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Soaking Up the Past in Myouban Hot Springs, Beppu (Oita)

大分県別府市明礬温泉:湯の里温泉・明礬地獄

semi-overcast 6 °C


BGM: Remain by Yuki Koyanagi

After a stimulating day of being spit at by angry fumaroles and gushing geysers at the Jigoku Meguri Hells in Kannawa, my host family agreed it was time we chilled out. We piled into the car and drove up the mist-covered mountain to the Myouban Onsen (明礬温泉)area, where tiered rice fields and small farm houses peer down curiously over Beppu Bay.

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Myouban Onsen is one of the 8 hot spring regions of Beppu (Beppu Hato 別府八湯), known for its inaka (countryside) atmosphere. There's a handsome collection of small hot spring lodges and spas here where the water has a high colloidal sulfur content, popular with bathers seeking clear, smooth skin.

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As with everywhere else in Beppu, stinky, mineral-rich steam from the magma-heated water comes billowing up from underground through street cracks and gutters. In some areas like Kannawa, the steam is tangy like iron. Here, it comes up reeking of sulfur (that infamous rotten egg smell). Though I personally find the smell of sulfur intoxicating, it was deliciously unnerving to realize that I was walking not too far directly above a very active- and very hot- magma chamber.

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We took a little walk around the tiny hell Myouban Jigoku, a small grouping of bubbling mud puddles and steaming fumaroles encrusted with fragile, elegantly shaped yellow sulfur crystals.

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Despite the foreboding steam, the newly-installed foot bath was warm and inviting in the chilly wind.

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We walked further up the gently curving hill and entered the Yunosato Springs (湯の里) complex. We noticed a small grouping of charming little grass huts dotted with smoking pipes and puddles. These huts, called yunohana-goya (湯の花小屋)are used for growing aluminum/iron sulfate crystals which are ground into fine bath salt powder called yunohana (湯の花). This process has been used for over two centuries in the Myouban Area. In fact, the name Myouban means "aluminum," as this district was the primary source of the mineral for the entire country during the Edo period. Several huts are opened to the public where visitors can observe the slow but intriguing crystal-growing process.

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Sign Reads: "Yakuyong Yunohana" (medicinal bath salts)

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Bath salt crystals growing inside the thatched roof hut

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The Mechanism: Steam rises through the bed of crushed rock and forms the top layer of crystals.

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Some of the crystals can get pretty darn big!

Yunosato has a popular open-air bath with a particularly good view of Beppu Bay. The water is a soft, milky blue-green that seems to glow in the rising steam. If you're too shy to bathe naked in the open air, there are the more expensive but private kazokuburo (family baths), shaped like yunohana-goya, available upon reservation. Since we had plenty of onsen experience, we went for the bath with a view. It was pure heaven!

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Entrance to the ladies' bath

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Family bath for rent

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The restaurant at Yunosato offers several lunch sets featuring regional specialty dishes like toriten (chicken tempura) and dangojiru (hand-rolled wheat flour noodle soup with vegetables in a light miso broth). There's also a decadent (though slightly sulfuric) custard pudding steamed on-site and a refreshing juice made from local kabosu limes (similar in taste to calamansi). Over the years I was able to taste nearly everything on the Yunosato menu -and savored every heart-warming, delicious bite. (American visitors will be pleased with the unusually generous serving portions as well).

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Toriten Teishoku (Chicken tempura lunch with salad, simmered veggies, pickled veggies, miso soup, rice and dipping sauce)

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Dango Jiru Teishoku (Wheat noodle soup with simmered veggies, pickles, tofu, shiitake mushrooms and rice)

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Restaurant- top floor (for large groups)

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Restaurant- main floor

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Custard pudding steamed on-site, chilled to perfection

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Entrance to the Yunosato gift shop

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Refreshing kabosu fruit drink

There are two gift shops on the complex: Tomoeya specializing in Kyoto chirimen silk and the Yunosato gift shop (next to the restaurant), offering food and gift products, some from local artisans and farmers like hand-carved wooden toys and locally grown shiitake mushrooms. I personally would always stock up on the famed Yunohana bath salts and kabosu shichimi chili pepper mix -perfect for kicking those soba noodles or dangojiru soup up a notch.

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Over subsequent trips to the Myouban area, I learned that buses back down the mountain from Myouban usually don't run late into the night -and that it's helpful to have the phone number of a trusty local taxi cab on hand (preferably in your cell phone's auto-dial). I also learned that it's also a treat to stay at one of the mountain's many onsen lodges so I could take my sweet time at Yunosato without feeling rushed. Plus, if you get up early in the morning, you can even spot some wildlife!

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(A Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus) perched above a hot spring pool, Yunosato).

In Myouban, there are no loud speakers, no brightly-painted plastic statues, not much here in the way of cheap commercial hype- just the soothing, lulling rhythm of nature and a slower, more mature Japan steeped in lasting tradition and culture. Even if I had only one day in Beppu, without a second thought I would spend it on the steaming slopes of Myouban.

Posted by GenkiLee 05:28 Archived in Japan Tagged steam kyushu beppu sulfur fumarole yunosato dango_jiru kabosu_juice yunohana myouban_hot_springs myouban_jigoku yunohanagoya thatched_roof

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