Beppu – Kyushu’s Hot Spring Town

By now the corona virus situation was clearly not just confined to a few countries but an issue for every country if they didn’t take action. So we chatted with our son in Tokyo and our travel agent about what to do. Clearly our trip was going to be greatly shortened but we needed our flight to be cancelled and a new one back to Australia to take its place. Only flights in the next 48 hours were being cancelled and replaced by our airline Qantas so we decided to continue travelling on Kyushu island. Our son was of the opinion that was safer than going to Tokyo before we had to as he felt there were potentially more cases there than were being acknowledged. We returned to Hakata Main Station and used a ticket machine’s English option to buy tickets to travel to Beppu. Beppu is a thermal spa town. There are two types of hot springs, ones you look at (jigoku – hells, in English) and ones you soak in (onsen). Just as we were moving away from the ticket machine a young lady with an ‘I’ badge on her top approached us. She asked could she help us. We responded that no, we had managed to buy our train tickets and were heading off to catch our train, departing in about twenty minutes. She enquired where were we going. We told her to Beppu. At that point she gave us a business card with her name on it and on the back was a map of where the English speaking section of the Tourist Information Centre in Beppu was located at the station. She recommended that the staff there would be most helpful in planning our time in Beppu and wished us a good time. We thanked her and made our way to the platform where we waited for our train. Our journey was in two parts. Firstly we travelled on the main line to the north east as far as Kokura on a Sonic class train.At Kokura we would swap onto a more local train for the rest of the journey. This part of the journey took us through more rural land. No, there weren’t aliens in the area. It is just the reflection from the lights inside the train carriage!On our arrival in Beppu we followed the map on the card we had received back at Hakata station to the English speaking Tourist Information Centre. We were quite touched to see this sign on their counter. Many towns in Australia had suffered badly during the summer due to extensive bushfires. Clearly this was big news worldwide and it was lovely to see people so far away wanting to help, as I know Australians have helped others when they have suffered from natural disasters in the past.

One of the staff greeted us and after asking us a few questions gave us a map of the Beppu town and surrounding area. She helped us plan what we could do over the next few days. (Sadly we didn’t end up doing much of it but have a good idea of what to do when we return after the world resumes its new normal with regard to international travel.) After thanking her we made our way on foot to our hotel, about ten minutes away. It was an apartment hotel and very technologically ready for human contact free check-in. We entered the building with a code we had previously received in an email. Then we used an iPad to check in and received a code for our room. On completion of the check in procedure a live link to a receptionist became available. The young receptionist asked us if we had any questions. We didn’t but she told us that we could come back to the iPad and contact staff if needed.After leaving our shoes in the entry section of the apartment we took our gear in and settled in. Regretfully I didn’t take photos inside but here’s one from their website.The apartment could have accommodated four with its two king size beds. There was also a compact well equipped kitchen, bathroom and small laundry area. By now we were hungry so we walked back along the street to a nearby 7/11 convenience store and purchased some supplies for lunch and breakfast the next morning. After preparing and eating lunch we headed out to look around the town, specifically historic and other points of interest and also the public onsen, which we intended using in the next couple of days. One area of the town had lots of old wooden houses.This is one of the historic public onsen.It was much older than the three others we checked out. Each had separate male and female bathing areas and changing rooms. You can take your own towels and soap or buy/hire them. We figured we would try this another day and kept exploring. Along the way Karen found a drink vending machine which sold hot milk tea, something she was happy to try again.We also came to a department store with a foot spa in the entry area. They had plastic seating and towels for purchase. We bought the plastic seating but had our own towels. After walking around for a few hours it was a very relaxing way to spend some time soaking our feet.Once we had dried our feet we continued our self guided walking tour around the town. Our route brought us back to the station. At the front was a statue of Kumahachi Aburaya, one of the founding fathers of tourism in Beppu. Between 1909 and his death in 1935 he was responsible for promoting Beppu as a sightseeing and spa destination for both Japanese and international visitors. Quite a visionary.In behind his statue was another small hot water spa, this time for hands!After testing it out we made our way back to our apartment for a shower and a rest before heading out to the restaurant area of town in Kitahama Street and intersecting streets and lanes. As you can see it was very quiet. Even though some aspects of life appeared normal dining out was on the decline. Some restaurants were clearly closed. We ended up looking around for a while, as usual aiming for somewhere with an English menu. We found this restaurant and bar, Kaizan.We sat at the bar, as surprisingly the main restaurant section was full.Similar to Spanish tapas, food came in small servings designed to be shared. As we were in a coastal town seafood was an obvious choice so we started with tempura battered prawns. Delicious.As Karen prefers vegetarian food we also tried a tofu dish which was also nice.Another one of the plates was shitaki mushrooms, which are also a local delicacy.All the dishes we tried were just delicious, and as you can see artfully presented. After paying we returned to the very quiet streets and walked back to our apartment. As we walked we spotted this attractive drain cover, a feature of the paths in many towns in Japan.Back at our apartment we checked our emails. Our travel agent had sent one telling us that he could now cancel our April 19 return flight and book an earlier one but that Qantas would only being flying the next three nights, the 24th, 25th and 26th of March. Karen and I decided the best thing to do would be take a bullet train up to Tokyo and fly out the next night on the 24th just in case they started cancelling flights, something that had happened a lot in Taiwan. Due to the time difference we decided to Skype our travel agent the next morning early. More about our speedy exit from our trip next post.

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