The 7 Hells of Beppu Are Japan's Seriously Spectacular Hot Springs

By: Katie Carman  | 

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Chinoike Jigoku, or Blood Pond Hell, features a red pond surrounded by Japanese pine trees, and is one of the seven spectacular hot springs of Beppu, Japan. John S Lander/LightRocket/Getty Images

It's not often that people associate the word "hell" with a relaxing vacation, but visiting the hells of Beppu is more like taking a trip to ecological heaven than to hell — as long as you admire them from a safe distance, that is. The hells of Beppu are a set of seven geothermal springs (called onsen in Japanese) that are located in the small resort town of Beppu on Japan's Kyushu island. Beppu is known for its abundant hot springs and volcanic activity. While there are close to 3,000 onsen in Beppu, the seven hells are famous for their intensity and individual characteristics. Legend has it that they got their Japanese name, jigoku, which translates to "hell" in English, due to locals being afraid of how hot and powerful the bubbling gas and water was — and still is.

Hot springs are caused by geothermal activity beneath the earth. Japan's location is the ideal place for onsen to form; it not only sits above four tectonic plates, but the island of Kyushu is on top of a subduction zone, meaning one plate slides beneath another. As the plates expand, cracks form in the ground, allowing water to flow deep beneath the surface where it's heated by volcanic magma and then rises again due to pressure.

The seven hells each have their own peculiar qualities ranging from spouting geysers, feisty crocodiles and waters that are stunning shades of Caribbean sea-blue, gray and blood-red. Calling these springs hot is a bit of an understatement — the water temperature can reach over 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), making them obviously unsuitable for bathing. But just because these famous onsen are too hot to enter, it doesn't mean you won't have the chance to take a dip while in Beppu.

According to Audley Travel, there are many other hot springs that are available for bathing — these are typically found at ryokan (a type of traditional Japanese inn) where clients can stay and enjoy the onsen, as well as at public baths that you can visit during the day. Additionally, onsen and public baths are plentiful throughout Japan, so even if you don't make it to Beppu, you can still ensure hot springs are part of your trip.


Cultural Significance and Healing

For many people, visiting the seven hells, or any onsen, is about more than just witnessing nature's beauty. Onsen play a deep historical role in Japanese culture and are still quite popular today as a way to relax and connect with friends or family. The water is thought to have therapeutic properties due to its high mineral content and is used by the Japanese to treat various ailments.

How to See the Springs

The Japan specialists at Audley Travel further explain that the hells can easily be seen in one day. Five of the hells are in the Kannawa district, which can be reached on a bus or taxi from Beppu train station. The last two hells are in Shibaseki, which is also accessible by public transport or taxi. Another option is to travel by rental car so you can explore at your own pace.

So, come along as we explore the seven unique hells of Beppu:

1. Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell)

The Umi Jigoku hell's name comes from its bright turquoise water reminiscent of a steamy Caribbean sea. After taking in its beauty, you can also visit a smaller reddish pool, a greenhouse that's heated with "gasses from hell" and an ashi-mizu — a type of foot bath — to rejuvenate your feet for the trek. 

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Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) was the first of the hells to be designated as places of scenic beauty by the government of Japan.
John S Lander/LightRocket/Getty Images

2. Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell)

Located a short distance from various other hells, the Shiraike Jigoku name is a bit misleading since its water is a bit more of milky blue than pure white, but it's beautiful nonetheless. The water is surrounded by a green garden that creates a tranquil setting.

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Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell) is a boiling pond of white, milky water surrounded by a beautiful garden.
John S Lander/LightRocket/Getty Images


3. Oniishibozu Jigoku (Mud Hell or Shaved Monk's Head Hell)

Gray clay bubbles boil to the surface of Oniishibozu Jigoku , giving it its name, "mud hell." After you check out the boiling mud, you can relax with a foot bath or even a full dip at the outdoor bath.

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Oniishibozu Jigoku (Mud Hell or Shaved Monk's Head Hell) derives its name from the shapes of the hot mud bubbles burping from the natural mud pools.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5 CH)

4. Kamado Jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell)

Kamado Jigoku is unique in that it discharges the largest amount of hot spring water, not just in Beppu, but in all of Japan. What's cooking in this cooking pot hell? Kamado Jigoku got its name from an ancient myth that says the locals used the gas rising from the water to steam the rice they offered to the Ujigami (guardian god) for the Kamado Hachimangu Shrine Festival.

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Kamado Jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell) is a hot spring composed of thermal mud with a temperature of 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius).
Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/CorbisGetty Images

5. Oniyama Jigoku (Devil Mountain Hell)

Get too close to this hot spring, and it'll be more than the hot water that feels like hell. Oniyama Jigoku is one of the most intriguing onsen due to the 70 crocodiles roaming around the waters. The crocs were first introduced to the onsen in 1924, and for them, the year-round warm water creates a heavenly spot to call home.

You can safely view the crocodiles from behind a gated area, and for even more intrigue, you can visit at feeding time. Check the schedule, but feeding is generally on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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Oniyama Jigoku (Devil Mountain Hell) is not only hot, but is home to about 70 crocodiles.
John S Lander/LightRocket/Getty Images

6. Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell)

The Chinoike Jigoku onsen brings a bit more truth to the hellish name due to its blood-red water — dyed by the red thermal mud that lies deep underground. Yet, despite the water's frightening appearance, the onsen is nestled in a peaceful natural setting, surrounded by a waterfall and wooded hillsides. This hell also boasts an ashi-mizu pool for soaking your feet and a restaurant that serves up a "Blood Pond Burger" and "Hell's Paradise Curry."

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Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell) is known for its beautiful red waters.
Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis/Getty Images

7. Tatsumaki Jigoku (Tornado Hell)

Tatsumaki Jigoku is more than your regular hot spring — it's a geyser, a special type of hot spring that spouts water and steam into the air due to the high volume of pressure it's under. The tornado hell geyser spouts very, very hot water every 20 to 40 minutes.

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Tatsumaki Jigoku (Tornado Hell) is one of the world's so-called "sporadic" geysers that spurt at regular intervals, in this case every 25 minutes.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)


A Beautiful Part of Any Visit to Japan

While it may seem contradictory that a place called 'hell' is designated as a "Place of Scenic Beauty" in Japan, the hells of Beppu are definitely a natural wonder worth admiring. Plus, Beppu can be a great jumping off point for a trip, according to the Japan specialists at Audley Travel. They share that there are other points of interest across the island, including the famous Yatai (food stalls) of Fukuoka, beautiful volcanic mountains of Aso-Kuju National Park, as well as the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park in Nagasaki.