Join us on the Kurokawa Onsen Travel Guide as we share with you cave hot springs, horse sashimi, and delicious local ingredients prepared with Irori (Japanese sunken hearth)!
Our family took a trip to southern Japan last year and had an amazing time. Even though it’s still Japan, the food, the scenery, and the culture are very different from large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka.
We’ve been sharing a travel guide for each location we visited once a week. If you missed our posts for Hiroshima, Miyajima, Beppu, and Yufuin here are the links to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Itsukushima Shrine, and the Hells of Beppu. For each location below that we visited, we are also sharing a local recipe the same week.
- Hiroshima (広島) – recipe Grilled Oysters
- Miyajima/Itsukushima (宮島/厳島) – recipe Baked Japanese Fried Oysters
- Beppu (別府) – recipe Chicken Tempura (Tori-ten)
- Yufuin (由布院/湯布院) – recipe Dorayaki with Custard Pudding
- Kurokawa Onsen (黒川温泉)
- Kumamoto (熊本市)
- Fukuoka (福岡市)
Ready to tour Kurokawa Onsen with us? Let’s go!
Kurokawa Onsen 黒川温泉
Kurokawa Onsen is southwest of Yufuin and located right in the center of Kyushu island near Mount Aso. It is in a remote region of the island so there is no train service, but there are many buses from various parts of Kyushu that will get you to this celebrated hot springs town.
For us, we took the bus from Yufuin Bus Terminal to Kurokawa Onsen. The Odan bus (横断バス) we took crosses the Kyushu Island horizontally from Beppu to Kumamoto (also from Kumamoto to Beppu). However, it only runs twice a day so please plan your trip accordingly.
The bus ride from Yufuin is roughly 1 hour 30 min, and the bus stopped twice during our trip so riders can get off and stretch their legs at rest stops. If you drive yourself it’s much quicker, it takes just 50 min.
Kurokawa Onsen is a really petite onsen town. We had arranged for the hotel (Shinmei-Kan 山の宿 新明館) to pick us from the bus stop and the car ride to the hotel was quick, just 5 min. It would have taken us only 10 min to walk to the hotel.
Kurokawa Onsen is best known for … you’ve guessed it! Onsen (Hot Springs)! There are over 30 onsen hotels in Kurokawa Onsen and you can actually get an onsen-hopping pass for 1,300 yen (pass is good for 3 different hot springs at 20+ participating hotels).
One interesting fact we learned was that most hot springs in Kurokawa are mixed where male and female share the same bath. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly see the opposite sex in the same hot springs.
Although it’s a resort town, Kurokawa Onsen is not overly commercialized and most activities outside of the hotel involve hiking and taking in the gorgeous landscape. There are 3 recommended walking routes which take one and half hour each to complete if you want to take a stroll.
We arrived around 4:30 pm and had a bit of time before dinner so we explored the vicinity and walked along the Tanohara river (田の原川). What got our attention right away as we’re walking was the deep green forest that surrounded Kurokawa Onsen area. We don’t get to see such rich green wilderness in California, and it was so beautiful and surreal.
After walking along the river, we returned to the main strip. Kurokawa Onsen’s “downtown” area is somewhat small. The streets are very narrow and can only fit 1 car at a time. You can finish browsing all the shops in 30 min. There were a few cafes/restaurants, souvenir shops, and we did find 2 pottery shops and brought back unique handcrafted props for our photoshoots.
In the center of the town, there’s a Buddhist temple called Jizoson (黒川地蔵尊). We stopped by to pray and pulled Omikuji (おみくじ) to see our fortune and Nami received Daikichi (大吉)! The fortune becomes true as we have Kyushu Lost Luggage story part 2 to share with you later on.
After strolling around, we were getting hungry so it’s time to head back to our hotel to enjoy Kaiseki Ryori!
Shinmei-kan 山の宿 新明館
Shinmei-kan is a traditional Japanese ryokan located on the Tanohara river bank. To enter the lobby of the hotel, you cross the Tanohara River on a red pedestrian bridge. Here are the views from the different bridges across the river.
Once you enter the hotel, it takes you to a different time. There isn’t a giant hotel lobby with chandeliers and marble countertop. It’s rustic and very authentic Japanese ryokan. You can hear the creaking on the wood floor as you walk around. Guests are required to take off their shoes at the entrance of the hotel and you wear slippers while walking around on the hotel property.
While checking in, the host patiently explained to us the hotel layout and all the facilities that are available to use.
In Kurokawa Onsen area, Shinmei-kan is known for its cave baths.
About the cave baths: several decades ago, the owner of the Ryokan thought of something. Is there anything guests would become happy. He suddenly came to the thought. He grabbed a chisel and hammer and started working next several years, making cave bath. It became the famous cave math that people come to ryokan for.
Besides the cave bath, there’s a private large family bath that’s free but you need to make reservations for.
While checking in, we noticed that one of the excursions visitors can do is to go see Nabegataki Falls. It’s a 30 min car ride from the hotel to the falls. Our timing didn’t work out so we weren’t able to visit, it’s the one regret we had for our visit Kurokawa Onsen.
Soon after check-in we head to our hotel room. Our room was composed of 2 tatami rooms. When you enter the bathtub is in a room immediate left of the entrance. We have never used the bathtub in the room when we’ve stayed an onsen ryokan. If you are not comfortable taking bath in public you can use the room bath.
Dinner at Shinmei-kan
Similar to other Ryokans where we’ve stayed, the dinner and breakfast are served in a large dining room instead of the guest room.
Shinmei-kan’s dinner was quite unique; there’s a hearth in the middle of the table for guests to cook some of their food. After sitting down, the menu was presented to us and let me say, the food was wonderfully prepared. The arrangement, the flavor, and the presentation were all excellent.
During the meal, Shinmei-kan takes a picture of you and laminates the photo for guests to take home as a souvenir.
The Cave Hot Springs
There are 2 cave hot springs at Shinmei-kan; one is female only and the second one is mixed use. Each cave had several chambers so you can find a quiet space to relax if it gets crowded.
As I explained earlier the cave was chiseled by the owner throughout decades. The philosophy is simple, so his guests can enjoy hot springs more. It’s the first time for us to be in a cave onsen and it was a novel experience. All the senses are amplified, especially with sound. You can hear the faint sounds of water dripping from hot spring source and voices echoed throughout the chambers as they reflected off the walls and water.
There is no locker or dressing room – you simply remove your clothing and place them in a basket at the entrance.
So what’s the story of lost luggage part 2 (If you miss part 1 of how my backpack with all our valuables was left on a train on day 2 of the Kyushu trip, read it here).
After visiting the Jinzoson temple and local stores the morning right before we were leaving, we were already in the hotel car to the bus stop when our daughter noticed that her backpack was missing. It was a complete freakout because it had her favorite stuff animal she’s had since she was born.
We quickly circled back to the hotel and looked all around where we were that morning but couldn’t find it anywhere. The hotel personnel said don’t worry, they went ahead and called Kurokawa Onsen’s visitor center and sure enough, they had her backpack. She had left it on the temple grounds when we were praying. Another emergency averted and we were able to make our bus ride to Kumamoto.
We hope you enjoyed the Kurokawa Onsen post. If you’re in Kyushu and looking for a truly different experience, we highly recommend Kurokawa Onsen and Shinmei-kan. For the next travel post, we’ll travel by bus to Kumamoto and head back towards the large cities.
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