Friday, July 28, 2006

Best Free Onsen

Kakujusen takes the cake. It was clean and the water, full of sulphur and what have you, felt great on the skin(if not so nice to the eyes).

The "secret onsen" up in the mountains are also pretty cool so I will give them an Honorable Mention here.

UPDATE: Access to these hot springs was suspended after a woman was murdered in one of them
(Click here for story)

Least Favorite Onsen

Even though some of the nicest people you will meet run these places, some pools of hot water are better left alone...

1.Tani no yu
Ancient cement structure with a spooky Amida Buddha statue and more mosquitos than you could shake a stick at.

2.Sesseki Onsen
Crusty bath inside a Shinto temple. This was probably the worst case of "floaties" that I can recall.

3. Netsu-no-yu Onsen
Free onsen, so I should have expected worse. Slimy, slippery and full of guys who I think were homeless.

4. Ichi-no-hara Onsen
This was one of the most bare bones onsen we went to. A cement hole in a dark wooden shack.

5. Rakuraku-en
This was the first one we did. Run down and dark, and fat gangsters in the tub.

Best Onsen Overall

Okay, I am going to start my rankings as they come to me. Nothing scientific or quantifiable here, just what I like (or don't). Some will be best 3, some best 5 and maybe some will be only one.

1. Kannawa-en Inn
The traditional gardens and the rare color-changing outdoor bath pretty much sealed this for me. I went last fall, but nothing topped it since.
UPDATE (2011): I am sad to hear that this place closed. It was truly legendary and I can only hope they don't turn it into a parking lot or something made of concrete.

2. Suginoi Palace
It costs a lot, but it is really worth it. Great view, incredibly clean and the variety of the baths make it a top ranking onsen. The only drawback other than price would be the faint smell of chlorine in the baths.

3. Mugen no Sato
A rustic outdoor bath that came highly recommended. I enjoyed the scenery and the location next to the river. The only problem is that so did the moths.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Beppu Hot Spring Masters 852 and 853

Today we took our Spaports, worn and torn Spaports that they are, down to the tourism bureau to become deemed Hot Spring Masters. (Onsen Meijin, in Japanese).

After paying the fee (1500 yen per person, up from 500 yen last year. Should've done this faster...), we received the coveted Master's black and gold towel. Maybe I can take this to a Steelers game when we go home next.

Here is's Jude's Master Certificate

Here is's Joel's Master Certificate

Now I want to say thank you very much to Jude. It has been a very fun 1 year and 3 months. In that time, we had fun --in clean baths and dirty ones -- and I got to watch you grow into a cool and funny young dude. Thanks to Mom and Baby Bro for coming along a couple times, and providing the support that 2 intrepid hot spring hoppers need. We love you.
Thank also, to everyone who has followed us in our quest. We have met our goal. Now to use up our remaining free tickets!
I will continue to post Joel's Hot Spring Rankings up on the blog so don't delete us from your Favorites just yet. And if you happen to live in or be coming through Beppu, I hope you will tune in here to get some onsen info.

Thanks everyone!
Hot Spring Master #852
Joel D.

Monday, July 24, 2006

#88: Suginoi Palace

WE decided to go out in style. I had been saving this onsen for last. It is the most expensive one on the tour at 2000 yen. The fact is, you can do 20 100-yen onsen for the same price, but I wanted 88 to be special. besides, Shiho won't come if I don't go somewhere nice.

Dad drives with skill and speed to Suginoi Palace (and damn that flash. Thought is was a cop car!) I took the back way, which I discovered getting lost going to a different onsen. You see, this tour has so many benefits.

They won't let you take pictures inside this onsen. It is on a cliff overlooking the city. It was fabulous. They call it "Tanayu," or terrace onsen, because there a several baths in terrace form. The variety is great. It really is fun. Check out their website.

Jude just loved running from bath to bath. I loved the view and the green tiled bath with jets in it. It was really the perfect way to cap off our tour.

So there, we did it! 88 onsen clear! We are heading off to get "dubbed" tomorrow.

