Sunday, February 3, 2019

Go to Hell . . . You Just Might Like It.

--Susan, every other Sunday

Last week, the 100 Summits project took me to Kyushu, Japan's southernmost major island--but my travels weren't all mountain-related.

I also took the advice all lawyers receive so often . . . and went to hell.

Outside the Oniyama ("Monster Mountain") Hell

The Hells of Beppu, to be exact.

The city of Beppu (resident population 122,000, annual tourist population: 5 million) sits on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea on the northern end of Kyushu. It's famous for the hundreds of volcanic steam vents that rise from the ground throughout the city, as well as its hundreds of onsen (volcanic hot spring baths).

Steam vents at Oniishibozu Hell

It's also famous for its hells.

While Beppu has over 800 "batheable" hot springs--including the one that feeds the hotel where I stayed (and enjoyed a lovely private hot spring bath overlooking the ocean), the city also has seven unique, and famous, hot springs known as "hells" for their spectacular and unusual appearances--as well as the fact that their waters emerge from the ground at 50-90 degrees Celsius (122-195 Fahrenheit).

I spent a highly enjoyable afternoon on the "Hell Circuit," visiting each of the famous hells (which fortunately lie within walking distance of one another:

My tour of hell began at Oniishibozu Hell, so named because the bubbles that emerge from the boiling volcanic mud pits resemble the rounded, bald heads of monks (bozu).

Oniishibozu Hell - boiling mud that smells like sulfur. Mmmm...

I also stopped at Oniishibozu to sample a local specialty: "Jigoku Mushi" - hell-steamed-cooking, meaning foods cooked in the steam that emerges from the "hells."

A stand near Oniishibozu offers both full meals and local favorite: jigoku purin, or "hell pudding" - basically a flan cooked in the volcanic steam.

Devilishly delicious...

I'm a sucker for flan in any form, so this was a real winner.

The next hell, Umi Jigoku ("Ocean Hell") was named for its azure waters--often obscured by the abundant steam vents spouting out around the pond like the breath of sleeping dragons.

Umi Jigoku, in a rare clear moment

Third on the list, 85-degree (C) Kamado Jigoku, which features springs that emerge from the ground in five different colors, ranging from brown to red to spectacular, sparkling blue:

The main pool at Kamado Jigoku changes color twice each year. Scientists don't know why.

At one time, rice cooked in the waters of this hell was used for offerings at nearby Kamado Jinja (Shrine), which gave the hell its name.

Hard-boiled egg from the waters of Kamado Jinja. The minerals turn the whites a creamy brown.

Oniyama Jigoku - "Monster Mountain Hell" was next on the list. You could also call it "the hell of crocodiles" - because the springs at this location emerge from the ground at the perfect temperature for breeding them . . . so of course, that's what they do here.

Objects in photo may be closer than they appear. (No, this wasn't a telephoto lens.)

Why? Because Japan.

More Crocs. Ain't they beauts?

And lest you think we'd reached the apex of hellish oddities, the next location, Shiraike Jigoku ("White Pond Hell") featured both a beautiful milky pool (like the others, the color is entirely natural, caused by minerals dissolved in the water)

The White Pond Hell - with steam vents in the background.

and aquariums filled with enormous giant piranha.

They don't swim in the pond, and no, I don't know why they're displayed here. But this one is well over 24" long.

Again, Because Japan.

The last two hells sit about 3km from the others, and though I ordinarily would have walked, I'd bruised my tailbone on the snowy slopes of a mountain the day before, so I hopped a taxi down to Chinoike Jigoku, the "blood pond hell," whose bright red water is colored by natural clay:

The blood pond hell

Its fiery water emerges from the ground at 78 degrees Celsius.

Another view of the bloody hell of Beppu

All these hells left me hungry, so I popped into the restaurant next door to Chinoike Jigoku to sample another local specialty: toriten (Chicken tempura), which was every bit as delicious as promised.

This is what they serve for lunch in hell...

The detour turned out to be lucky, too, because I arrived at the final hell--Tatsumaki Jigoku ("Tornado Hell") just as its famous geyser started blowing:

The geyser, which some people compare to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, erupts about twice an hour, for approximately five minutes at a time. I was lucky enough to get there just as it started, and on a day when few enough visitors came that I found a spot in the front row, near the rail.

And there you have them...the hells of Beppu.

The next time someone suggests I head to the inferno, I might well take them up on it again. The food, the sights, and the hot spring baths of Beppu are well worth another trip.


  1. The only crocs I want to be that close to are the ones I wear on my feet on a boat. And not even them when they're in a mating sort of mind. As for the Piranha...YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Sounds to me as if you're auditioning "cleaning crew" characters for a new series of thrillers. One in which everyone eats well.

    In all seriousness, Susan, you're an amazing ambassador for Japan tourism. Well done!

    1. Thanks Jeff! The piranha came as a total surprise to me too. I knew about the "hell of crocodiles" but the other one ... yeah, that was different.
      I do like the thriller idea, however. Piranhas and crocs make a great cleanup crew...

  2. Wonders never cease. Thanks, Susan!

    (And, Jeff: Your crocs mate???? Well, of course, they're on board, First Mate, no doubt.)

  3. You got it, my god you got it, EvKa! Bravo.

  4. Amazing tour of hell. Thanks.