Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
In the town of Beppu, visitors can view what are known as “Hot Spring Hells”, so named due to the fact that the waters are so toxic or hot that they’re unfit for bathing.
There are actually ten hells in Beppu, but two of them are not that famous. Most people visit the other eight hells, and you can get combined tickets at a discounted price for them. Here’s a breakdown of the eight famous hells.
海地獄 umi jigoku (Sea Hell): This is the biggest hell, and a very beautiful one, so named for its sea blue colour. Totally unrelated to the hell itself is a normal pond featuring lotus leaves which are strong enough for children to stand on. Occasionally, staff members in full-body cartoonish ogre and monk suits can be seen walking around to wave at and pose with the visitors, especially children. Visitors have to walk past this pond and through a large souvenir shop before actually arriving at the main hell pond. The main hell pond is pretty large and beautiful, and there’s a small orange-coloured hell that resembles the Blood Pond Hell. There’s also a greenhouse nearby featuring lotus leaves, for anyone who’s interested. Near the entrance to the hell is a food stall selling “hell food” – eggs, puddings etc cooked using hot spring steam.
かまど地獄 kamado jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell): This is one of the flashier and bigger hells. Apparently, ogres used to cook their meals using the water here in the past. To emphasize this, there’s a large statue of an ogre and a traditional cooking pot near the first pond. Next to the ogre statue is a small hell pond - that doesn’t emit much steam. The sign there explains that if you hold a lighted cigarette above the water and blow on it, steam would emerge from the pond. Anyone is free to try it. There are separate hot springs for drinking, as well as hand and foot bathing. There’s also a hot spring steam that is supposedly good for the throat and skin. The main pond is fairly large and beautiful. According to the sign there, the water changes colour depending on environmental changes. Occasionally, a staff member would explain about the aforementioned chemical reaction with the cigarette, and demonstrate it to the visitors. There’s a food stall and souvenir store near the exit.
鬼石坊主地獄 oniishibozu jigoku (Ogre Stone Monk Hell): This hell features several small boiling mud pools with bubbles that form a round shape. Because they are so unique from the ponds in the other hells, this is one of the more visually interesting hells.
山地獄 yama jigoku (Mountain Hell): This hell is pretty small, and perhaps that is why it’s integrated with a rather pathetic-looking zoo. There’s a hippopotamus, a monkey, an elephant, a few flamingoes and llamas. Visitors can feed them for a small price.
鬼山地獄oniyama jigoku (Ogre Mountain Hell): There’s a flashy statue of an ogre here, and the pond itself is rather plain-looking and not big, though it does emit a lot of steam. Visitors are likely to spend more time examining crocodile exhibits inside a building modeled after a traditional house in Sarawak, Malaysia, or at the actual crocodiles in the other (normal) ponds nearby. Both are located within the hell’s premises.
白池地獄 shiraike jigoku (White Pond Hell): While the pond looks nice, it’s not very spectacular, and it isn’t very big either. Perhaps that’s the reason why there’s an aquarium here, which visitors have to walk through before reaching the pond. In case you’re interested, the aquarium features piranhas.
竜巻地獄 tatsumaki jigoku (Tornado Hell): The pond here is the smallest among the hells, and it’s rather plain-looking. This is also the only hell pond where hot steam is not always visible. Its only highlight is a hot geyser that gushes out every 30 to 40 minutes for about 5 to 10 minutes, the only time when hot steam appears. There’s a small souvenir shop visitors have to go through to get to the pond.
血の池地獄chi no ike jigoku (Blood Pond Hell): Visitors have to go through a fairly large souvenir shop before they can reach the pond itself, but it’s well worth a look. This one is pretty cool, due to the brownish red colour of the pond.
The first six hells are within easy walking distance from each other. From JR Shimabara Station, a number of buses stop at Umi Jigoku and Kannawa Bus Terminal, where you can easily walk to any of the six hells. The last two hells are a short bus ride away from the bus terminal.
Visitors are unlikely to spend more than a couple of minutes actually looking at the hell ponds, which is probably the reason for the many souvenir shops as well as stalls selling “hell food”, and the non-hell related exhibits at some hells. The Cooking Pot Hell appears to be the best value for money, due to its fairly large size and the number of things visitors can do there, though its flashy presentation may put some people off. For a more authentic “hellish” atmosphere, go to the Unzen Hot Spring Hells in Shimabara, also located in Kyushu. It’s located on a quiet mountain, and the landscape is depressingly spectacular – well worthy of the moniker “hell”.