Translated by Shinji Takaramura
An Exciting Two-Day Road Trip To Kurokawa Onsen From Fukuoka Airport
Written by Chu
Kurokawa Onsen, located near Mt. Aso in Kumamoto, is a remote region famous for its hot-spring baths. This article introduces useful tips for a road trip to this charming onsen town from Fukuoka Airport. A list of recommended inns, cuisine, souvenirs, and sightseeing spots is included.
Discover the Charm of Kurokawa Onsen
Kurokawa Onsen, located to the north of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto, is one of Japan's famous hot spring resorts. It is at the same time one of the remotest areas in the Kyushu Region. It is beautifully lush throughout the year and welcomes streams of tourists from all over the country.
Our road trip starts with a drive from Fukuoka Airport—the gateway to the Kyushu Region—to Kurokawa Onsen. Join us on a one-night, two-day trip with stops along neighboring tourist destinations.
9:30 -- Drive a Rental Car from Fukuoka Airport
Photo by PIXTA
After arriving at Fukuoka Airport, head to the rental car agencies located on the first floor of the domestic terminal. Visitors can choose from seven agencies, including Toyota, Nissan, Nippon, and Times. For details, please check the airport's official website.
Once your registration is complete, set up the car navigation system with your electronic toll collection (ETC) card. It is faster to take the expressway. From Fukuoka Airport to the town of Oguni in Kumamoto Prefecture—where Kurokawa Onsen is located—it is about a two-hour drive along the expressways.
11:30 -- Be Stunned by Nabegataki Falls
Picture courtesy of Oguni Town Office
Let's first take a slight detour on the way to Kurokawa Onsen. Our recommended spot is Nabegataki Falls, a scenic area once used as the background for a famous tea commercial.
This is a unique place where visitors can enjoy the stunning view from behind the waterfall. Inside, the extraordinary sight of the plunging water awaits. The admission fee is 300 yen (tax included).
After taking in the view, it's time for lunch at Chakabo Ringo no Ki, a nostalgic tea house located 15 minutes by car from the falls.
12:30 -- Enjoy Lunch at Chakabo Ringo no Ki
Chakabo Ringo no Ki, which translates to Tea House Apple Tree, is operated by a local apple farmer. You can enjoy here light meals, confections, and bread made with local ingredients. Their signature dish is the Baked Beef Curry (1,980 yen with tax).
The lean beef has a delicate taste while the baked cheese gives the curry a deep flavor. These ingredients blend together to create a one-of-a-kind dish.
The homemade apple pie (440 yen with tax) is another recommended menu, especially given that the owner is an apple farmer. Fuji apples, which have a high sugar content, and Japanese brown sugar (sanonto) areused to make this delicious pie.
This fragrant confection has a crisp crust and soft center.
Do order the "Ringo no Ki Blend" (528 yen with tax), an original coffee blend using three types of beans. It has an acidic taste, which goes well with the apple pie.
After lunch, it's time to head for Kurokawa Onsen, which is about a 15-minute drive from the tea house.
14:00 -- Walk around Kurokawa Onsen
Kurokawa Onsen Resort consists of 30 ryokans (Japanese-style inns) located in the town of Minami-Oguni in the Aso District. The area spans about four kilometers.
All of the ryokan owners consider the whole resort as one large ryokan. They liken each building to a detached room, the main street to a courtyard, and the narrow streets connecting the facilities to a corridor.
The source of the hot springs is managed by each ryokan and guests can visit the facilities as if they were a single inn.
Nyuto Tegata: A Budget-Friendly Bathing Pass
To take advanage of all the perks at Kurokawa Onsen resort, purchase the nyuto tegata (onsen-hopping pass). With this pass, visitors can choose three inns from the 28 registered facilities to bathe in. There are also special benefits at restaurants and souvenir shops that you can benefit from by presenting this pass.
|Kurokawa Onsen Nyuto Tegata|
|How to Buy||The pass can be purchased at the Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association's Kaze-no-Ya or at each registered ryokan.|
|Price||Adults: 1,300 yen/Children: 700 yen (with tax)
With three stamps, children will receive a confection or toy at either Kaze-no-Ya or one of the registered ryokans.
|Yumeguri Stamp Rally Award (*)||Visitors who collect stamps from all of the registered ryokans on the pass will be recognized as a tatsujin (master) of Kurokawa Onsen, and awarded an original towel and a drawstring purse.|
*Please note that the Yumeguri Stamp Rally Award is currently suspended. Due to the COVID-19 outbreaks, the number of facilities open to visitors on a day trip might be restricted.
Recommended Souvenirs from Kurokawa Onsen
To control contaminants flowing into the Tanohara River, the Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association developed a unique shampoo, conditioner, and body soap made from herbs such as capillary wormwood (kawara yomogi) and chameleon plant (dokudami).
These herbs not only keep your hair and skin moist but also are biodegradable, which reduces the contamination of the hot spring water.
300 ml bottle: 600 yen each
1,000 ml bottle: 1,650 yen each
(all prices include tax)
Don't forget to stay hydrated during onsen-hopping. Be sure to try Megurin (140 yen with tax), a bottled mineral water with an attractive package, or Mukashi Cider (210 yen with tax).
