Cozy Corners and Hot Springs: A Heartwarming Journey Through Kurokawa Onsen

Cozy Corners and Hot Springs: A Heartwarming Journey Through Kurokawa Onsen

If you're dreaming of visiting some of Japan's best hot springs, you should definitely consider a trip to Kyushu. This region is famous for its hot springs, with Beppu Onsen and Yufuin Onsen in Oita, and Ibusuki Onsen in Kagoshima. But one little town that wins the hearts of both locals and travelers from around the world is Kurokawa Onsen, located to the north of Mount Aso.

What makes Kurokawa Onsen so special is its beautiful natural setting. It's right in the middle of lush forests and greenery, which feels like a cozy, green hug. As you stroll through the town, you'll be charmed by the traditional Japanese buildings with their wooden structures and earthy walls. The town is home to about 30 ryokans (inns) and 26 open-air baths available to the public. If you're looking for a lovely hot spring town to visit, keep reading to find out how you can plan your trip to Kurokawa Onsen.


Kurokawa Onsen


The History of Kurokawa Onsen

Kurokawa Onsen wasn't very well-known until about 30 years ago. Up until 2000, you wouldn't even find this hot spring marked on local maps of Kumamoto Prefecture. Now, it's a favorite spot, drawing in over a million visitors each year.

Let's go back in time a bit. The story of Kurokawa Onsen starts with an old tale. Long ago, a poor young man who sold salt in Nakatsuru, Bungo Province, took care of his sick father. His father really wanted a melon, but they were short on money. The young man prayed to a local jizo statue, offering salt, and then took a melon from a nearby farm.

The farm's owner caught him and tried to punish him, but instead of the young man being hurt, the jizo statue's head fell off, saving him. The story says that this statue's head was supposed to be placed in the Higo area, but a heavenly voice guided them to put it near Kurokawa. That’s when the hot springs there started to bubble up.

Apart from this legend, Kurokawa Onsen was a relaxing retreat for feudal lords back in the mid-Edo period. The town really began to grow in 1961 when the Kurokawa Onsen Tourism and Inn Association was established with six inns. In the 60s and 70s, more visitors started coming after a big highway was built.

In the 80s, a special bath pass was introduced which really boosted the number of people coming to visit. Since then, all the developments around Kurokawa Onsen have turned it into a place you just have to visit.


Ancient building of Kurokawa Onsen


How to Get to Kurokawa Onsen?

Located near the Aso area of Kumamoto, Kurokawa Onsen is easy to reach from various cities. If you're coming from Tokyo or Osaka, you can fly directly to Kumamoto, or even to Oita or Fukuoka. The quickest way to get to this lovely hot spring town is by renting a car at the airport. From Fukuoka, expect a car journey of about two hours from Hakata Station.

If you’re starting from Kumamoto, you can rent a car at Kumamoto Station and reach Kurokawa Onsen in about one and a half hours. Driving from either Yufuin City or Beppu City takes about an hour, making it a speedy trip.

If you prefer not to drive, taking a bus is a great option. From Hakata and Fukuoka Airport, there are three buses daily, with tickets priced at about 3,470 JPY one way. From Kumamoto and Aso-Kumamoto Airport, buses run a few times a day, with the most affordable ticket costing around 2,200 JPY. From Beppu, there’s one bus per day to Kurokawa Onsen, and from Yufuin, there are several options, also priced at about 2,200 JPY for a one-way journey.

No matter how you travel, each option will bring you to this wonderful destination. Plus, having a car gives you the freedom to check out other beautiful natural sites around Kurokawa Onsen.

Enjoying the Local Hot Spring Town Culture

Once you arrive at the lovely town, you might wonder, "What should I do first?"

A great starting point is to grab a Nyuto Tegata, a unique hot spring-hopping pass made from local cedar. It’s a cute, round piece of wood that lets you enter three public baths for just 1,500 JPY. You can choose to soak in two baths and pick up a fun souvenir instead. This pass helps support all the businesses in town and is accepted at 26 cozy inns. You can also personalize your pass with stamps from each bathhouse you visit.

Each additional bath visit costs between 500 to 800 yen. The idea for the pass came from the original six inns that formed the Kurokawa Onsen Tourism and Inn Association. Plus, about 1% of the sales from the pass go towards local conservation projects. Since Kurokawa Onsen is famous for its beautiful open-air baths, you'll definitely want to try a few.

