府), it is at times tempting to think that the place was built atop the den of some giant dragon – spirals of steam billow skywards from a thousand holes, lending certain streets a magical, otherworldly air. However, this is no myth or fairytale, simply one of the world’s most geothermically active regions. Over one hundred million litres of near-boiling water gush out of more than three thousand springs each day, harnessed for use by local homes and swimming pools, for heating and medicinal purposes, or to fill the dozens of public and private baths that make this one of Japan’s most popular onsen resorts. The place is unashamedly commercial in nature, yet despite receiving over ten million visitors per year, it manages to feel like a town in decline – largely built during the domestic tourism boom of the 1970s, it seems half-forgotten by modern Japan. Still, the humble, throwback air that this creates enhances the city’s pleasure, and it’s easy to escape from the crowds.

There’s not a lot more to do in Beppu than soak in a tub or be buried in hot sand. The most popular attractions are the nine jigoku, which spew out steaming, sulphurous mud and form simmering lakes in lurid hues. Despite the hype, only two or three are of any real interest; you’d do better to head for a clutch of secret onsen hiding away in the western hills (see The sand baths). However, recent years have seen a burst in artistic creativity thanks to the Beppu Project (wbeppuproject.com), a venture which has roped in all sorts of locals – from painters to former prostitutes – in a noble effort to vent some of the city’s character. Projects have varied from art exhibitions to the remodelling of traditional buildings, but these come and go, so pick up a pamphlet at the tourist office, or go straight to their tiny base in the alley behind Takeya.
There are eight distinct hot-spring “towns” dotted about Beppu, each characterized by the varying proportions of iron, sulphur and other minerals in the water. Most activity, however, is concentrated in Kannawa (鉄輪). Not only is this northern district home to seven of the ten jigoku, but it’s also a spa in its own right with a beautiful garden rotemburo, as well as an outrageously tacky museum of erotica. Dedicated bathers might want to try one of Beppu’s sand baths or take a dip in one of the many on offer at the Suginoi Palace. Alternatively, you can ride the ropeway to the top of Tsurumi-dake for superb views over Beppu bay and inland to the Kujū mountains.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Japan House: a new cultural crossroad between Britain and Japan

Japan House: a new cultural crossroad between Britain and Japan

Travel to Japan has boomed over the past year, with over 300,000 UK visitors rushing to the country in 2017. But if you want to experience the country's exquisi…

22 Jun 2018 • Eleanna Zanga insert_drive_file Article
In search of the secret to long life in Nagano

In search of the secret to long life in Nagano

People in Nagano, Japan, live longer than virtually anywhere else on earth. But what’s the secret of this success? Our writer Shafik Meghji travelled across…

16 May 2018 • Shafik Meghji local_activity Special feature
Kyushu's living stories: exploring Japan's unsung corner

Kyushu's living stories: exploring Japan's unsung corner

This year Japan celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration – the event that returned the emperor to the throne, and set the country back on th…

09 May 2018 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs