BEPPU (Kyushu Island)
The lantern-lit hot springs of Beppu, known for its eight scorching “Hells”, is a town that’s prettier than a picture. The town is found in a particularly volcanically active part of Japan (hence the abundance of hot springs, or in Japanese, onsens). The viewing pools have evocative names; think Sea Hell, Blood Pond Hell and Tornado Hell. While the names might seem a little off putting, the reality is stunning; sulphur laced air and vast spectrums of blues and reds, depending on the mineralisation of the earth.
As if the gorgeous palette of colours at the onsen was not enough, Beppu is also world famous for its Sakura, or cherry blossom season. More than 2,000 cherry trees near the base of the ropeway to Mount Tsurumi make for one of Beppu’s most impressive hanami (flower viewing) spots. If not lucky enough to be in the area during Sakura, from May to June rhododendrons colour the mountain. The view from this 1,375m mountain is beyond impressive, allowing you to see all the way to the Kuju Mountains, Chugoku and Shikoku. If brave enough to climb all the way to the top, the stone Buddhas that were carved into the mountainside during the Heian Period (794-1185) are a worthy reward!
As with much of Japan, duality is ever present. Modernity sits very comfortably by ancient buildings. While Beppu’s biggest pull is by far the hot springs and the thermal baths, nearby (10 km) Yufuin has a wealth of art museums, cafes and boutiques, catering to trend setters and urbanites alike.