The Nine Hells of Beppu and the Japanese Onsen



by LORENZO CIOTTI

The Nine Hells of Beppu and the Japanese Onsen

Beppu, a Japanese city in the prefecture of Ōita, located in a wide and deep bay on the northeastern coast of the island of Kyūshū, is famous for its famous Onsen, including the suggestive and infernal Pool of Blood.

But what are the Beppu onsen?

Born on 1 April 1924 from the union of numerous small contiguous villages, the city of Beppu is famous above all for its onsen connected to the numerous springs, sometimes even colored and considered sacred, that dot the territory.

If the island of Kyūshū is considered one of the major volcanic areas of the entire Japanese archipelago, the territory of Beppu presents a consistent series of phenomena characteristic of these areas with calderas, sulfataras, volcanic fumaroles and above all thousands of thermal springs, whose temperature varies from 37 to 98 ° C, which emit more than 70,000 m³ of water every day.

Skilfully exploited for thermal, domestic and industrial uses, the geothermal springs have given rise to numerous onsen, of which Beppu is considered the Japanese capital. Where, on the other hand, the manifestations of secondary volcanism have been left in their natural state, the landscape offers the so-called nine hells, called jigoku, of Beppu, referring to its nine main geothermal sites.

Among the most famous is the chi-no-Ike Jigoku, also called the Blood Pond, about 200 m deep and with blood red waters; the Umi Jigoku, or well of the ocean, the largest, with blue sky waters apparently cold but actually close to 100 °.

Also worth mentioning is the Tatsumaki Jigoku or cyclone pit, with boiling geysers that spray air every 17 minutes up to 20m from the wells mouths.

The Onsen

Onsen are traditionally located outdoors, although many hotels have also built indoor bathrooms; by definition, onsen use warm water from geothermically heated springs, typically due to volcanic phenomena, and in this they are distinguished from sentō, the public bath rooms in cities where water is drawn from the public water system and heated.

Healing properties are attributed to the onsen's thermal water thanks to its mineral content; the same onsen can produce different pools of water, each with different mineral properties, and the most renowned hotels have the various pools with different settings, sometimes themed and often with the presence of artificial waterfalls called utaseyu.

Outdoor tubs are often made of Japanese cypress, marble, or granite, while indoor ones also use tiles or more modern materials, such as acrylic and steel. Until the Meiji period, men and women bathed together, in the onsen as well as in the sentō; some mixed bathrooms can still be found in rural areas, but they also generally have tubs or times of the day reserved for women.

The main attractions of the onsen are the thermal waters and the food, as hotels often offer homemade meals made up of typical products of the area; Other services, such as massages, are occasionally offered, but they are quite ancillary. Since the time dinner is typically served at 6pm, toilets are generally deserted by that time.