Kurokawa Onsen
Destinations Kyushu Onsen

Kurokawa Onsen – A Hidden Gem You Should Absolutely Visit in Kyushu!

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October 20, 2019

Kurokawa Onsen was one of Kyushu’s best kept secrets, but we reckon time’s up for this humble and authentic onsen town to stop flying under the radar. Kurokawa is immensely popular amongst domestic tourists, but westerners are more likely to never have heard of this onsen town. In saying that, the number of people drawn to this onsen town is no joke. 

And you’d think that, because of its growing popularity, there would be continuous high-rise hotels and guesthouse accommodation popping up left, right and centre answering to the number of tourists – but there isn’t (and this is a good thing).

One of the unique characteristics about Kurokawa Onsen is that the entire local community have made a sound effort to maintain the traditional look, feel, and ambience of the original town itself, so despite the number of visitors you see on the streets, you can look up and around, and all you’ll see are the original forms of the onsens dating back many years ago, built with wooden materials, earthen walls, cobblestone stairs, and curved roofs. 

Kurokawa Onsen - A Hidden Gem You Should Absolutely Visit in Kyushu! 3

No commercialized hotels, no colourful signs, no skyrise buildings – pure and simple Japanese aesthetics, surrounded by luscious forests and mountains with a calming river running through the town. 

Pro tip: general rule of thumb is that if you’re after a bit of space and uninterrupted views, book a ryokan outside of town, possibly alongside the mountain, but if you’re after rustic goodness with touches of culture and history, book the onsens in town.

How to Get to Kurokawa Onsen

From Fukuoka (either Hakata Station, Tenjin Bus Centre, or Fukuoka Airport), you can take a highway bus that runs there twice a day. It costs 3090 yen and takes around 2.5 hours.

To get to Fukuoka, you can fly from Tokyo for around 5,600 yen one-way, and the flight will take just over two hours. 

The Best Ryokan in Kurokawa Onsen

Ryokan Fujiya 

Ryokan Fujiya 3

This premium Japanese-style accommodation is one to choose if seclusion and tranquility is on the agenda. It is an adult-only ryokan, so families, please make note of this. It boasts several gorgeous hot springs on site, a mist sauna, a cosy communal lounge, with guest rooms all offering stunning views of the river.

The gorgeous dark timber interior induces a grand ambience to the ryokan, but the wide windows of the guest rooms make it a relaxing place to unwind and breath in the fresh air. For breakfast and dinner, expect a Japanese-style set menu.

Ryokan Fujiya 3

Why Guests Love It: The cosy and comfortable atmosphere really shone for other guests, with most saying that they felt right at home here. Others were equally impressed by the hospitality here as well as the quality of breakfast and dinner.

Ryokan Fujiya 3

Book It Now: Fujiya 

Ryokan Kono-Yu

Ryokan Kono-Yu 1

Ryokan Kono-Yu is a traditional ryokan nestled in the tranquil greenery surrounding Kurokawa onsen. It’s been beautifully built and furnished carefully and purposefully with traditional Japanese design principles, however, what really steals the show are the hot springs in this ryokan. The outdoor onsen is a generous in size, opens up to views of the lush trees around Kono-Yu, and whether it’s under the light of the moon, the soft fall of snowflakes, or the rising sun, it’s always incredibly inviting.

Ryokan Kono-Yu 1

There are also several indoor public onsens to use, as well as one private one that can be reserved. In addition, there’s also the option to choose the maisonette-style family room that comes with a private open-air onsen bath. A traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner is provided. 

Ryokan Kono-Yu 1

Why Guests Love It: One guest particular loved all the little details that were looked after by the ryokan staff, such as offering a free drink as an apology for barely being late to pick them up from the bus stop, never rushing their meals, and putting in 110% to making sure their itinerary is A+. This ryokan has been described as being “on par with the new generation hotel you find elsewhere”. Staff here have been described as extremely welcoming, friendly, and accommodating. 

Book It Now: Ryokan Kono-Yu

Kurokawa Onsen – Go Onsen-Hopping (‘Rotemburo Meguri’)

Ryokan Kono-Yu 6

The number one thing to do in Kurokawa Onsen is, unsurprisingly, go onsen-hopping. It may appear fatiguing to try and decide and budget for various onsen experiences between the 30 or so hot springs in the area, however, your decision could be made easier if you purchased the Onsen Hopping Pass at the tourist information centre in town. This Onsen Hopping Pass, costing 1,300 yen for one person (which lasts six months), allows the holder to visit up to three different onsens – what a bargain! When you purchase the pass, you’ll also get a map which will provide you with information on all the inns, which will help you make a decision (i.e. whether it’s single-gender baths, mixed-gender, etc).

We’ve listed below some onsens below for you to get started:

Yamamizuki

Yamamizuki Onsen

If you’re after a completely picturesque onsen experience, we recommend dropping into Yamamizuki. It offers a riverside onsen experience that’s quite unlike any other onsens in the area, and also offers a (relatively) wide variety of indoor baths that are gender separated, and has been complimented by many previous guests on its tasteful layout and décor.

Yamamizuki Onsen

Hozantei

Hozantei Onsen

This onsen is one of the furthest from the town centre, but you can bet the tranquility here is second to none, and the view are just as outstanding. The riverside bathing experience you will get here is complemented by the lush greenery of the surrounding forest, providing a peaceful and rustic atmosphere for bathers. This onsen is a gender separated onsen.

