Day 13 - Beppu
Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
29Trip End Dec 07, 2005
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We expected Japan's premiere hot springs resort town to look a little more glitzy, but the place was dead and the shops made Shinimamiya (in Osaka) look like a happening place. Food joints were either closed or outrageously expensive, so we settled for LOTTERIA, a fast food hamburger store.
I was a little disappointed in the way Beppu presented itself. Mike even went as far as comparing it to Doveton (a not so glamourous part of Melbourne in case you didn't know). The weather was lousy, so perhaps we were a little biased. Still, it didn't look anything like the "Las Vegas" Lonely Planet made it out to be.
Beppu is host to 9 JIKOKU ("hells") - unique hot springs of different colour or quality (and you can't swim in them). 3 of the 9 sounded decent, so for ¥400 each place, we visited Chinoike Jikoku (the blood red pool), Umi Jikoku (the ocean blue pool) and Shiraike Jikoku (the white poo). These pools were hot (red 70 °, white 90°), and pretty impressive.
Oh I forgot, Mike led us through some side streets to get to the jikoku. How he manages to always wing it and get us to our intended destination, despite all the detours beats me. It seemed a lot of these houses had their own private backyard onsens (hot baths). We found some bamboo forests as well.
After the hells, Mike went off and did his own thing (an ongoing trend), while Dave and I took a trip to the supposedly No.1 onsen in Beppu - Hyotan Onsen. I was a bit skeptical at first about onsens, expecting a ridiculously huge fee for a short dip in some tiny pool, but Hyotan offered the works for a modest ¥700.
First there was the sand bath, where you don a yukata, dig yourself a hole in the hot sand, then bury yourself
After a relaxing soap and wash, we tried the rock pool. Not as extreme as I expected, but then we went into the Hijojo pool (or whatever it was called). 10 seconds in there and I was poached. There was the Hyotan pool which didn't really live up to being the namesake of the whole place. Maybe it had some bizarre medicinal properties that cured hemorrhoids or something.
My favourite bath was the waterfall bath. There, spouts of water came streaming out of the walls where you could get a neck, back or any other body part you desired massaged. My legs, sore from climbing up Aso-san felt great after a few minutes under the pounding water.
The outdoor bath was unbelievable. Half your body in scorching hot water, and the other half in the freezing cold air. I was feeling so light headed, I felt like I was going to pass out
I noticed that the other patrons were perhaps not as modest as Dave and I - preferring to waltz around sans-modesty towel. I was not so hardcore and preferred to keep my front bits covered at least, while Dave felt it necessary to hide both front and back so it looked a bit like he was wearing dorky white shorts made from towel material. Regardless, it was a new experience to talk to someone while not looking directly at them.
We headed to the saunas. 40°C was piss weak, so we moved to the 48°C one. The walls were so hot, we couldn't lean on them. The steam was so thick that I felt like I was breathing water. 5mins and we were done. After quick cold shower, and a jump into the waterfall bath again, we finished with a soak in the extremely hot bath.
All throughout the bath experience, we kept thinking that Mike was missing out on such a great thing. He had passed on the onsens based on the reasoning that they'd be the same as the hot springs in New Zealand, but I don't believe the New Zealanders would do bathing quite the same way as the Japanese. Think he'd rather get light headed on some cheap sake. What a nob. Each to his own I guess
I left the bath feeling "floaty" and my skin felt soft and supple (it's not often that I get to describe my skin being supple). Despite the crummy attractions, bad weather and lack of decent restaurants, Beppu will be one of the most memorable places because of that onsen.
Just remembered something. On the way to Beppu, Dave managed to strike a conversation with 3 locals. They were keen to recommend the sights for each of the places we were visiting. I didn't get involved since I thought Dave could practise his Japanese better that way; but then the lady gave us some Futomaki and a beancurd and rice thing (the name had a fox reference, but I was too busy eating to pay any attention), so I got involved eventually. I am really loving the role as translator. After my degree is done I know exactly what it is I want to do.
Through miscommunication, Mike and I have come up with a new word for particularly rotund individuals. I discreetly referred to some girls as CHUNKA CHUNKA (being the insensitive bastard I can sometimes be). Mike thought he heard BUNKA BUNKA (pronounced 'BUNKER'), and it stuck. Now we don't have to be discreet at all since no one knows what the heck we're talking about. Mike had no idea he'd misheard me, so I kept him in the dark for a week or so, since he was using it so freely without knowing it was a nonsense word. Though I must say, nearly everyone here is slim. Just goes to show, Australians need to get on their bikes more, or stop eating meat pies.
Another thing Mike keeps pointing out is that whilst some of Japan's technology looks a bit run down and well used, they are still light years ahead of Australia's crappy efforts (eg. solar panels on street markers and electric signs on outside of the trains).