Nabeyama-no-Yu 大分県別府市「鍋山の湯」

by Daniel Simmons

Tucked away in the verdant hills above Beppu lies Nabeyama-no-yu, a humble hot spring whose outdoor simplicity offers an appealing contrast to the steamy kitsch in the city below.

Nabeyama-no-yu is considered a hito, or ‘secret onsen.’ It’s an open secret, to be sure; the Lonely Planet guide to Japan gives it an appreciative shout-out, and the information desk clerk at JR Beppu station was happy to hand me a Xeroxed map to the place from a well-used info drawer. But Nabeyama’s rugged isolation and lack of frills (no changing area, no showers, nothing but boulders and weeds and open sky and a pale green plastic washing bowl) means that few visit the place, particularly since the city below is so clearly chockablock with more conveniently accessible baths. So if you take the extra trouble to huff and puff your way to Nabeyama-no-yu, it’s likely that you’ll have the place mostly — or even entirely — to yourself.

This is all to the better, since Nabeyama can’t accommodate more than a handful of bathers at any one time. There are two small circular pools here, one a bit cooler and clearer than the other. The muddier, smellier bath is definitely the more enjoyable of the two, as you can claw handfuls of mud from the pool’s bottom and smear the sulphurous stink all over yourself. The mud is reportedly good for the skin, but a word to the wise: coworkers were still wrinkling their noses at me a full two days after my bath.

When I visited Nabeyama I was joined by an older man from Kitakyushu, a regular visitor who regaled me with stories of drinking sake here late at night under the harvest moon. Later, a father and his son from Shimonoseki entered the bath. It quickly became apparent that both older men were hot spring aficionados, and half the fun of my bath was eavesdropping on their debate over the best onsens in Kyushu. The discussion was friendly and a bit competitive, like that of university students comparing CD collections to determine which of them knew the coolest, most obscure bands. (For the record, their top two agreed-upon onsen picks in Kyushu were Jigoku Onsen, near Mt. Aso, and Sakura Sakura Onsen, near the Miyazaki/Kagoshima border.)

Our advice is to visit Nabeyama-no-yu on a cool and cloudy day; because of the area’s direct exposure to the elements, rainfall and harsh sunshine would make it unpleasant. But don’t be dissuaded by the distance, particularly if you’re looking for a scenic substitute for the demon statues and crocodile pits of the city’s jigoku. Besides, did we mention that Nabeyama is free?

Access: If you don’t have your own transportation, take a bus (number 5, 9, 24, 41 or 43) from JR Beppu station’s west exit and exit at Myoban Onsen. Follow the road up the hill to the left and you’ll start seeing signs (in Japanese only) for Nabeyama-no-yu, as well as another free hot spring called Hebi-no-yu. Depending on how fast you walk, you can make the roughly 2km trek to the hot spring in 35-45 minutes; along the way you can admire the green slopes of Mt. Ogiyama, Beppu city steaming away below, and the sight of paragliders looping lazily overhead.






Share and Enjoy:     These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Propeller
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis

Comments are closed.