Japanese love hot springs. There are so many hot springs all over Japan. No wonder, because Japan lies right above the circum-Pacific volcanic belt (Pacific Ring of Fire). Because it lies over the volcanic belt, Japan suffers from many earthquakes, but on the other hand Japanese have great time in hot springs: yin and yang. When there is a bad side, there is a good side as well.
Futsukaichi is one of very highly rated hot springs in Japan. It is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan; it was discovered 1,300 years ago. It is the oldest hot springs in Kyushu Island.
Famous ancient Japanese poets bathed in Futsukaichi Hot Spring and wrote poems about it in the 8th century.
According to the old records, Futsukaichi Hot Spring was very popular and well known to the central government already 1,300 years ago. Many central government officials were sent to Dazaifu on multi-year assignment (just like now). Many of them, Buddhist monks, and many other people enjoyed the hot spring. I wonder if the hot spring charged a high fee so only the privileged people could bathe there…
They were able to come to Futsukaichi easily from Dadaifu, because Dazaifu is a neighboring town of Futsukaichi.
Dazaifu is now famous for Dazaifu Shinto Shrine (check out my post, Dazaifu Shrine – Asian Plum Blossm) . It is also very close to Fukuoka City, which is the largest city in Kyushu Island. You can make a day trip easily from Fukuoka city; it’s only about 20 minutes’ train ride either by JR or Nishitetsu Line.
(source: Google Map)
1,300 years ago, in the hot spring, they hung curtains around the bathing place to provide privacy. I wonder if they used anything like a bathtub? What materials did they use? Wood? Stones? Did people take off all their clothes to sit in the water like now? (in Japan you have to take off all your clothes in any hot spring!) Or did they keep something on – something resembling underwear? What did they use to wash their hair and bodies? I really like to imagine what the it might have been like 1,300 years ago.
The center of Futsukaichi Hot Spring is the town named Yu-machi. ”Yu” means hot water. ”machi” means a town. So, it’s Hot Water Town – perfect name for a hot spring town. There are two public bathhouses in Hot Water Town: Gozen-Yu and Hataka-Yu.
(Gozen means court, imperial. It was named this probably because it used be for exclusive use of the feudal lord, Kuroda, and his clan, whose territory included current Fukuoka City).
(Hakata is the name of the older part of Fukuoka City – Fukuoka City consists of two parts: the old part, Hakata, and the newer part, Fukuoka. Hakata has a long history).
Both Gozen-Yu and Hakata-Yu bathhouses are on the main street of Hot Water Town. In fact they face almost straight each other across the street.
The main street. Many hot spring inns (called onsen ryokan), including the long-established, famous one, Daimaru-Besso, are on the main street of Hot Water Town. Hot spring inns are typically Japanese-style inns, have baths with water flown into from the hot spring sources, have rooms covered with straw mat (tatami) for sleeping, and serve elaborate Japanese meals.
The purple sign in the center indicates Mt. Tenpai, Buzo-Ji temple, and the city parking lot are to the right.
Tenpai-Zan (Mt. Tenpai) – “tenpai” means worship God. ”zan” means a mountain.
In the 9th centry, Sugawara-no-Michizane, who was a scholoar, poet, and high-ranking official in the central government in Kyoto, was demoted on false charges and was sent here into exile. He went up to the top of Mt. Tenpai in a oxcart, faced the direction of Kyoto, and pleaded his innocence. He also performed cold water ablutions by a fall in Mt. Tenpai.
Buzo-Ji (temple) is a temple in the middle of Mt. Tenpai. It’s popular for beautiful wisteria in early summer.
Since my father became a widower and moved into one of the assisted living residences for senior citiznes in this area, I became very familiar with Futsukaichi Hot Spring.
Before that, my parents lived in Fukuoka City. I grew up in Fukuoka City. Probaby because it is too close to Fukuoka, I never gave attention to Futsukaichi Hot Spring. I never knew that there are two bathhouses until my father took me to one of them several years ago. There must be a lot of Fukuoka city people like me. People usually want go somewhere far away from home, and do not appreciate much what you have nearby.
Now I am very fond of both of the two bathhouses – they are equally attractive.
Gozen-Yu bathhouse used to be for exclusive use for the feudal lord, Kuroda, and his clan in the Edo period (17th ~ mid-19th century). They even had a hot spring magistrate whose responsibility was to manage the hot spring. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868 (political reform), it became open to general public.
