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To Hell and Back

To Hell and Back

Walk Through the Steamy Hot Springs of Unzen

Formerly a prominent temple town, Unzen became a tourist resort spot popular among foreigners in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). This gem of the Shimabara Peninsula is located near Mount Unzen, in Nagasaki prefecture.

Feel the power of nature

Unzen is never silent and never still. Walking the winding wooden and stone paths of its hot spring fields, your ears will be filled with the hissing of steam billowing from the ground, and the bubbling of the hot water gushing from the sulfur pools. These are called the Unzen Hells. And what a very apt name it is.

Panoramic paths lead visitors through approximately 30 “hells," all located around the Unzen hot spring resort area. When they're not crossing steaming rocky areas, the paths will lead you through patches of luxuriant nature. Many wild cats that seem at ease around the hells will accompany your stroll.

You might choose to stop at one of the many benches and observatories while you explore. When you do, get yourself some onsen tamago, boiled eggs that have been cooked directly in the steam from the hot springs.

It is said that foreigners staying at Unzen during the Meiji period often enjoyed drinking lemonade. These days, “Unzen lemonade" is made using local spring water and lemons from the Shimabara Peninsula.

Explore the town of steam

After visiting the majestic hells of Unzen, many people like to pay a visit to the local shrine and temple. Unzen Jinja is a cozy shrine adjacent to the hells that hides a “power spot" where people pray for love fulfillment. Two persimmon trees are tied together by a rope to symbolize the bond between two lovers. It is said that you should say your prayer while hugging both trees at the same time.

For a different atmosphere head to Manmyoji, the temple that once dominated the town. It has two entrances: one that is clearly visible from the main road, and a more interesting one that includes a short walk through the forest. The forest path is lined with countless Buddha statues that will guide you to the temple. Manmyoji also features a gold-plated Buddha statue in the temple's main hall and a beautiful bell tower.

Another spot you can't miss is the Unzen Toy Museum. The half-timbered building hosts some 5,000 antique toys and items. The first floor is an actual shop packed with Japanese retro candy and toys. As most of the items cost less than ¥100, you can have fun picking the most interesting sweets and snacks.

The main street hosts a number of restaurants and souvenir shops where you can try the local specialties and fill your stomach before relaxing at one of the many spa facilities.

You'll forget about the outside world while you get lost in this dreamy valley of steam. The hot springs will soothe your body and mind while you let the beautiful – and fierce – nature offer you one of its best sceneries.

Laura Loss

Laura Loss

Laura is a Tokyo-based freelance writer, photographer and translator from northern Italy. She has a passion for craft beer, Japanese traditional instruments and discovering places that are off the beaten path.

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