3 cities you should visit in Kyushu island, Japan
There’s volcanic activity here, with eruptions as recent, and you can hike the rim of the world’s largest caldera crater. For something more relaxing immerse yourself in the largest collection of hot springs in Japan, eating food cooked in the steam, and don’t forget to pay a visit to the world’s only toilet museum.
The largest collection of hot springs in Japan is found in Beppu, around a four hour train ride east of Nagasaki. Every day 100 millions of litres of hot water gush from the ground creating dense plumes of steam that makes you think the town. In the suburb of Kannawa you’ll find a range of onsens (baths), from basic public ones to luxury pools in upmarket boutique hotels. Be aware that complete nudity is obligatory although are separated.
The bubbling hot springs where the water temperature is too high to bathe are known as Jigoku or Hells. You take your pick from the steaming artificially blue Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell), Kamado Jigoku (Oven Hell) with dragons and demons overlooking a lake and Tatsumaki Jigoku (Waterspout Hell), where a geyser performs regularly. All come with cartloads of Korean tourists led by guides with show stopping patter.
Better to go the hidden onsen in the hills above, which are not much more than holes in the ground filled with hot water, although some charge for their facilities. Tsukahara Onsen is near Mount Garan where a two hour circular hike takes you past bubbling mud pools and clouds of steam emerging from the crater floor. A local delicacy is eggs steamed for 20 hours, which emerge blackened with a distinctive flavour.
In fact all over Beppu they use the natural hot steam for cooking – you’ll be served vegetables like sweetcorn, sweet potato, cabbage and pumpkin or meat including pork belly and chicken. I find the steamed breakfasts are particularly delicious. I wish I could say the same for the soggy pizza, dripping molten cheese and topped with prawns.
A new Bamboo Craft Museum documents the work of artisans, who started by making baskets for tourists to take home. It’s surprisingly interesting and the exhibits range from the utilitarian to the contemporary. In recent years bamboo craft has been elevated to high art with exhibitions of work in major galleries all over the world. If you’re interested, a master craftsman will teach you the basics.
Heading north, it’s two hours by train to the industrial port city of Kitakyushu, the original target for the second atomic bomb. It was cloudy on the day and the plane was diverted to Nagasaki. It across the Kanmon straits from Honshu, Japan’s main island, connected by a suspension bridge and various tunnels. You can walk under the sea to Shimonoseki on the other side and if you do it both ways you’re rewarded with a Kanmon Tunnel Master certificate.
The old port of Moji, where sea passengers once arrived from other Asian destinations, has been imaginatively restored. There are several Western style buildings from the Meiji and Taisho Periods, including the former customs building which is now an art gallery. The Mojoki station office has been turned into a railway museum with vintage rolling stock and locomotives in the sidings. If you’ve ever wanted to drive a train then you can test your skills on a simulator. I came off the rails many times.