Kannawa Tour on TV

For those of you in Japan, you can still catch re-runs of the NHK documentary that I was on in Hi Vision.
BS Hi-Vision TV
Monday, July 24 15:00 - 15:49
Wednesday, July 26 00:00 - 00:49 (in other words, late Tuesday)

The regular NHK broadcast has been postponed until
Sept. 3 (SUN) 10:00 -

Please tune in!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

86: Hotel Sansenkaku & 87: Hotel Seifu

It was a busy day today. We went down to Oita today to be on the radio again. This time my harmonica jam with the radio announcer was broadcast all over Oita Prefecture, well, at least to whoever was listening to AM radio between 11:00 and 11:50. It was fun. Then I took the family to lunch at a famous Beppu restaurant. It is famous for it's hibachi grills (the smoke from which fills the entire place so its like having a nice leisurely meal in a burning building).

So after lunch I took Jude out to do 2 onsen.

Hotel Sansenkaku
After several attempts at timing our trips to meet the 2 hour window for bath-only patrons, we finally got to use our free ticket for Sansenkaku.
The bath is up on the 9th floor so you can see all of Beppu's main drag, Route 10. The showers are right next to the windows so you can experience hot water and vertigo at the same time.
Jude enjoyed the showers and the bath was nice, to boot.

Hotel Seifu
We next made our way to Hotel Seifu. This hotel is famous for its staff that can do magic (I knew I'd forget to ask them!) We went into the outdoor bath today on the roof (8th floor). It had started to rain pretty hard today so we got to sit in the tub and get pounded with rain while staring at the ocean. Pretty cool. Jude got into a (hot) water pistol fight with another boy and they were having a good old time.

Oita is now gettin the mad rain that Kagoshima got yesterday. Kagoshima recorded over 1200 ml of rain in 4 days. Landslides and all kinds of mess. Everyone we know is OK, but I hope this passes. Rainy season doesn't want to end this year.

Tomorrow night, we will splurge on the biggest onsen water park in Beppu, Suginoi Palace, to mark out ascent to hot spring mastery. We might even get in the newspaper thanks to my hotel owner friend.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

#85: Beppu Nogami Honkan

This is an old ryokan (Japanese style inn) that dates way back to Beppu's heyday many, many years ago. The old dude at teh front desk was one of the most sincerely nice hotel guys I have met in a long time.
The bath is nice, but not too hot with a giant stone where the onsen drips down. It is covered in onsen minerals from over the years. I guess it is famous.
Jude had a good time in the bath playing with the showers. Jeff enjoyed a nice bath with mom.
This is the first time I 've been to the main entertainment district at night in a LONG time. Just smelling the alcohol and hearing the karaoke made me tired. I am getting old, but I don't mind.

This is me making sure we get all our stamps. 85 down. 3 to go

84: Yamada Besso

We had an appointment at 11:30 and the whole family decided to catch an onsen before that.
Yamada Besso was the only hotel open from 10:00 so that's where we went. The buidling is over 80 years old, which in Japan is pretty old considering the war and its aftermath. It was the coolest buidling I've been in in a long time. There was a western style sitting room with a giant Japanese tatami room. The woodwork was all original. Cool old hard-wood floors.
The area with the bath was an addition, but the bath itself was in an old half-basement . Old blue tiles. It looked like Brett's old house on Shady Ave in Pgh (If you happen to know Brett).
The onsen was very nice and they even lent us a baby bath for Jeff. The whole place was full of cool old antiques. The ancient scales in the bath still worked (Yup, I am still officially fat).
This is 500 for adults. Kids are free. I would highly recommend this place if you want to step back in time. If we move away, I think I would like to stay here whenever we come back to Beppu.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

82: Kurume Ramen's Minato Onsen / 83 Kitahama Onsen

Beppu is great because since it is the onsen capital of Japan, there are quite a few places that offer "X plus onsen." I have been to cafes with onsen and BBQ restaurants with onsen and candy stores with onsen.
Tonight was ramen and onsen. We noticed this place right after we moved here and it always struck us as funny. Well, last night depsite the puring rain, we all went out (Dad's treat). Jude ate a whole bowl of ramen, then he and I hopped in the onsen. It was small and rustic, basically a cememnt tub in a plywood shack, but it was well kept and cleaner than I had imagined.
It was nice and hot and the tube bringing in the hot water bubbled and burbled.

