I had my typical Japanese breakfast (Japanese cup noodle + rice balls) before checking out of our hotel and heading to the Hakata Bus Terminal for the bus to Kurokawa 黒川温泉. I would suggest you to leave your luggage in the hotel or rent a luggage locker in Hakata station for over night storage if you are staying in Kurokawa for 1 night and going back to Hakata afterwards.
We arrived early at the Hakata Bus Terminal as the Japanese buses seem to work like Swiss clocks, and always arrive on time and the bus won’t wait for any stragglers. The bus to Kurokawa will stop at platform 34.
We were ready for our 3 hour bus ride to Kurokawa! Thank god that we rented the unlimited data wifi egg and made our 3 hr bus ride pass by easily.
See the enlarge map here
Kurokawa Onsen (Hotspring) area 黒川温泉
Kurokawa is a beautiful hot spring village located in the middle of Kyushu and about 1 hour away from Mount Aso. It has won top hot spring honours several years in a row. Due to it’s secluded location, it is less commercial than the other hot spring towns of Japan. I like the village and the wooden houses give it a bit of a rustic charm. There are a total of 28 hotspring ryokan (Japanese guest house/ B&B) in the area (without any large scale hotels), giving a lot of accommodation choices for tourists. It is highly recommended to spend a night in the ryokan to have the complete Japanese bath experience. Advance booking is recommended as most ryokans have less than 20 rooms and they are usually fully booked during the peak season.
List of Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan accommodation:
How to get to Kurokawa:
Location of our accommodation – Ikoi Ryokan
We booked 1 night stay at the ikoi ryokan いこい旅館 as it is close to the bus station and with great online reviews. Besides, it has a total of 13 different hotsprings for in-house guests. It is also one of the 10 best ryokan hotel in Kurokawa from Taiken.co.
Our ryokan is about 5 mins walk from the Kurokawa bus stop (circle in red on the right). For the other ryokan that are further away from the bus station, they will usually arrange a car to pick up for guests (free of charge). Another ryokan close to the bus stop would be Yumerindo 夢龍胆 and Wakaba 旅館 わかば
Bijinyu 美人湯 in Chinese means beauty bath. This might be the reason why this hot spring is very popular for women.
If you choose not to stay in ikoi ryokan, you can also visit the hot springs inside with an entrance fee or with the onsen pass. The onsen pass (a wooden pass) costs about 1300yen allowing visitors to visit the hot spring in 3 different ryokan. We didn’t buy one as the 13 baths in ikoi ryokan would be enough to keep us busy and we had no time to visit other ryokan.
These are the used onsen passes.
The lounge area outside the ryokan.
We soaked our feet in the free foot hotspring and the ryokan staff were so kind to offer us a towel and the hotspring flipflops before check-in.
Ikoi Ryokan main building entrance
This self service hotspring egg and soda proves that the Japanese are highly disciplined and honest. I didn’t see any people take the food without leaving money.
Boiled eggs made with the hotspring water. Leave 50yen and you can take one.
Visitors can put 220yen in the container for 1 bottle of Japanese soda.
We bought these local milk poppers (made in Aso area) while our Japanese speaking friend helped us with the check-in process.
We went to the main area for lunch after we left our bags in the ryokan as the check-in time is 15:00.
Our room is one of those right next to the river
We went to とうふ吉祥 (a restaurant specialize in tofu) based on the positive review on internet. It is the Japanese style restaurant that requires you to kneel while you eat.
Knowing that our accommodation included a heavy dinner set, we just ordered 1 tofu lunch set and 2 extra tofu dishes. The portion is more than enough for 3 adults. It is suggested not to over eat at the restaurant as there are many Japanese snack shops around. The food quality is good but the nature of tofu is tasteless. For people who doesn’t like food with mild taste, this might not be the restaurant for you.
Opening hours: 10:00-17:00, closed on the 2nd & 4th Thursday (open during public holiday)
Address in Japanese: 熊本県阿蘇郡南小国町大字満願寺黒川6618
Official Japanese Website: http://www.tofu-kissyou.com (best to use google translate for non Japanese readers)
English website about the restaurant: http://en.japantravel.com/view/tofu-kissho
Japanese snacks – red bean pancake
As soon as we finished our lunch, we went to Dora Dora どらどら for Japanese red bean pancake with ice cream. The pancake is so good and it is worth putting on an extra few pounds from it!
Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00
Address in Japanese: 熊本県阿蘇郡南小国町大字満願寺黒川6612-2
Official Japanese website: http://kurokawa-kaze.com (best to use google translate for non Japanese readers)
English website about the restaurant: http://kumanago.jp/en/features/winter2011/
Japnese snacks – pudding with caramel
Another famous snack shop in Kurokawa is Roku パティスリー麓. The best selling product in the shop is their pudding with caramel. The pudding is very smooth and the caramel is not too sweet. I would highly recommend their pudding and it is the must have product in Kurokawa! I regret not buying the green tea cake roll. I wanted to buy it but my friends were too full to share one with me.
Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00, close on Tuesday
Address in Japanese: 熊本県阿蘇郡南小国町大字満願寺黒川温泉内
Official Japanese website: http://www.kurokawa-roku.jp/shop/ (best to use google translate for non Japanese readers)
It was about time to get back to our ryokan after all the non-stop eating. With our bellies at full capacity, our bodies were in prime condition for some hot spring action.
Our room was ready by the time we got back to the ryokan. It was a Japanese style room located in the main building. Like most ryokan in Kurokawa, there is no shower in the room as they expect the guests will take bath and shower at the public bath, so there is only a private toliet and sink in our room.
Unlike the hotels, ryokan is charged per head and not per room. If you have a party of 4, they will usually arrange the same room for the whole group as the Japanese style rooms are quite spacious in general.
We had Japanese tea as welcome drink and this Japanese cracker when we checked-in to our room.
This brochure shows all the opening hours of different hot spring. The blue color indicates “male only”, whilst red indicates “female only” and green indicates “mix gender use”. People with big visible tattoos are very likely to be refused entry into the public hot spring. Japanese hot spring requires all users to be completely naked, swimsuits are not allowed in the hotspring. Mixed gender pool means that the women and men could use the pool at the same time. Most guys think it is a brilliant idea before going to Japan. Though in reality, those mixed gender pools are dominated by males with occasionally a few old ladies. The younger females will usually use the female only pools.
Visiting the Japanese hot spring is a great experience to learn more about Japanese life. For more hot spring etiquette, click here.
I immediately changed into my yukata (summer kimono) and went to the female only pool.
立湯 Stand bath (left) & 美人湯 Beauty bath (right)
蘇の湯 – lying bath and waterfall bath (in-house guests access only)
Barrel bath – It is a private bath and you need to ask the reception for the key
It was about time for dinner and it is a norm that people wear the yukata for the meal. We followed the tradition and tried to act like Japanese.
This was the set dinner included in our accommodation. We chose the most expensive meal choice 高岳膳 with seasonal ingredients when we reserved our room. It included a glass of ikoi special Japanese plum wine.
Appetizer with seasonal ingredients
Beauty onsen steam vegetable (left), raw horse meat (middle), Aso chicken hot pot (right). Horse meat is a specialty in Kumamoto. It took a lot of courage for me to eat it, as I’m usually less adventurous when it comes to eating non conventional meats. It was an interesting experience but I didn’t really enjoy it. I ate it just because it was included in our set menu.
Flame broiled fish 山女魚塩焼
Aso wagyu beef 阿蘇王牛
Creme brulee with ice cream
Ryokan staff put the mattress out in our room while we were having dinner downstairs at the dining area. There was red bean soup with dumplings served on our table when we got back to the room. Kurokawa is a quiet hot spring town and most shops were closed at night and there is nothing else to do besides chilling in the pool. We went for another dip in the hot spring that we hadn’t visit after dinner. I thought I wouldn’t sleep very well with the Japanese mattress, though surprisingly it was very comfy and I had a very good sleep. On top of that, you can hear the water running from the river and it is very relaxing.
Address: Kurokawa Spa, Minami-Oguni Machi, Aso Gun, Kumamoto Prefecture
Address in Japanese: 熊本県阿蘇郡南小国町黒川温泉川端通り
Features: close to the bus stop, with 13 hot springs in the ryokan, three onsen baths from Ikoi Ryokan (outdoor Rotenburo, Takino-yu, and Bijin-yu) were listed in Japan’s Best Onsen Ranking
Remarks: Check-in time at 15:00, check-out at 10:00
I just broke my personal record of taking 9 baths in 1 night and the most tiring part is putting and taking your clothes off constantly. It was my 1st time staying in an hot spring ryokan and I loved it. It was a good way to relax and to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Have you been to Kurokawa onsen area in Japan? Which ryokan is your favourite? If you enjoy reading my blog, feel free to follow me on twitter @MinionTravel to get the latest update.