Wednesday, 30 July 2008

別府 Beppu

From Aso I moved further eastwards and made my next stop in 別府 Beppu.

別府 Beppu

Beppu is an Onsen (hot spa) resort with many natural Onsen all over the area. The Onsen combined with the wonderful nature and the sea made Beppu the number one Honey Moon destination for Japanese, before a rising economy made trips to Hawaii affordable.

広間 Hiroma

After sleeping in a Capusle Hotel in Okayama, there is another special way of sleeping left in Japan. The most traditional way there is, the 広間 Hiroma. The Hiroma is nothing but a large tatami room, where many 布団 Futon (Japanese Bed laying on the ground) are ordered next to each other. Well and that's it, you'll be sleeping next to many men and women in the same room on the floor.

Earlier nobody but Daimyou (feudal lord) could have afforded single rooms for sleeping, so ordinary traveler stayed in Hiroma, which were often found in 旅館 Ryokan (traditional Japanese tatami hotel). Nowadays Ryokan do not offer Hiroma anymore, because there is not much money to make.

However in Beppu I was lucky to bump into an Onsen with sleeping facilities close to the station. Since I wanted to relax in an Onsen and get a place to sleep, it was a perfect fit for me. Turned out it was an inside Onsen, like a Japanese お風呂 Ofuro (Japanese Public Bathhouse), but it let me relax none the less.

I was also lucky that nobody in the large room snored and that it had an untraditional air conditioning system, else it would have gotten a little hot.

地獄巡り A Tour Through Hell

One of Beppu's biggest attraction is the 地獄巡り Jigoku Meguri (literally a tour through hell). Jigoku Meguri is a collection of eight hells, which you can visit one by one for a total of 2000 Yen. It is a little pricey, but remember that you are paying entrance four eight places, and I think they are worth the money.

As manufactured as this hells mights sound, they are all natural. For each hell hot water reaches the surfaces and dissolves some materials on the way, that give them a distinct color and smell.

1. 海地獄 Sea Hell

The first hell is a collection of hot springs, which are as blue as the sea. The cobalt blue seas of boiling and steaming water were created 1200 years ago after a volcanic eruption.

As a special this hell focused on water botanic. You can see a nice collection of water plants like sea roses. The most impressive plant is without doubt the 大鬼蓮 Daionihasu, which means Gigantic Ogre Lotos (Victoria Amazonica). It is in fact huge and strong as an Ogre. A child till around 8-10 years can sit on it, without sinking into the water.

If you need a rest, the sea hell also has a comfortable place to rest, while hanging your feet in hot water. If you investigate the construction closer, you can figure out how they cool the water down for you.

Also since you just entered hell, you will need some protection and guidance, so be sure not to miss the mystic shrine lying beyond the mists of sea hell.

2. 鬼石坊主地獄 Hell Of Ogre Stones And Monk Heads

The hot springs of the next hell have a completely different color and shape. They are ashgrey and produce huge bursting bubbles. The grey bubbles look as flat and clean as a monk's head, therefore the name. It looks fascinating and dangerous a like, as if the stones itself have been molten, a perfect bath for Ogres.

3. 山地獄 Mountain Hell

In this hell the hot springs are hidden below or close to rocks. Because of the hot water underneath, it looks like all the mountains are steaming. If you get close to them, it feels like taking a hot shower and you will be wet immediately.

As specialty this hell hosts a zoo. I'd like to say nice words, but all I can say that it truly is a hell for the animals locked in there. Because of the narrow space, none of the animals have really place to move. So all they can so is stand, sit, lie and eat the whole day long, for their whole life. It is really sad to treat animals that badly, and I went to one of the caretakers and confronted him with the animals situation. He did not reply and only starred at me opening and closing his mouth. After five minutes and three attempts of conversation, I gave up...

4. かまど地獄 Oven Hell

Welcome to the hell's kitchen. Here the Ogres cook their meals (mostly humans) and enjoy them with a good mug of steaming hot mud water.

In hear you can see people using the hot spring for cooking. You can eat an egg boiled in the hot spring for a snack, or enjoy some food in the restaurant, which was also cooked with the help of the boiling hot spring water.

when the water of the lake above dries, it leaves these white stones behind

most of the water springs in Oven Hell are muddy

5. 鬼山地獄 Ogre Mountain Hell

The name of this hell, for a change, does not refer to the content, but to the vicinity of a mountain, which carries the name Ogre Mountain.

