Kurokawa Onsen 黒川温泉: A quaint onsen town and kaiseki

By Cubie - June 26, 2019

Kurokawa Onsen is one of Japan's most attractive hot spring towns. It is located to the north of Mount Aso, and is less than an hour drive away. Nestled in a valley surrounded by hills and Tanohara river running through the town, it is popular for its rotenburo (outdoor baths).

While this small onsen village isn't exceptionally quiet, it also is free of massive huge hotels and just dotted with traditional ryokans and small shops or cafes. It definitely isn't out of place if you go onsen hopping in your yukata.

Ryokan stay with kaiseki dinner is considered a splurge for me. So prior to making the trip, I was weighing choices of Beppu vs Yufuin vs Kurokawa Onsen. Of course, there are also other options like Saga but let's not make it way too complicated.

E and S who are annual Japan holiday makers stayed in Saga and Beppu on their visit to Kyushu and remarked that there wasn't much in Beppu plus they didn't recommend the ryokan they stayed. In consideration that Beppu is a bigger city and the only places I wanted to visit are the Beppu Hells, I narrowed it down to Yufuin and Kurokawa Onsen.

I personally prefer a smaller, cosy hot spring town and geographically, I'm partial to it's distance to Mt Aso, so I picked Kurokawa Onsen over Yufuin to have enjoy my full ryokan experience. That said, there was also an outdoor bath at where I stayed in Yufuin.

Getting to Kurokawa Onsen from Mt Aso
I took another Kyushu Odan Bus.
14:12 - 15:00 Aso station - Kurokawa

The timetable online indicated 14:02 as opposed to 14:12 but I remember the bus arrived at 14:02, had a short break and departed 10 minutes later at 14:12.

Many websites recommend to reserve seats in advance but it made me wonder, how far in advance it is needed. I don't have an exact answer to this but to give a better idea, I made a seat reservation online about 2 days before my travel date (15th April night and travel on 17th April). The bus was quite full with less than 10 free seats.

Around Kurokawa Onsen
After checked in and left my bag in the room, I walked out determined to check out the place for a bit before I returned back to the ryokan for a soak pre-dinner.

Source: https://www.kurokawaonsen.or.jp/eng_new/access/surrounding.php

Maybe one will be more beautiful after soaking onsen here

I think this foot bath is free but the onsen eggs nearby were payable by honour system

It is a small town and you could finished walking the "downtown" area in 30 mins. However, I arrived at 3:00PM, after checking in and bag drop, I only leave the ryokan again to wander around just before 4:00PM. I feel another hour or two extra would give me more time to poke around, going in some shops, take photos, and especially if you are onsen hopping. There are also walking routes you could do. I found this on the office Japanese website, don't think I noticed it on their English page.

In the short span of time, I still managed to score some snacks.

Terakoya Senbei-Ten 寺子屋煎餅店
Fresh senbei and you get to choose the toppings for your senbei. I bought a shichimi senbei, ¥120.

Patisserie Roku パテイスリー麓
From Kurokawa Onsen's official website, their choux cream buns are popular but I got a swiss roll. It was good despite it looked non appealing on my photo because I did a takeaway and left it in the paper bag.

Swiss roll, ¥400
Not photographed was an onsen egg (¥50), a packet of Amakusa salt potato crips with cute Kumamon picture on the packet ¥400 (I may or may not bought it because of the Kumamon) and a local boxed snack. I would've also gotten a dorayaki from Dora-Dora too but the shop was closed.

Ryokan Ichinoi
I made a reservation for a night with breakfast and dinner at Ryokan Ichinoi. The ryokan had someone already waiting at the bus stop when I arrived. My arrival timing coincided with their check-in time of 15:00 so I was checked-in by a mandarin speaking staff as I arrived.

Definitely a luxury to have all the space to myself. There are private onsen that can be reserved with a charge, as well as both indoor and outdoor hot spring to be enjoyed without additional cost.

I went for 3 rounds and only once I met another person who was on their way out. Else I pretty much had the whole hot spring to myself, both indoor and outdoor. Hot spring at Ryokan Ichinoi are sulphur springs (iousen - 硫黄泉). It is said to be useful in the treatment of acne and skin complaints.

Male to the left, female to the right
If you want to try onsen in other ryokan, you can buy a nyuto tegata (入湯手形) for ¥1300 to try 3 different outdoor baths and it is valid for 6 months.


This meal made me and my tummy very happy. I finished everything including rice. It was so good. Plum wine was served as aperitif.
From top left, clockwise: Raw beef (this is before cooked), basashi (raw horse meat), chicken sashimi and karashi renkon,  raw trout and salmon
I was really pleased with the food offered, not only because they were delicious but also because I was looking forward to try karashi renkon when I was in Kumamoto city as it is one of the local specialty. I'm also open to try basashi and raw chicken but may not necessary game enough to order them as a full size dish. I was more apprehensive on eating chicken sashimi compared to basashi, perhaps because the brain has been conditioned that chicken should be cooked or could be past history of accidentally consuming under cooked chicken. Interestingly raw chicken tasted better than under cooked chicken.

From left, clockwise: Beef being cooked, chawanmushi (the one inside a pouch at the first dinner photo), soy milk pudding with kuromitsu


Side note: There's a firefly night tour in June/July in Kurokawa Onsen!

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  1. Kurogawa Onsen, Yufuin and Beppu. Since you've been to all three, how would you rank the three in terms of overall touristic value?

    1. Hmmm... I didn't overnight in Beppu so had no experience in hotspring soaking but I would rate Kurokawa > Yufuin for hotspring soaking.

      In terms of sightseeing, Kurokawa and Yufuin's offering are similarish but Yufuin at a bigger scale. I find Yufuin busier with human traffic especially along the main shopping street.
      Kurokawa is a smaller place compared to Yufuin and Beppu but I like that better.

      Beppu has more things to see - like the Jigoku Meguri and beach sand bath. Or combine both Beppu and Yufuin.

      Sorry, I am of no help - obviously still find it hard to rank them.

  2. Hey your opinion is actually good help to me, as I won't want to visit both Yufuin and Kurokawa and it sounds like Kurokawa won your vote. Beppu sounds like more like a small city with lots of hotsprings nearrby, though it probably makes a good transportation hub for local sightseeing.

    1. Yea I like Kurokawa. Hope you would enjoy it as much too! ^^