If you want to experience an onsen that feels just like a spa day, pay a visit to Beppu Onsen Hoyoland (別府温泉保養ランド)! Here, you can bathe in mud that comes straight from Mother Earth herself. Dating back to the 8th century, legend has it that famous Japanese monks used to bathe here. It is old and traditional and feels like I’ve been transported back to the Meiji era. Hoyoland is also known for the controversial mixed-gender onsen (konyoku onsen, 混浴温泉). I was a bit apprehensive at first, but reading about it made me really want to experience it myself and see what it was actually like.
Before the mud bath
Located in the Myoban area, Hoyoland is quite far from the city center, which makes it perfect for a weekend getaway. An elderly man greeted us with a warm smile at the reception. After paying the admission fee of ¥1,100 and handing my ticket to the kiosk, I went to the women’s bathroom.
There is a guide to the onsen written on the bathroom wall, saying that we have to shower first, then soak ourselves in the colloid bath to clean up, and only after all this can we go into the mud bath. Colloid baths have sulfur that contains antiseptic and therapeutic minerals that can help reduce skin irritation.
The indoor mud bath
After enjoying the colloid bath, I went down the small stairs and headed to the indoor mud bath. I have never seen so much mud in a bath! If you feel uncomfortable going to the mixed bath, you can just stop here and still enjoy the epic mud spa experience.
The mud is believed to be rich in minerals and highly concentrated metals like iron and aluminum, which can get rid of dead skin cells and make your skin smooth and soft again. To take in the full benefits, I scooped the mud from the bottom and rubbed it all over my body. You do not want the mud to get into your eyes though, as it will hurt and turn your eyes red. It took quite a while for my eyes to turn back to normal!
The outdoor mixed onsen
The outdoor bath is mixed. This is awesome if you are traveling with someone of the opposite gender, as you can share the onsen experience together.
Women can go through an enclosed path to reach the outdoor pool. Trust me, there is nothing to worry about as the water is very murky and it is impossible for you to be seen as long as you stay in the water. But men do have to walk in an exposed area to reach the outdoor bath as there is no enclosed entrance. Some men cover their hips with a towel, but others don’t, so it might be a shock for some women.
There is also a bamboo railing in the center of the pool that separates the men’s and women’s sides of the pool. I noticed that the men’s side was more popular compared to the women’s. Maybe the concept of mixed bath still sounds bizarre and is a taboo, especially for women. Sadly, I heard konyoku onsen is on the verge of extinction, as in some cases some people don’t respect the tradition. Hoyoland is one of the konyoku onsens that have survived to this day.
After enjoying the mud bath, I headed back to the women’s bathroom to rinse off the mud, went to the regular onsen, dried myself then put my clothes back on. I lounged at the tatami room for a while and relaxed over a bottle of milk.
Contrary to the black-and-white reviews I read about this onsen, bathing in the konyoku onsen felt surprisingly normal to me, and other people also seemed to be enjoying themselves. Or who knows, maybe it’s just my luck that I had a wonderful experience. I loved that the mud made my skin soft like never before. Plus, the women’s side overlooks the beautiful rocks and hills. I advise you to go there while there is still daylight. It was a truly unique experience.
I would say that Hoyoland is not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you want to experience different Japanese culture, you should definitely visit Hoyoland.
If you are looking for more things to do in Beppu, check these articles, too.
- Bathing in Hyotan Onsen, Japan’s only Michelin three-star onsen
- ‘Hell steaming’: Enjoy a lunch cooked by Mother Nature in Beppu!
Beppu Onsen Hoyoland information
- Adults: ¥1,100
- Elementary-school children: ¥600
- Children age five and under: ¥350
Open from9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
5 Myoban, Beppu-shi, Oita Prefecture 874-0843
From Beppu Station, take the Kamenoi Bus bound for Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. Get off at Konya Jigoku Mae. The ride will be 25 minutes.
http://hoyoland.webcrow.jp/ (in Japanese)