After this onsen, I promised to take Mommy and Jeff to a "nicer" onsen. We plunked down 500 yen each to get into Kitahama Onsen, otherwise know as Termas. It is a newish city-run joint. We showed up at 9:00 right before the cut-off entry time. As such, the public servant behind the counter gave a bad attitude. That was a turn off. Maybe I should call city hall and tell them she was mean. I can take my money elsewhere...
In any case, the onsen was big with several different types of bath. Like an onsen playground. There is even an outdoor onsen pool, but you need swimsuits to use that. We checked out the mist sauna, the outdoor bath, and the "squall shower" which was basically a bucket of hot water suspended from the wall and you pull a chain to let it dump on you like some old comedy routine.
A good time was had by all and we managed to score 2 stamps tonight... yay!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

#81: Kanawa-so

With the amazing momentum of our 3-day weekend, we took to the streets of Kannawa once again. This time I actually plunked down more than 100 yen for an onsen (500 actually) and got a nice treat.
Kanawa-so is tucked down a little side-street, so little that I didn't even realize it was a street. This is the 4th time I have tried to find it. 4th time's a charm. It was a Tuesday night so not very hopping. There were a few old ladies over on the women's side, but the men's baths were all to us. There was an indoor bath, a sand bath, an outdoor bath and a "mist sauna." This was quite a complex. Funny I never noticed it before, but that is the beauty of Kannawa.
We stuck with the outdoor bath, enjoying the iron-y waters with the fallen leaves. There was a nice breeze out tonight, perfect for being naked in.
Jude claimed he had to poop so we made a scramble, but in the end it was a false alarm. Our foray into Level 11 ended with a nice soda flavored popsicle.
Tomorrow, we might just go down to the ramen joint that has a free onsen for paying customers. Nothing like some noodles in the nude. Will report again soon....

Monday, July 17, 2006

80: Beppu Community Center

It was our goal to hit 10 onsen this 3 day weekend and tonight's visit to the Beppu Community Center was the clincher.
This a is a newish facility where the tourism bureau is. There is also some sort of martial arts dojo here. Very nice, by the looks of it.
The wooden iterior of building was very relaxing. The onsen was nice and new with a view ofa Japanese sand/rock garden. C'est chic!
The onsen smelled faintly of sulfur, much like the Horita area. I wonder if they pump their water in because most onsen in the Beppu area are clear.
Jude met a little boy who was like 18 months old and they had fun splashing around. I enjoyed the waterfall bath, which is a nice stream of water you let pound you back and shoulders.
Now I can sleep like a baby.
Only 8 more onsen left, folks!

#77, 78, 79: Kaimonji Onsen, Kotobuki Onsen, Furosen

Kaimonji Onsen is next to a temple called, you guessed it, Kaimonji Temple just down the street from Beppu Station. I tried to go here once but got "busted" for illegal parking by the pachinko parlor parking lot attendant.
This is a 100-yen city-run onsen. In fact, the lady at the counter recognized us from Saturday night (She was working at Tanoyu Onsen then).
It is very retro with the old school design of dressing room on a loft and stairs down one level to the onsen. It has seen better days, but would be cool if they redid it. That all depends on grant money I suppose.

Jude and I then walked through the downtown arcades to Umezono Onsen, but it wasn't open yet. At least we figured out where it was. We walked over to Kotobuki Onsen instead. Another 100 yen jobby. This onsen is famous for people who can't have babies taking a dip and later having a baby. Kotobuki is a another word for "congratulations." It's full od iron an very rusty smelling.

Our last stop before heading off to a lunch of jigoku-mushi steamed goodies was Furosen. Another 100-yen city-run job that was probably the hottest onsen I have ever been in! We only stayed long enough to get our stamps.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

#76: Hotel Seikaisoh

Well, the plan today was to do at least 4 onsen in the Kannawa area. But since it was a Sunday we got turned down at 3 different places. So I got wise and started calling . Got a couple noes but then Hotel Seikaisoh downtown said "come on in"
So we did. I had to pump "We Will Rock You" to keep Jude awake (Yes, I am a terrible father but he will thank me when he gets older)
They staff here was very nice. So far, this may be the friendliest hotel I have been to in this area.
The bath was on the 6th floor overlooking the bay. Very nice if you looked far out into the bay and not at the garbage floating near the breakwater. Jude saw a boat come in from Ehime.
Oh yeah, this bath room had tatami mats in it! I thought the picture in the book looked like tatami and then I though, who the hell would put tatami in a bath? Well, they did and it was kind of neat, if a bit humid. I guess it is something neat to do with old tatami from the guest rooms.
In any case, I recommend this hotel.

