Let Local Friends Take You Off the Beaten Track[Special Extra]

TOMODACHI GUIDE offers you a special experience!

Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu is the largest hot spring district in Japan. Unlike famous cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, however, you will find little information about it, even in guidebooks.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Japanese friends show you the best spots in Beppu and visit them together while having a good time?

When visiting a local tourist spot for the first time, with the “TOMODACHI GUIDE” service you can meet local people who wish to become friends with foreigners and guide them around as they would with their own friends.

Beppu's townscape
Beppu’s townscape

They are people who actually live in the area. They can help you have an “independent travel experience” by tailoring your trip according to that day’s traffic or weather conditions. TOMODACHI GUIDE lets you consult in advance with your guides about where you want to go, what you want to do and about any concerns you may have, so that you will be able to have a good time and get along even when meeting them for the first time.

Also, on the day of your trip, an interpreter will be there to help you communicate with your guide by two so that you’ll be able to enjoy your trip without any worries. After meeting with your local guide, you can just have fun “traveling freely with them.”

In Oita Prefecture, where Beppu is located, there are more than 30 people* registered as guides.

(*) As of January 2017

TOMODACHI GUIDE's hosts and guests
TOMODACHI GUIDE’s hosts and guests

If you wish to use TOMODACHI GUIDE, the first thing you need to do is to search the TOMODACHI GUIDE website for a guide you think you could get along with, and ask them to plan a trip for you.

This time we were intrigued by the “Let’s become an Onsen Master !!” itinerary by famous Beppu hot springs guide Saaya, so we got in touch with her right away.

You can discuss travel plans with your guide
You can discuss travel plans with your guide

After consulting with Beppu guide Saaya, we came up with a fascinating itinerary.

But… how do we go from Tokyo to Oita?

When we were concerned about costs, Saaya told us about the ‘ANA EXPERIENCE JAPAN FARE’ a great way for foreign tourists to get around by buying a one-way flight to anywhere in Japan for 10,800 yen .

If you book from their website at least three days before traveling, you can fly one-way for 10,800 yen from any of the domestic airports where ANA is present. We immediately reserved a round-trip ticket from Tokyo to Oita. “We can’t wait to get to Japan!”

To Oita by plane! Save on money and time!

Meeting with your guide at Beppu Station
Meeting with your guide at Beppu Station

We arrived at Oita airport by plane from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. We met our guide and interpreter team, Saaya and Kanako, at the waiting area. Naturally, it was our first meeting, but since we had chatted in advance about our trip we greeted each other with a smile and “we finally get to meet you!”

Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell)
Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell)

“Let’s become an Onsen Master !!” contains an itinerary for enjoying unique hot springs which includes Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell). When I first saw the blood-red hot water, I turned to Saaya in surprise, asking,”You really want me to take a bath in this?” “No way -came her answer- the water here is 98 °C (208.4 °F)! This is just for looking!” Saaya said. There is a sightseeing course that takes you all around Beppu to see hot springs which are said to resemble hell.

We laughed out loud, and then took memorial photos with Saaya and her friend in front of each hot spring.

Jigoku Mushi (hell-steaming)
Jigoku Mushi (hell-steaming)

We decided to move on to Kannawa Onsen and have lunch. We heard they have Jigoku Mushi (literally “hell-steaming”), an unusual cooking method whereby food is cooked on the steam from the hot springs. We were so surprised to see all kinds of food, from vegetables to fish, put in bamboo baskets and immersed into the steam. Imagine, even a whole crab…!

Bathing in hot springs at last! Am I allowed to be a little embarrassed?

Relaxing in an outdoor tub
Relaxing in an outdoor tub

In the afternoon, we were taken to a hot spring day spa called Mugen no sato Shunka Shuto (“Spring, summer, autumn and winter”), in Horita Onsen. It was our first time in a Japanese hot spring and I was a little nervous, since I had been told that there is a special etiquette to follow. Saaya, however, went over it with us in detail, and all our worries vanished.

We tried the large bathtub and open-air bath and, after overcoming the initial embarrassment of getting naked in public, it was extremely enjoyable. I could not stay in the hot water long, though, and I wondered how Saaya could do it. She told us that, “for Japanese, soaking up in hot water at about 42 °C (107.6 F) is greatly relaxing.” Japanese seem to have a very high tolerance of hot water…

Beauty care at  Beppu Kaihin Sunayu
Beauty care at Beppu Kaihin Sunayu

After that, we tried a hot sand bath at a place called Beppu Kaihin Sunayu. When I heard that I was to be buried in the sand wearing a yukata, I thought to myself in wonder, “what kind of hot spring is this?” Being buried in sand which is heated by the steam of hot springs warmed up my body and made me sweat. Just when I was wondering whether I should leave soon, Saaya told me about its beautifying effects, and I completely forgot about getting out.

Steam rising from Beppu's streets
Steam rising from Beppu’s streets

Since all the time spent in the hot springs made us very hot, we opted for a sudden change of plan and decided to go walking around Beppu city. Saaya and Kanako were well prepared for this. Looking down from their favorite lookout points, the town looked really beautiful. I totally fell in love with Beppu.

Host and guide become friends
Host and guide become friends

As we had a very fun day, time flew and it was soon time to part ways. We got along greatly with Saaya and Kanako, and we were sad to say goodbye to them. “We’ll definitely be back in Japan again, so you must promise to be our guide again!” we said.

“TOMODACHI GUIDE,” which had struck us an “interesting” idea, turned out to be a truly special experience.

Special travel offers for foreign visitors

You can fly from Haneda airport to Oita in little less than two hours, with one-way discounted prices when booking in advance starting at 20,000 yen, and last minute booking around 40,000 yen.

With the “ANA EXPERIENCE JAPAN FARE,” by reserving online at least three days before boarding, you can fly to any domestic airports where ANA flies to, by 10,800 yen each way. This way you can save about 50 – 75 percent on the Oita-to-Haneda route. And you could save more than 60,000 yen on a round trip.

This offer is not valid just for Haneda-Oita; our route network covers the whole of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and, if used wisely, you could travel around Japan with this convenient offer.


TOMODACHI GUIDE is a way to meet guide and interpreter teams who have expert knowledge of local areas. Rather than a travel agency, it’s a service that matches guide/interpreter team to guests. Unlike travel agency tours, it allows you to have a good time traveling with your hosts as you would with friends. Although the guides may recommend certain travel itineraries, they are flexible and always open to change when requested by guests.

A guide-recommended itinerary
A guide-recommended itinerary

While on this occasion we introduced a guide from Oita (Beppu), we have interpreters/guides registered across the whole of Japan including Kamakura, Hokkaido and Kyoto. If you find a guide or plan which tickle your interest, tell us about it right away!