Since both beverages have photogenic labels, they will make perfect mementos and nice souvenirs of your trip.
16:00 -- Stay at Ikoi Ryokan
On this road trip, our writer stayed at Ikoi Ryokan, a traditional wooden inn. This is the only ryokan in Kurokawa Onsen that was listed among the top 100 onsen ryokan in Japan. The facility offers various types of guest rooms alongside indoor and open-air baths.
Choose from 13 Baths
Picture courtesy of Ikoi Ryokan
Some of the baths at Ikoi Ryokan are reserved for guests. Therefore, those looking to soak in all 13 baths should stay overnight.
Among the bathing facilities, Taki-no-yu (Waterfall Hot Spring) was chosen as one of the Top 100 Hot Spring Baths in Japan. The landscape surrounding the bath resembles a waterfall, allowing bathers to feel as if they were in a forest.
Picture courtesy of Ikoi Ryokan
Visitors should also try the Tachi-yu (Standing Bath), which has a depth of 1.5 meters. While gripping their hands on two bamboo sticks, bathers stand and soak in the tub. This unique bathing facility resembles a playground built in a forest.
Savor Dishes Made wiht Local Ingredients
Dinner at Ikoi Ryokan is a kaiseki course (a multi-course meal of traditional Japanese dishes) crafted with ingredients from Kumamoto. The menu consists of homemade umeshu (plum liqueur), horsemeat sashimi, and fried yamame trout. There's also red wagyu beef steak, Rindo pork hot pot, and Akigeshiki rice, a variety grown in Kumamoto.
The ingredients are fresh and cooked with great care.
The breakfast is equally impressive. Alongside the myriad side dishes, guests can choose either rice or porridge. Since dinner was hearty, our writer chose porridge made with sweet potato, which is said to help digestion. The soft and savory potato, also grown in Kumamoto, worked wonders with his appetite.
Listen to the Background Music of the River
Our writer stayed in the Yuri guest room, which is designed in a semi-Western style. Gorgeous greenery and the Tanohara River can be viewed from the room. The murmur of the river sounds like music—a lullaby sung by Mother Nature. The rate for this room is 21,050 yen per night/per person including tax. It accomodates up to four guests.
*Please note that the course menu and room rates differ depending of the season.
10:00 -- Visit Waita Onsen Resort
Those looking to enjoy more hot spring-hopping should visit Waita Onsen Resort. Brimming with geothermal energy, this area is a 30-minute drive from Kurokawa Onsen. Visitors can gaze out at the dreamy scenery with steam rising in the air.
Jigoku mushi is a cooking method using the steam from natural hot springs.
There are six onsen spots (Take-no-yu, Hage-no-yu, Suzugatani, Asozuru, Jigokudani, and Shugojin) at the foot of Mt. Waita.
Our recommendation is to visit the following two inns.
Hourei-no-Yado: An Inn with Fine Food and Onsen
Located at Takenoyu Onsen, Hourei-no-Yado offers services to both day-trip visitors and guests staying overnight. The inn serves "jigoku mushi," a dish cooked using the steam of natural hot springs. Give this unique cooking method a try if you have a chance to visit.
The cooking takes between 20 to 30 minutes. Before you bathe in the onsen, be sure to purchase the ingredients at the counter and place them in a steaming basket.
There are two types (large/private) of open-air baths and three private baths—all offering spectacular views of Mt. Waita.
Large Open-Air Bath: 500 yen
Private Open-Air Bath (*the bathing time is one hour): 1,000 yen/1,200 yen/1,500 yen
After you finish bathing, it's time to enjoy the jigoku mushi steamed dish. Everything is soft and juicy without any sulfuric scent.
Waitakan: Fabulous View of the Mountain and the Sea of Clouds
Those who love scenic spots should stay at Yuyado Oguni Auberge Waitakan, located at Hagenoyu Onsen. Guests can view a sea of clouds and sunset from "Tenku-no-Yu," which was recently renovated in June 2019.
*Please note that there are no bathing services for day-trip visitors at Waitakan. The hot spring bath is only available to staying guests.
15:00 -- Enjoy the Natural Beauty of Minami-Oguni and Oguni Town
Photo by PIXTA
In addition to the spots mentioned above, there are other areas worth visiting in Minami-Oguni and Oguni Town in the Aso district. The live-action film adaptation of "Attack on Titan" was shot at the Hill of Oshitoishi. The Senomoto Plateau also offers a great view of Mt. Kuju and the five peaks of Mt. Aso.
Ride a Bus From the Airport
While this article features a two-day, one-night trip to Kurokawa Onsen using a rental car, some may wonder if there are other ways to get there.
They will be delighted to know that highway buses run between Fukuoka Airport and Kurokawa Onsen. Four buses—operated by Nishi-Nippon Railroad Company, Kyushu Sanko Bus, and Hita Bus—depart each day. For further information, please check the official site of Fukuoka Airport.
In cooperation with Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Association