The hot water from the hot springs in this area are used to raise Alligators (Surprise!). That means in the while place you can find crawling and resting Alligators and Crocodiles. They are raising a lot of them here. Alas the conditions are just as bad as in the Mountain Hell, and in some cages the poor beasts are stuck together in a crowd.

the fierce guardian of this hell

You can learn a bit about Alligators and Crocodiles here though, and look at a small exhibition about them.

did you know there was a third type next to alligator and crocodile called kabiaru

6. 白池地獄 White Lake Hell

The hot water in this area is colorless. Around it a nice garden has been built. They lead you around the area and surround the not so white lakes of hell and make almost make you forget where you are.

As a specialty you can marvel at hell's most sinister fishes in an Aquarium.

And if that wasn't enough, if you look careful, you can find a small art exhibition with paintings done by local artists.

7. 血の池地獄 The Blood Lake Hell

After the white lake hell, you will have to walk for around 30 minutes to get to the next hell, but it is surely worth it. Inside you will marvel over a big lake of steaming blood.

The hot water dissolves a special type of clay in this area, which completely colors the water red. This is Japan's oldest hell and previous Tennos have payed it a visit to see what hell must be like.

By the way, the red clay is said to be effective against skin diseases. You can get the cream, created from the clay here. It is called Chinoike Ointment.

another Jizou protecting visitors, that they don't really end up in hell

there is also some nice nature around the lake

8. 龍巻地獄 Dragon Waterspout

The last hell is surely one of the most fascinating. Inside you can find a natural water spouting geyser, like you can find them a lot in Iceland. However this one is quite unique among the world for its short interval span of only 30-40 minutes.

It is nice to sit down and relax and suddenly be excited by a sudden fountain of water shooting from the ground, because the pressure below got to high. Once the water shoots out, it remains shooting for almost five minutes, until it surceases and the pressure has to be build up from anew.

Apart from the geyser, there is also a nice forest path you can stride along.

Kon Tohoku, a famous Buddhist priest and writer said about the hell:

Heaven, as depicted by Dante, John Milton and William Blake seems neither beautiful nor interesting to me. However, I find the visions of hell conjured by these atists to be tremednously interesting. The curelty of beings vividly expressed in them that I almost feel that I would prefer to go to hell rather than heaven. In this day and age, however, the heavens and hells described by these great poets and writers no longer evoke yearning or fear amongst many people.
However, if you visit Beppu you will be confronted by a vision of eight great hells appearing before you. And these are certainly terrifying hells. Hot water gushes forth from the ground, roaring and rumbling fiercely, as numerous enormous corcodiles jostle violently with each other. Though you cannot see demons, it is clear that one false step, one slup, will bring you to a rapid destruction. When I consider that these hells must be hotter than the reported cauldrons of hell, all my longing for hell fades swiftly away.
Human beings need to experience hell in this life at least once, to empty themselves of their superfluous accumulations, to reflect on their past and conduct, and to contemplate the path ahead. For this important purpose, I highly recommend a visit to Beppu, to witness the many aspects of hell. Only those who have been through hell and lived to recount the experience, are worthy to be called real human beings.

グローバルタワー Global Tower

By chance I met two nice Japanese girls at the last hell. They spoke to me, because they saw my heavy backpack. I found out they are two students (medical) on summer vacation with their own car. They invited me to explore Beppu together, and I gladly accepted.

After some nice lunch we drove to the Global Tower, the highest building in Beppu. Admission is 300 Yen and from top you can see really far, and have a nice view over Beppu. It seems tradition for touristic cities to have at least one such tower. I think as soon as a city attract some tourists, there is someone who says: Let's build a tower as yet another tourist attraction.

Anyway since I was with the two girls, it was actually quite nice, as we wondered what certain buildings were, or when we discovered something among the sea of houses, like the little bright orange house.

can you see the orange roofed house

it really sticks out from bird's view

The tower looks quite strange, and when reading the brochure, we found out it is modeled to look like a giant's eye, with the observation platform where the pupil would be. It was constructed for a big convention that was held in Beppu.

the sea

and the mountains

a part of Kyoto university

別府町 Beppu Downtown

After the tower, we decided to strive a little along Beppu downtown. However we were quite unlucky, it was Wednesday, and what I didn't know and the girls forgot, is that on Wednesday most stores are closed in Japan.

However we found some nice Omiyage (tarvel presents) stores and eventually ended up in a family run cafe. I really like those family business, where you are treated naturally and not with super artificial robotic politeness like in chains.

I talked quite warmly to the girls and found out that one of them studies medicine in order to work for 国境無き医者団 doctors without borders. Since I am thinking of working for them for a while myself, we had quite a energetic talk.

we found a lot of remnants of a Tengu festival, that had taken place recently


Afterwards we parted and I boarded the next train eastwards, which would take me back to Honshu (Japan's main island) again.