Sitting about 20 kilometers north of Mount Aso, right in the middle of Kyushu you’ll find the Kurokawa Onsen, an onsen town that thanks to local efforts has remained relatively uninfluenced by modern tourism trends. Surrounded by clusters of lush trees that transform in color during the passing seasons, and with a rocky flowing river running through its middle, Kurokawa Onsen is a picturesque town filled with natural beauty and steaming hot onsen baths.
Seamlessly blending in with the organic surroundings, the buildings that populate the area are rustic and wooden and line the many walking paths that weave in and around the township. Ryokans, cafes, restaurants, gift stores and of course onsen baths make up the majority of the buildings offering plenty to see and do while you’re in the area.
It’s said that the onsens here have a history that stretches back over 300 years, but in terms of tourism, the area’s popularity sky-rocked in the 1960s and 70s when the Kurokawa Hotel Association was established. In its previous lifetime, the Kurokawa Onsen was a popular resting site for Daimyo (feudal lords) travelling through the area. Garnering a reputation for being an excellent place to rest and recover, the onsens were given the name ‘Kizuyu’, which translates to ‘spa for curing wounds.’ Thanks to the tireless efforts of the local townspeople and their organizations, Kurokawa Onsen has remained free from towering hotels, and garish illuminated signs, all hallmarks of major commercialization, making it still feel like a well kept local secret.
Although the scenery is stunning and the food delicious, the reason people predominantly come here is for the baths. Looking at the Kurokawa Onsen map you’ll find 24 public baths dotted around the town’s surrounding landscape. If you’re here for a while, or just for a day and are feeling ambitious, it’s worth considering buying an ‘onsen hopping pass’ available from the Kurokawa Onsen Visitor centre.
For 1,300 yen the pass will give you access to your choice of three of the participating onsens. Known as ‘tegata’ (a wooden pass) the tag will allow you to partake in Kurokawa’s most popular activity ‘rotemburo meguri’ (tour of outdoor baths). The pass lasts for six months, making it an excellent money saving option for those planning to stay in the area for a few days. Each time you visit a bath all you need to do is hand over your pass and the sticker on its back-side will be replaced with a stamp. For something truly unique to the area, once you’ve used up all your passes you can head over to Kurokawa’s central Shinto shrine where many past guests have hung their bath pass token like an ema (wishing charm) on the shrine.
As well as visiting the many baths mentioned on the onsen hopping map, be sure to put aside a little time to check out the public baths located in the town center. There’s the Jizoyu public bath a small gender separated bath which costs 200 yen to enter, and the Anayu public bath house, located along the river, entry to this bath costs a very small 100 yen fee.
If you’re travelling via public transport, Kurokawa Onsen is accessible by bus. There’s no major train station in the area, so the easiest way to get there is by taking the direct highway bus, which runs twice per day Kurokawa Onsen and Fukuoka. Stopping at Hakata Station, Tenjin Bus Center and Fukuoka Airport, the trip takes around two and a half hours and costs a little over 3,000 yen each way. If you plan to get there by car, there are a number of rental outlets around Kumamoto city, Kumamoto Airport, and Oita.
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- Kurokawa Onsen
- Kumamoto Aso-gun Minamiogunimachi Manganji Kurokawa