#75: Kamioka Onsen

This is an ancient little mom and pop store that is barely big enough for you and mom (or pop). They also happen to run an onsen/mud onsen. I was not prepared to bathe Jude in mud, then wash him off so I chose the bath instead. The corridor stunk of cats and the bath itself looked like it hadn't been remodeled since 1942. In fact there was a big plaque stating that the onsen was most effective on "after-effects of the atomic bomb."
Must be good. Aside from the cat smell, it was not as bad as some.

#74: Hozan-so

A very nice inn and hot spring facility up on Route 11 just past where Route 500 turns.
There is a big steaming pipe behind here. The hot spring was quite nice. very clear and a comfortable temperature. The front desk people were not very friendly, however. People don't like the cheapskate bath-only patrons on a 3-day weekend I guess.

Jude liked this frog in the lobby

While we were bathing I looked out the window (In fact the windows here were perfect for peeping Toms) and saw our next destination.

#73: Irefune-so

This is actually the second most expensive hot spring on the 88 tour because you have to pay to rent out the bath per hour. I know the owner, Ms. Goto from our walking tours. She is also the owner of the pork dumpling store on our tour. Luckily, I had a free ticket and Jude and took a dip in the nice little bath. It was not to hot and not too lukewarm, just right with a hint of iron (?) Just my guess. But we did not dally, for we were on a mission.
We got the car from Mommy and headed off for a day of onsen hopping.
Waiting for Mom

Saturday, July 15, 2006

71 & 72: Tanoyu Onsen & Noguchi Onsen

Well, I made a promise somewhere on this blog to have 88 onsen done by Jude's birthday. Well, his bday is coming up very soon and I have a 3 day biz trip to Kyoto before that so these next 2 weekends are key in knocking off the remaining onsen.

Saturday night, after dinner we hit the town. The Community Center was closed, so using my photographic memory of Beppu I quickly changed course for one of the little local baths. I talked the drug store clerk into letting me use their parking lot and we hit Tanoyu. This is one of those city-run jobbies. Very nice and very hot. We just splashed ourselves clean mixing the hot water with the cold from the tap, then raced on to the next hot spring. It 's actually kind of fun to do it this way, isntead of saoking until you are totally wrinkly and exhausted.
We aimed for the Youth hostel but Jude said "no" so I swung arond to Noguchi, another little local joint. I expected something rather dumpy foir 150 yen but it was one of the cleanest little joints I have seen. We already washed so we just soaked in the tub here. The other patrons probably thought we were dirty unknowing foreigners, but hey, we are on a mission here.
We have ane extended weekend with Marine Day on Monday so Jude and I are aiming for 10 onsen by Monday. 2 down.
With tonight's hot spring hop, our total has risen to 72. = Level 9 complete. We are down to the final page in our spaports.
Rock and roll!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Kuniten Onsen

Well, Jude and I set out to use one of our free hotel passes, but the hotel turned us away from the parking lot because it was Saturday and they expected a lot full of guests. C'est la vie. Freeloaders get no respect.
I quickly changed to Plan B, which was a 100 yen community bath next to which was a dirt lot that I knew I could park in with no fear of retribution.
The hot spring was hot. You should've seen Jude's face when he slid into the tub!! The locals were very friendly and even turned the cold water on full blast for us. This is a true sign of hospitality when you know how much the old dudes like their hot springs hot!

After our bath, we posted my thank you card to the American Consulate-Osaka (more on that later...)

*Photos courtesy ofthis blog

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Suginoi Hotel

This is the grandaddy of all hotels in Beppu. There is a big water park and like 3 different hotel buidlings. Quite a complex, all overlooking Beppu from its mountainside peak. This is where I met Mr. Kai (walking guide mentor) at a swank party for Beppu's congressman, Mr Iwaya.
Anyway, the whole family went out for lunch, then we dropped mom and Jeff at home. Jude and I went to the spring in Yamaga to get some water then we drove clear across town (2 towns) again to hit the onsen at Hotel Suginoi.
There is a nice view from the outdoor bath and Jude liked the bath shaped like a big wooden barrel.There happened to be a bunch of little kids in there so Jude was splashing and playing and having a ball. He was also the loudest one(sigh).Typical Dechant.
I am lucky we had our free ticket. This one was 500 yen until this year when the price magically doubled. Shiho was peeved that I didn't take her. She doesn't care for the rustic local onsen (i.e. the nasty, crusty ones) but if I say "hotel" she is in the car and waiting. Sorry honey, I will take you some other time.