Located in Beppu’s Kannawa and Kamegawa regions, Beppu’s Jigoku—also known as the Eight Hells of Beppu—got the name from the mysterious and temperamental springs here. Water and gas bubbled up from the land so violently that people in ancient times assumed it was cursed.
You can witness the same expulsions of gas, iron oxide-rich steam and bubbling hot mud that have continued to spook guests and locals since the beginning of time, and see the animals who make some of these onsen their unlikely homes.
Beppu Station can be reached by limited express train from Hakata, Oita, Miyazaki and Hitoyoshi as well as neighboring areas.
From Beppu Station, take a 20-minute ride on a No. 2, 5 or 24 bus and get off at Kannawa or Umi-Jigoku-mae stop; from there all the hells can be reached by foot. Parking is available at all the hell sites.
One of the best ways to explore the area is by getting a pass for the Jigoku Meguri, a tour bus. The tour visits all eight hells over two and a half hours. Six of the hells are in the Kannawa district area, and two are in the Shibaseki district. Entry into hells individually is also possible for 400 yen per visit.
Kamado Jigoku has an unusual resident—a very hungry hippo whose life seems to consist of consuming the many treats visitors toss down to it. For 100 yen, you can buy raw veggies to feed the beast.
The other unlikely animal preserve is Oniyama Jigoku, better known as "alligator hell." There are over 80 alligators in this place, and they all live together in huge pools.
Meanwhile, animals like miniature horses and flamingos are raised around Yama Jigoku. You can feed them during certain times of the day, along with hippos and monkeys.
The jigoku are for viewing, by the way, not for bathing in, since they can reach temperatures of about 98 degrees Celsius. Four of them (Umi Jigoku, Chinoike Jigoku, Tatsumaki Jigoku and Shiraiike Jigoku) are designated as National Scenic Beauties of Japan.
Literally meaning hell-steaming, jigoku mushi is a traditional way of cooking using the steam of a hot spring. It dates back to the 17th century and is a healthy way to prepare food while also enhancing its dramatic flavor.
Many hells sell specialty soft-boiled eggs and baked pudding, which have been steamed using the heat from the fiery waters.
The largest of the hells is Umi (Sea) Jigoku, so named because of its cobalt blue color. It is 200 meters deep. Despite being located in a mountainous setting, Yama (mountain) Jigoku is so hot that no animals or plants can be found in the area around it. The boiling clay of Chinoike (blood lake) Jigoku is blood red; this is the oldest of Beppu’s hells.
In Furonomoto, you can buy a set of vegetables, meat or fish produce starting from 500 yen and cook using a special steaming oven. Rental of the oven costs 500 yen for 30 minutes. Be careful as the steam can escape with force when you open the steaming pots after cooking.