My trip to Japan was loosely planned around onsen. Onsen is the Japanese term for hot springs. Only on rare occasions are these hot springs in a natural setting. More commonly, a bath has been built and the naturally hot mineral water has been piped to the bath house. Many times the bath is part of a ryokan, a traditional (and usually very nice) Japanese inn.
In the past, I have generally preferred natural hot springs, but was eager to visit any onsen I could, just because they play such an important part in Japanese culture as well as its domestic tourism scene.
Enter Kurokawa Onsen. It is literally a village of onsen. There’re over 25 or them here, and they’re all attached to ryokan. Kurokawa village is located in a remote (for Japan) mountain valley in central Kyushu. I stopped for the afternoon in transit between Aso Caldera and Beppu. The village tourism office offers visitors an “onsen passport”. Purchasing the onsen passport for 1200 yen ($12.50 US) gives you the opportunity to sample three Kurokawa onsen.
That’s exactly what I did. I took the first bus out of Aso town in the morning and spent the next 5 hours dipping in and out of hot mineral baths. They are all unique—some located along the stream flowing through town, some quite large, some indoors, some out. I tried to take photos where I could, just so you could get an idea of the atmosphere.
If you can afford to stay at one of the ryokan, you can obviously use its onsen for no additional charge. It would be preferable to stay overnight in the village, but my budget didn’t allow for it. But it was fun to sample three of the onsen and get a chance to peek inside each of the ryokan.