Unzen Onsen (ë_ÉňëĚÉ˛) is a hot spring resort town near the peak of Mount Unzen. Not too far from Nagasaki, the area originally developed as a temple town that in its prime was large enough to be compared to Koyasan. In the Meiji Period, the town became one of Japan's first tourist resorts popular among foreigners, and a hint of Western influenced architecture can still be seen about town. Unzen Onsen's location makes it a good base from which to explore Mount Unzen.
The resort is surrounded on several sides by hot spring fields. Also known as hells (jigoku), these barren rocky areas are littered with billowing steam vents and gushing hot springs from which milky, acidic and sulfurous water bubbles straight up out of the ground. The hells were once used to execute Christian rebels after the failed Shimabara Rebellion, but today its spring water has the more pleasant task of warming up holidaymakers in the ryokan baths around town.
A network of paved nature trails leads around the hells to several steam vents, hot spring pools, mud holes and observation points along the way. Also set along the paths is a monument dedicated to the Christian martyrs who died in the hells. There are also a few shops that sell souvenir photos and onsen tamago (soft boiled eggs cooked in the hot springs). The hells are particularly attractive from late October to mid November when the surrounding hills are covered in autumn colors (koyo).
Across the road lies an older, dormant hot spring field with trails that lead to Manmyoji Temple, the Buddhist temple that once dominated the town, but today is rather small and ordinary. At the other end of the dormant hot spring field is the Unzen Visitor Center which has displays about the disaster and its effect on daily life, local plants and wildlife found on the mountain, and an interesting exhibit on hot springs that explains the different types of springs and how they are formed.
There are also several public hot spring baths around Unzen Onsen where day trip visitors can try out the highly acidic waters. The town's hotels and ryokan also have their own baths for staying guests. The following is one of a few public baths that can be found around town:
Hours: 9:00 to 21:00 Closed: No closing days Admission: 460 yen
Kojigoku Onsen is a small public bath house nestled in the forest, a 15 minute walk outside of the town center. It has two beautiful rustic stone baths and massaging waterfalls in each gender segregated area. Another small hot spring field is located behind the bath house.
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Getting there and around
Hourly buses connect Unzen Onsen to Shimabara Port (40 minutes, 760 yen), Shimabara Station (50 minutes, 850 yen) and Isahaya Station (90 minutes, 1400 yen). Additionally, less frequent buses travel directly to Nagasaki (100 minutes, 1850 yen).