The famous Japanese novelist, Soseki Natsume, came to Futsukaichi with his wife on their honeymoon in 1896. There is a monument in memory of Natsume inscribed with one of his poems in the front yard of Gozen-Yu. I never knew about the monument, until I read about it somewhere, even though I had been to the bathhouses many times. It’s the big rock standing behind the standing sign on the right in the photo above. The standing sign says “Gozen-Yu”, with a red mark indicating this is a hot spring.
The building next to Gozen-Yu bathhouse is a cafe named Child of Tea.
Futsukaichi was pretty prosperous after WWII. I heard that there once were more than 40 hot spring inns. Now there are only about ten. It is hard to picture what it was like in their best time after WWII. It’s a very quiet and a small town now.
Futsukaichi is said to be a very good quality hot spring. It is an Alkaline simple hot spring and is believed to be good for burn, cut, skin diseases, muscle ache, joint pain, stiff shoulders due to age, feminine problems, etc.
There is a bus stop in front of Gozen-Yu bathhouse. If you want to come to Futsukaichi from Fukuoka city by Nishitetsu Line, you get off at Futsukaichi train station, and then take a bus from the train station. There are only one or two buses per hour, though. If you are patient enough, try – it’s very cheap – 100 yen or so one way, I believe.
Gozen-Yu bathouse is spacious and has an open atmosphere. They sell souvenirs and gifts in the lobby – pickles, baked beans, rice cakes, etc. locally made.
Beyond the curtains are the entrances of the baths. Obviously the red is for women, the blue is for men. You see English and Korean on the curtains – this is new. (why no Chinese?)
And there is nothing else that has multi-language signs. Everything else is only in Japanese. Why just the curtains?
There are a few massage machines in the lobby. I tried one before – Massage feels very good when your muscle is relaxed from bathing in hot water.
The baths are very big. They have a jacuzzi (they call it a jet bath). The water temperature is right – sometimes a little too high. I tend to stay in the bath too long. If you get too hot, go out the sliding doors and sit on the bench in the small Japanese outdoor garden to cool down. When you cool down, you go back and sit in the water again. Repeat this to your satisfaction. By the way, you will do all of this naked! Don’t worry – the garden outside is designed so that nobody will able to see you. And nobody will pay any attention to your body. Nobody pays any attention to anybody’s body. Nobody is embarrased. Everybody is focused on bathing.
I love to buy chilled milk from the vending machine in the lobby after bathing – it tastes incredibly good.
They have a big tatami room (the floor is covered with straw mats) upstairs. If you pay 500 yen (half price for a kid), you can hang around there as long as you want. You can have free tea, order beer, and/or lie down on the straw mat and take a nap. I think you can sing karaoke there, too, because I once saw a group of people singing by turn with a microphone.
Ticket machine at the entrance of Gozen-Yu. Adult: 200 yen, child: 100 yen.
Again only in Japanese – How will international tourists know which button is for what?
Shoes lockers. Need 100 yen. You will get the 100 yen back when you leave. As Gozen-Yu bathhouse is operated by the city, the prices are very reasonable!
You have to either bring your soap and shampoo or have to buy them here, because there is no soap or shampoo in the bath. They provide a hair dryer (just one for all).
Gozen-Yu bathhouse reminds me of a public bathhouse I used to go to with my mother and sister when I was little in the early 1960s (you can figure out how old I am…). In the early 1960s, Japan was still poor (maybe Kyushu was poorer than Tokyo). Very few families had a bath in their house yet. Most people went to public bathhouses a few nights a week.
Walk a little on the main street, then you will find this monument. It is inscribed with the famous poem the famous Man’yo poet, Otomo-no-Tabito, wrote in the 8th century when he visited this hot spring (Otomo is the family name. Tabito is the first name. ”no” is like d’ in French name, e.g. Jeanne d’Arc)
Man’yo means ten thousand leaves. There is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poems, named Man’yo Shu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves). It was compiled in the 8th century. It contains poems ranging from early 4th century to mid-8th century. Otomo-no-Tabito is one of the poets whose poems are in the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves. He was on an assignment from the central government as a high-ranking official to Dazaifu, which was a very important military strategic point at that time. He wrote this poem after he lost his wife. The poem goes, I hear constant cries of many cranes in the marshland of hot spring. They remind me of my deceased dearest wife and make me very sad.
