Tsuetate Onsen: Where carp streamers billow in the steam of the hot springs
On the border of Kumamoto and Oita prefectures in Kyushu is to be found Tsuetate Onsen, located in the valley of the Tsuetate-gawa River at the end of a mountain road. Known since olden times, during the mid-20th century it thrived as an “inner parlor” of Kyushu onsen town, drawing many people from all over the region. Even now, there are alleyways that exude the nostalgic atmosphere of bygone days. The town possesses a distinct atmosphere that also makes it a popular location for filming movies.
The town is said to have been named “Tsuetate” by great priest Kukai (774-835) at the beginning of the 9th century. Deeply impressed by the benefits of the hot springs, he wrote a poem in which he stated, “the elderly and ill who walk with canes (tsue) will forget they had brought them at all, leaving them (tate) propped against the wall once the onsen has healed their ailments.” In this way, Tsuetate Onsen has been beloved as a place for healing due to the high quality of its hot springs.
The source of the hot spring can get as hot as 98 degrees Celsius (208 degrees Fahrenheit). The steam that rises from the scorching water can be seen rising throughout the town. The water is clear, odorless, and soft to the touch, and the water quality is a mildly saline spring. It contains high amounts of metasilicic acid, known as a “natural moisturizer.” With such moisturizing benefits, the onsen is also known as a “hot spring for beautiful skin.” Additionally, it is said to be beneficial for fatigue, cold hands and feet, and joint pain.
Tsuetate Onsen is also famous for the steam baths that utilize steam from the 98-degree water, and many ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) offer steam baths at their facility. Compared to saunas, steam baths have lower temperatures and high levels of humidity, making them less stressful on the body. They have become a familiar part of the locals’ daily lives, and there is even a phrase that goes, “If you catch a cold, the first thing to do is take a steam bath.” It is said to facilitate blood flow and perspiration as it wraps the entire body from head to toe in steam. All throughout the town, visitors will see eggs and potatoes being steamed with the hot springs. It is a unique sight for towns to fully make such use of the blessings offered by the onsen.
One notable event at Tsuetate Onsen is the “Carp Streamer Festival.” Carp streamers, or koinobori, are displayed throughout the country on May 5 of each year to celebrate the healthy growth of children. It is said that the Carp Streamer Festival originated in Tsuetate Onsen. Every spring, over 3,000 carp streamers are hung along the Tsuetate-gawa River, and many tourists come to witness this event.
Walk around in the town’s retro atmosphere while being wrapped in the steam of the hot springs, and you are sure to feel the history and warmth of this town that has grown alongside its onsen.
Haneda Airport -> 100 min by air -> Aso-Kumamoto Airport -> 60 min by expressway bus Yamabiko -> Aso Sta. -> 90 min by Kyushu-Sanko bus -> Tsuetate Onsen
Tsuetate Onsen Kanko Kyokai (Tourism Association)
*The information herein is as of June 2021