While exploring, consider wearing a yukata, a traditional light cotton robe, to really soak in the local vibe. You can rent one from the tourism information center, or your place of stay might provide one.


Nyuto Tegata


As you wander through the streets, you'll find charming bakeries, cafes, and shops to browse. Roku Patissiere is a must-visit for its cream puffs, just get there early before they run out! For dining, check out Warokuya for some renowned Aso beef, or Iroriya for cozy bar-style eats. It's also a good idea to arrange for breakfast and dinner at your accommodation.

If you're visiting in winter, don’t miss the magical sight of bamboo lanterns floating on the river. It's a truly serene and beautiful scene.


Patissiere Roku Cream Puffs


Where to Stay in Kurokawa Onsen

Kurokawa Onsen is home to about 30 ryokans, each offering its own special touch. Since many of these inns have only 8–15 rooms, it's a good idea to book your stay early. Here are some top choices to consider.

Kurokawa Onsen Ryokan Wakaba

For those who love good food, Ryokan Wakaba is a fantastic choice. Originally a sushi restaurant, the inn now serves delicious dishes like horse sashimi and grilled fish. If you're looking for a special meal, try booking one of the Annex rooms. These rooms let you dine privately in a room with a traditional hearth, still used for cooking.

When it comes to relaxing in the hot springs, Ryokan Wakaba offers two public baths, one for each gender. The water here is slightly acidic, which is gentle on your skin and helps keep it moisturized. If you prefer a more private setting, you can also book one of the two private baths available for an extra fee, perfect for couples or families. Plus, while you soak, you can listen to the soothing sounds of the nearby river. This is a place where you can truly relax and enjoy the natural beauty around you.


Ryokan Wakaba Hotel


Kurokawa Onsen Wafu Ryokan Misato

If you're searching for a place that feels like coming home, Wafu Ryokan Misato is your go-to. The rooms here keep things traditional with tatami mats, offering a simple and authentic Japanese touch.

What really makes this ryokan special is its outdoor bath. As you walk along the path lined with bamboo lanterns (similar to those seen floating down the Tanoharu River in winter), you'll reach the outdoor bath where the hot spring water fascinatingly changes color from clear to emerald green throughout the day, influenced by the water’s chemistry and the shifting sunlight.

Inside, there’s a separate bath area for men and women, ensuring privacy and comfort.

After your relaxing bath, if you’ve chosen to dine in, you can savor a meal right in your room, featuring seasonal dishes that might include Aso beef and Kumamoto horse sashimi. If you didn't opt for dinner, there’s always a tasty breakfast available to start your day right.

Visiting Wafu Ryokan Misato is all about cozy vibes, great food, and unique moments by the water.


Wafu Ryokan Misato Hotel


Kurokawa Onsen Yamabiko Ryokan

If you're looking for a hot spring getaway that offers a variety of bathing experiences, Kurokawa Onsen Yamabiko Ryokan is your perfect spot. This ryokan boasts a large open-air bath, set among trees and adorned with large stones for a natural feel. There’s also a smaller, deeper open-air bath. The baths switch between men and women daily, ensuring everyone gets a chance to enjoy them. Inside, you'll find separate baths for men and women as well.

For those who prefer a bit more privacy, Yamabiko Ryokan offers six private baths that overnight guests can use without any extra charge. The mineral-rich waters are renowned for soothing aching muscles.

The ryokan has 18 rooms, blending traditional Japanese style with some Western comforts. If you choose a meal plan, you'll enjoy local dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the Aso area.

One of the most thoughtful features of Yamabiko Ryokan is its dog-friendly services. They have a dedicated "wanpakutei" (dog hotel), where your dog can stay for a small additional fee. They offer two sizes of cages to accommodate different dog sizes. While you’re responsible for walking and feeding your dog, there’s even a bathhouse for your furry friend. This means you don’t have to worry about finding a sitter while you relax at the hot springs; your pet can come along for the adventure too!

At Yamabiko Ryokan, it’s all about comfort, ease, and making sure even your four-legged family members feel welcome.


Yamabiko Ryokan Hotel