Otomo-no-Tabito was here on assignment from AD 728 to AD 730. He obviously witnessed a hot spring here during his assignment. That’s such long time ago. There were many cranes here at that time! I have never seen one myself around here. Or is there any here now?
Tabito was not the only famous poet and a government official who was on assignment here. Another famous poet who was also a government official, Yamanoue-no-Okura, was here and he often attended the parties hosted by Tabito. At the end of the parties, they often wrote good poems. Many of those poems are in the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves. Not only Tabito but also other poets must have bathed in this hot spring.
Tabito loved drinking. He drank even more after he lost his wife. He had a mistress (named Kojima – wow, she was just a local commoner but her name is in the history!) after his wife’s death. Maybe he and his mistress came to the hot spring together.
This panel explains the origin of Futsukaichi Hot Spring. It used to be called “Suita-no-Yu”, “Yu-no-Hara (fields of hot water)”, “Sukida-Onsen (hot spring)”, “Yakushi-no-Yu (hot water able to cure all ill)”, “Musashi Onsen”. It was 1950, rather recent, that it was renamed to Futsukaichi Onsen (hot spring).
In the middle of the nearby mountain (Mt. Tenpai), there is a temple named Buzo-Ji Temple. The hot spring originates in the legend of the man who built Buzo-ji Temple. His daughter suffered from skin disease. One night he had a dream in which a Buddha told him to dig in the nearby field, as there is a hot spring there, and to have her bathe in it. He followed the advice and she recovered completely.
There are many other hot springs in Japan which originate in a similar legend that involves advice by Buddha like this.
The other public bathhouse: Hakata-Yu.
Hataka-yu has been in business since mid-19th century. It has the more closed and more private atmosphere.
The have the hot spring source right on their premises. They say their baths are “onsen-kakenagashi” – this means the water from the hot spring source (which is right on their premises) flows directly into their baths. This means this is a top-quality and most authentic hot spring bathhouse. Other hot spring baths don’t get hot spring water flown into directly from the sources (the water gets circulated before flowing into the bathtubs).
Hakata-Yu’s baths are smaller than Gozen-Yu’s. When I went there, it happened to be very crowded, so several people had to wait.
The water temperature of Hakata-Yu is quite right – it is a little cooler than that of Gozen-Yu. Very relaxing. Very soothing.
Adult: 300 yen, child: 150yen (it’s more expensive than Gozen-Yu, but still very reasonable prices.
My conclusion – I love both Gozen-Yu and Hakata-Yu!
If you come to Futsukaichi for a day trip, try both.
Ivy Hotel Chikushino – one of the only two western-style hotels in Futsukaichi. Very reasonably priced. Buffet dinner in the restaurant on the first floor is a very good value! This hotel is also very close to Gozen-Yu and Hakata-Yu bathhouses.
Ivy Hotel used to operate its own bathhouse, Baden Haus (what language is this? German? Dutch?). It’s closed now. My father went here long time ago and he liked it. Too bad they probably could not make money.
On the left is Purple Hotel Futsukaichi (Ivy Hotel’s sister hotel) – very reasonably priced. Purple Hotel and Ivy Hotel are the only western-style hotels in Futsukaichi Hot Spring.
The long-established inn, Daimaru Besso, which has been operating since mid-19th century, is also on the main street. Late Emperor Hirohito stayed there once. So did the then President of China, Jiang Zemin. Daimaru Besso has been in business since mid-19th century. It’s a high-end inn. (besso means a vacation home).
Japanese resturant, Gin-no-Tsubo (means a silver pot). The sign says the restaurant has been moved from here to near the entrance of the historical nature park at the bottom of Mt. Tenpai. The restaurant is affiliated to Daimaru-Besso inn. Reputation seems pretty good. If you climb Mt. Tenpai, visit the historical nature park, or visit Buzo-Ji Temple in the middle of Mt. Tenpai, you may want to dine in this restaurant on your way back.
Daimaru-Besso offers an afternoon plan (1 pm – 4 pm); you get hot spring bathing and lunch only – no overnight stay. It’s much cheaper than overnight stay (from about 6,000 yen). This is a very pricy inn, so they were very creative to add this plan to attract more people with less money (like me). I have not had a chance to try the afternoon plan yet. I read reviews of people who tried it in websites like tabelog – they gave pretty good rating.
