In Kyushu there are quite a few onsen spots, among which Kurokawa is considered Kyushu’s hidden gem. This small and charming village is located in the middle of Kyushu, near the active volcano Aso.
I've been to Japan before but never stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) before so I was really exited and ended up taking thousands of photos during my visit.
Kurokawa onsen town is just sooooooooo stunning, especially in the winter. I don't like hot bath or onsen that much in the summer, but it's different to soak in the onsen while watching it snowing outside.
There's no train station near Kurokawa, which is probably also the reason why it's still not overwhelmed by group tourists. You can take a bus from Kumamoto or Fukuoka if you don't have your own transportation, both take around 3 hours.
Bus ride from Kumamoto to Kurokawa onsen. I was super lucky, come to Kurokawa onsen on a snowy day.
There are 24 ryokans in the village, with tatami-matted rooms and communal baths, one thing interesting about
Kurokawa onsen is that it still keeps a few mixed onsens, although when I was there.
Mixed onsens are barely used, Japanese are shy, so if they can choose they will go to the private family ones (normally you can reserve for free with the ryokan you are staying) or go to the separate ones. But it exist still, I did try it and it was nice, because normally it's more spacious.
Tea and yukata is ready, most ryokans offer two meals: breakfast and dinner, of course it's also possible to choose just to stay. The Ryokan where I stayed is called RYOKAN YAMANOYU | 南小国ガイド, more details of the meals and the room are in this post:
Even though it is at around minus 8 degrees Celsius in Kurokawa Onsen village this time of the year, I still think winter is probably the best season to visit this place. Part of the reason being I couldn’t stand hot spring when it’s too hot.
So when it’s snowing, the outdoor hot spring becomes perfect. Winter time is known as the most beautiful season for Kurokawa. Every year from around Christmas to next March, there are Bamboo illuminations along the river in the center of Kurokawa.
It has been snowing hard these days, although the road can be a bit slippery, I decided to take a look at the illumination on the streets of Kurokawa. The bamboo lightening around the river is extremely idyllic and atmospheric. I feel I’m stepping out of reality, into a movie scene.
Kurokawa is a walkable little town, you can walk from one side to another in 40-45 minutes (a bit slower walking in the snow). All 24 ryokans offers different kinds of baths: both indoor and outdoor ones.
Outdoor baths in Kurokawa are various and creative, including cave bath, rocky pools, wooden tubs, etc.
Normally onsen holidays are pretty healthy, after an early breakfast, you choose one of the baths you like, then probably do a small walk in town to grab a small bite or stay in the room, enjoying the mountain views with a warm green tea in your hand. Later you have a pretty early dinner and go to bed early too.
Recent years, Kurokawa tourism office decides launch a « onsen hopping pass » to tourists who want to try more different baths in town instead of only the ones in the hotel they stay. The pass costs 1300 yen (around €10).
It is valid for 6 months and you are allowed to try 3 different baths with it. Considering how famous some of the ryokans in Kurokawa are, I think it’s a great price. It looks so cute too!
If you are really too lazy, can just stay in the onsen in the hotel you are staying, above is the outdoor onsen of the ryokan I stayed.
Isn’t it too cold to wear a yukata in a snowy day? No worries, I’m going to do hot springs very soon.
The three baths that I chose were the cave bath, a rocky sulphur bath and the famous beauty bath that is said to make your skin better.
Tried the local specialty, chicken rice, which was tasty. Dinner and breakfast is included in the ryokans, there aren’t that many restaurants in town, still you can find a few that offers great set meals.
The only shrine in the snow
There's only one shrine in Kurokawa onsen. It looked so fairy-tale like under the snow. I introduced in my older post this onsen hopping pass. There are 3 stickers on top of the pass. Once you check in one onsen, one of the stickers will be taken off, and you will get a stamp in return.
At the shrine you can also get an extra stamp, the ink was frozen under snow, still I was able to get one. Many visitors tie their complete or incomplete onsen hopping pass at the shrine. The onsen hopping pass is basically an ema. I didn't tie my at the shrine, but take it home as a souvenir.
It was a big cold lol
Scenery along the bus ride from Kurokawa Onsen to Fukuoka.
Some videos, I wish I could have vlogged better at that time lol