Kurokawaso

Kurokawaso Onsen

Kurokawaso offers an ambient outdoor bathing experience that allows one to get in touch with themselves and with nature. Its outdoor hot spring is surrounded by a dense collection of trees, with branches hanging over the onsen providing shade and adding to the natural look and feel of the outdoor bath. In addition to this outdoor pool (which is the main attractor factor of this ryokan), there is also a smaller outdoor pool as well as a stunning spacious indoor pool.

Sato no Yu Waraku

Satonoyu Waraku 2

For a bit of a unique experience, Sato no Yu Waraku offers the change for daytime visitors to bath in a rock cave. For those who are a bit claustrophobic, don’t worry because it’s actually quite open. It brings another level of calm and peace to the onsen bathing experience. It is a gender separated onsen, so it alternates between the rock cave and another outdoor bath for men and women. If you’re staying at this ryokan, there is the option to reserve a room with a private onsen.

Satonoyu Waraku 2

The Onsen Hopping Pass

Onsen Hopping Pass Kurokawa

Credits: kurokawaonsen.or.jp

You can purchase the pass as a guest staying at a ryokan, or as a day-tripper visiting from a neighboring city. If you’re a day-tripper, you can head to the building behind the visitor centre and rent a yukata set that will complete your look for onsen hopping in an onsen town!

Kurokawa Onsen – Walking Trails around Kurokawa Onsen 

Kurokawa Onsen – Walking Trails around Kurokawa Onsen 

Credits: 黒川温泉/KurokawaOnsen

The tourist centre at Kurokawa Onsen is the place to grab a ‘Map for Hikers’, which will show you exactly where the walking trails are in the area for you to explore. For those after a leisurely stroll, there are three different routes which begin right from the tourist centre and run for approximately 4km each (one-way). Most of these trails do not require hiking shoes, however sneakers or closed shoes are advised for comfort purposes.

Kurokawa Onsen – Walking Trails around Kurokawa Onsen 

Credits: 黒川温泉/KurokawaOnsen

  1. Hitotsu-ya Nobori – Walk under the shade (moderate level)
  2. Maruba Nobori – Walk up the valley (moderate-steep level)
  3. Warabi Nobori – Walk along a mountain steam near paddy fields (moderate level)

These three routes will eventually lead to Hirano Dai Viewpoint, which is also known as Lover’s Hill, and is one of the mot therapeutic activities in the entire area…besides soaking in the onsen pools, of course!

If you’re leisurely walking and chatting, the entire trip back to the starting point should take less than two hours. We recommend taking one route up to Hirano Dai Viewpoint, and then taking another one back to the town. 

Kurokawa Onsen – Visit Nabegataki Falls 

Kurokawa Onsen – Visit Nabegataki Falls 

If you’re staying over a day or two and want to explore a little outside of the area, why not take a little trip to Nabegataki Falls? It’s one of the more recently discovered tourist attractions, and it breaks up your onsen-hopping in a best way possible. 

The waterfall itself is like a small, untouched oasis in the middle of a jungle. It’s not the grandest of waterfalls, nor is one of the most beautiful – it sits at only 10m high. However, it’s still quite a pretty sight, and a fun area to explore. You can even walk behind the waterfall! 

The only way to get to Nabegataki Falls is via a car or taxi. Once you arrive, there’s a relatively new car park which you can park your car. There is also a 200-yen entrance fee to pay before you head towards the waterfall. The walkway to get to the waterfall is neither strenuous nor is it long. This is a fun activity to do if you’re with kids.

Kurokawa Onsen – Sample a Cream Puff at Patisserie Roku

Kurokawa Onsen – Sample a Cream Puff at Patisserie Roku 1

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The food scene in Kurokawa Onsen is not thriving like that in Tokyo or Osaka for example. However, there are a few standout spots in the area, and one of there is the quaint little Patisserie Roku, a pastry shop that’s an absolute must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth!

Kurokawa Onsen – Sample a Cream Puff at Patisserie Roku

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This bakery generally sells a wide variety of cakes and sweets, however, it’s crème de la crème is definitely it’s choux cream buns. 

These golden baked buns will generally be the first thing you notice about this bakery, because they’re always perfectly shaped and the irresistible smell goes on for miles. Once you take a bite out of it, the silky vanilla cream will gently ooze out from the shell and you’ll be back for seconds in no time. We definitely recommend dropping in at least once to try the choux cream pastry!

Kurokawa Onsen – Try A Local Delicacy, Basashi (Horse Meat Sashimi!)

Kurokawa Onsen – Try A Local Delicacy, Basashi (Horse Meat Sashimi!)

Horse meat is a delicacy in Japan, but only in certain regions, with Kumamoto being one of the few. In this area of Kyushu, horses are farmed by locals who allow them to roam freely over the lush fields of Mount Aso. When you’re browsing around the restaurants in Kurokawa Onsen, you’ll actually find that many restaurants in this little town offer basashi on their menu in various forms, and whilst it may sound a bit daunting at first to try, many reviews have come back saying that it’s pleasantly and surprisingly delicious.

Basashi is prepared the same way beef is prepared, and is generally served chilled alongside soy sauce, garlic, and wasabi. Just like premium beef, the thin slivers of horse sashimi are available at different grades of marbling – i.e. the fattier they are, the more tender their texture is.

You can find basashi at most restaurants in Kurokawa Onsen.

A visit to Kurokawa Onsen may not be as quiet as some may think. From onsen-hopping across three onsens in a district that offers up to 30 different options, to trying horse sashimi, to hiking through the town, to eating (possibly) the creamiest choux pastry you may ever come across, its full of surprises, but only the best kind.

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