Keep walking along the walls of Daimaru-Besso inn. There are a traveller’s guardian deity (right) and a guardian deity of children (left). You can see the guardian deity of children has a bib on – this is because a guardian deity of children is believed to help dead children travel to heaven safely.
The walls of Daimaru-Besso on the right. It continues forever! Daimaru-Besso inn is on a huge piece of land.
There are two camellia decorations on the rails of the tiny bridge – the red of the flowers is in good contrast to the green of the bamboo trees.
You see a lot of camellia decorations all over the town of Futsukaichi. That’s probably because there is the legend for the origin of the hot spring and Buzo-Ji Temple which involves camellia.
The legend is as follows:
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man named Toramaro in Futsukaichi area. Every night there was suspicious fire in the mountain nearby. He shot arrows into the fire to extinguish and then the fire turned into a gigantic camellia tree. That night he had a dream in which Yakushi-Nyorai (Buddha able to cure all ill – there are all kinds of Buddha – here it is a female Buddha specialized in medicne) appeared and told him to carve her statue out of the camellia tree and worship the statue. He did what he was told. This is the origin of Buzo-Ji Temple in Mt. Tenpai.
Later Toramaro’s daughter, Princess Ruri, suffered from skin disease. Toramaro had a dream again in which the female Buddha able to cure all ill appeared. She told him, “Head east. You will see steam coming up from the rice paddy. That’s a hot spring. Dig there and have your daughter bathe in the hot spring. He did exactly what she told him, and his daughter recoverd completely. This is the origin of Futsukaichi Hot Spring. Futsukaichi Hot Spring used to be called Musashi Hot Spring. The Chinese characters used to spell “Buzo” of Buzo-Ji Temple can also be read Musashi. So, the (Musashi) hot spring was related to Buzo-ji Temple.
Geetting confused with too many foreign names?
Near Daimaru-Besso inn, you will also find this panel. It explains about Sanetomi Sanjo, who was an aristocrat who served in the imperial court in Kyoto before the Meiji Restoration of 1868 (an epoch-making reform which ended the Shogunate that had lasted from the 17th century, restored imperial rule, and led to political and social changes to a great extent).
Shogunate was in Edo (currently Tokyo), while the imperial court was in Kyoto. Shogunate had the real power. Japan closed the country since the 17th century. In the early 19th century, the Europeans and Americans started coming to Japan and put pressure on Japan to open the country. Many Japanese realized they were far behind Europe and America and thought they would need an immediate and rapid political reform to avoid falling to a prey to the West. In the process of the political reform (Meiji Restoration), there was a lot of political turmoil. In the turmoil, Sanjo was expelled to Dazaifu for three years from Kyoto, which was in a lot of political turmoil.
During his stay in Dazaifu, he came to Futsukaichi Hot Spring and wrote the poem. The sign explains what the poem means (even for Japanese, it’s hard to understand it because it uses old-style Japanese we don’t use now):
I want to ask the cranes who are searching food in the hot spring marshland. Do they remember the time a thousand years ago? They must remember it because they live for a thousand years.
(OK – so, what did he try to convey exactly in this poem?)
After the reform, Japan opened the country to the West, and Sanjo made a comeback and rose to a very high, important position in the new government.
Changing the subject, I took photos of some of the hot spring inns in Futsukaichi (I have not stayed in any of them yet)
Luxury Japanese-style inn, Gyoku-sen-kan
The standing sign shows the name, Gyoku Sen Kan, with three Chinese characters: Gyoku means gem, Sen means spring, and Kan means palace.
Inn Matsubara (Pine Grove Inn)
Inn Oogi-Ya (Oogi means a fan, Ya means an inn, so it’s Fan Inn)
I found this inn – “jisui onsen ryokan” – “jisui” means you cook your own meal. So, it’s “cook your own meal hot spring inn”. This may be a good choice if you want to stay for an extend period of time for health reason or for business.
The name of this inn is Yu-no-Hara (Field of Hot Spring).
All of these inns have baths into which hot water flows from the hot spring sources.
And we should not forget this hotel, Daikan-So. The red sign reads Daikan-So.
