It has become a New Year tradition that we, along with several family members, pack-up and head east to Oita prefecture. We have been spending the New Year’s holidays in Beppu- Japan’s premier hot spring area.The entire area sits on top of hundreds and hundreds of geothermal springs. I’ve read that only Yellowstone has more hot springs than Beppu. Everywhere you look steam is rising out of vents, pipes, crevices and cracks…..even from the asphalt in the road!
There are alleys you can walk down that are completely shrouded in steam. It’s an awesome place to visit. There are all manner of onsen (hot springs ) to visit and relax in- from the old and traditional to modern hotels that feature a spa for guests.
We stayed at Kaminoi Hotel-a hotel we’ve stayed at before and we enjoyed. The accommodations are great but this time the food was really not so good. We were actually surprised as during New Year restaurants make a special effort to provide tasty meals for their guests. After the second day I had to stop eating the hotel food-I was as bloated as a balloon. The food was terribly salty and I’m fairly sure they used MSG. Additionally, they didn’t have any oshechi (traditional New Year’s foods). Everyone complained about the food-not just me. During the New Year holidays food plays an important role in the celebrations here and it’s already been decided that next year we won’t be staying there.
On New Year’s day everyone kind of had their own idea of what they wanted to do. Some slept or lounged in their rooms, some went to the pachinko parlor…I went with our niece and the “little kids” to Umitamago a seaside aquarium. We also visited Hachiman Asami Shrine, built in 1196-820 years ago.
Umitamago is a fun, interactive seaside aquarium. I really enjoyed myself there.
There are quite a few activities for kids and the gang we had in tow had a blast. There is a new feature at the aquarium-an outdoor play area that has a shallow dolphin pool where you can actually pet and interact with the dolphins. You have to take off your shoes and socks on the “beach” area. I opted out of that activity as it was cold and my feet are already always like blocks of ice.
There is a huge pelican that chased people around.He was pretty harmless just kind of irritable that day.
There were some penguins that came to visit, a group of sea lions that come out of their pool and scoot across the ground to sun themselves in the sand…and a barrel with two armadillo-like creatures that kids were playing with! The whole thing was really neat and the kids had so much fun. So did I!
The view from the aquarium is amazing. You are viewing Beppu City in these photos which sits between the mountains and the sea. Can you see some of the larger steam vents spouting steam in the background?
We left Umitamago and dropped the car back to the hotel parking lot so that we could walk to the shrine which was about 15 or 20 minutes from our hotel.
Being New Year’s day the shrine was crowded with people trying to get in their New Year prayers, make their wishes and read their fortunes.
The shrine has several interesting features. The trees you see in the photo are very old-around 800 years. The ropes around the trees indicate that they are sacred. Worshipers can buy good luck amulets and fortune papers from the shrine staff at the counter.
On the shine grounds also stands a 1,000 year old camphor tree.
Behind the main shrine building are smaller stations that worshipers stop at to say prayers. I observed people following sort of a mini circuit.
The fire pit is for burning last years talismans as they are only good for one year….pictured below are fortunes and wishes. The white slips of paper that are tied to rope are fortunes that can be purchased for 100 yen at the talisman counter. The cute wood signs hanging from the planks are wishes. You buy a blank wooden “sign” write your wish on the back of it and then hang it on the plank. The priests will burn them later and send your fortune or wish sailing out into the universe…
There is even a cute coffee shop on the grounds but there was a long waiting list so we decided against it.
A few more shots from the shrine grounds.
We walked back to the hotel through the bustling New Year’s day streets.
It was a long tiring day but full of memories. The hot bath waiting for me at the hotel felt wonderful.