It’s very close to the Kyushu Expressway.
Whether you want to drive yourself or take an express bus to Futsukaichi Hot Spring, this hotel is really convenient – as soon as you exit the Expressway, it’s right there. You can even see the big red sign from the Expressway. It’s not an impressive-looking hotel, though. Looks old and run-down. I hear the interior is old, too, but it seems popular.
Bus stop for express buses on Kyushu Expressway. The name of the stop is Chikushino, not Futsukaichi. Chikushino is the name of the city where Futsukaichi Hot Spring is. You can come here quickly by an express bus from Fukuoka city, Fukuoka Airport, and even from Kita-Kyushu (northern Kyushu) area .
According to this bus route diagram, you can come here from Fukuoka International Airport by bus. So, international tourists can come here straight from the international arrival terminal. But why is there no English, if they want tourists from other countries?
From the stairs to/from the ground level. You can see the Daikan-So hotel, right there.
On the ground level, there is a sign indicating there is a bus stop upstairs for southbound buses.
To the west of Kyushu Expressway is Mt. Tenpai. There is a sign on the left which says “entrance for Mt. Tenpai.
To the east of Kyushu Expressway is the main street of Futsukaichi Hot Spring. Less than 5 minutes’ walk from here. You go down the stairs and walk through the tunnel. Above the tunnel is the sign, “Futsukaichi Hot Spring. Please use the tunnel below”. There is a city parking lot on the right (not visible in this photo). If you drive here, you can park in the city parking lot here, or in one of the parking lots on the main street.
The city parking lot – free of charge for the first 4 hours! I can’t see the fees after the first 4 hours..
The sign below P sign says “vacancy”.
Inside the tunnel. Camellia painted on the walls – nice touch.
Probably not a very good idea to walk in here alone after dark – or is it safe because this is rural Japan? I don’t know – I have lived in the U.S. too long.
Out the tunnel. Feel relieved to see some green.
This small road leads to the main street of Yu-Machi (Hot Water Town), center of Futsukaichi Hot Spring.
Here is the main street. You see Gozen-Yu bathhouse in the center. Hakata-Yu bathhouse is on the left. It’s only a few minutes’ walk.
Finally some of the restaurants in Futsukaichi
Restaurant Komatsu (“komatu” means a small pine)
They remodeled an old house into a restaurant.
This house is more than 80 years old. It’s been popular in Japan over the past decade to remodel an old house into a restaurant.
My aunt recommended this restaurant to my father, and my father took me, my sister, and my niece here for lunch. About 5 minutes’ walk from the two public bathhouses.
They serve good kaiseki-ryori (traditional Japanese meal brought in courses) with lots of seasonal vegetables. Their vegetable desserts are interesting and tasty, too! Reasonably-priced.
They were featuring “Tenpai-meal”, named after Mt. Tenpai. 1,500 yen – not bad. They probably don’t serve this all year round, though.
“Tobi-ume meal” (Flying Plum Tree meal) , named after Tobi-ume (the famous Asian plum tree at Dazaifu Shinto Shrine which is close from here – there is the legend that one plum tree in the shrine flew there all the way from Kyoto in 9th century – read my post about Dazaifu Shrine).
Buffet dinner in the restaurant, Hana Koji, in the first floor of Ivy Hotel Chikushino
Whenever I come here with my father, they serve so many vegetable dishes. They boast that they always use fresh vegetables locally grown. Kyushu has such mild climate that they can grow vegetables outdoors in winter.
Miso soup, vegetable tempura, potatoes cooked in soy sauce and sweet soup, meat, salad, other various cooked vegetables, desserts, coffee, tea, etc. – if I remember correctly, it’s about 800 yen per person for all of them. Great value meal. You will have to buy beer separately. No wine.
Everytime I come back to Japan to see my father, we come to this restaurant. It’s our favorite.
What’s interesting about Futsukaichi Hot Spring is that you can enjoy a day trip to inexpensive public bathhouses or enjoy staying in a luxury inn with elaborate meals. One of the luxury inns offers an option for a lot cheaper afternoon plan with just bathing and lunch. There are western-style hotels and small traditional, kind of rustic inns as well – lot of choices.
You may want to combine a visit to the hot spring with a trip to Dazaifu Shinto Shrine You can visit both places in one day easily, if you want.
Thank you very much for reading!!