Exploring the Kirishma Onsen Area
Below the Kirishima Mountains in Kyushu winds the jade coloured Amori River gently through lush forests. The pyroclastic flow of the Kakuto, Ata and Aira Caldera created a magical riverbed hundreds of thousand years ago. A stroll along the cool Amori River is a pleasant and serene outing the entire family in this beautiful part of the Kirishima Onsen Area, before a relaxing visit at the secret river Chikurin Hot Spring 竹林の湯, a “noyu”, and a brief photo opportunity with Totoro.
Walk Along the Amori River
The walk along the Amori River starts opposite the Shinshiohitashi Power Station not far from the nostalgic Kareigawa Station. A rest stop on the riverside offers plenty of parking. Following the single-track road on the west side of the river we walked underneath the cool shade of the trees. The riverside was covered in blankets of moss and grass. The churn and potholes hewn out of the ancient lava flow by harder pebbles trapped in the gyrating waters made for a very different kind of scenery to other gorges we had visited. The steep valley sides and smooth grey riverbed makes its creation by the flow of lava apparent, even for someone without much geological knowledge. Nature has clearly created the magical Amori riverbed by powerful erosion. For those interested and perhaps with time to translate the key features are shown on a sign near the parking.
Serene Picnic Spot
Our stroll came to a sudden stop at a small power station, where the path along the Amori River seemed to cease. Looking around we noticed a narrow dirt track that leads on towards a small shrine, hidden in the woods, but we chose to return towards our car and find a peaceful picnic spot on the riverside. Seated on the smooth rocks above the jade water we watched some fish swim against the slow current.
Interesting Geological Formations
In order to reach the upper parts of the Amori River and some of he other features highlighted on the sign, we drove through Makizonocho Shukukubota and on towards Kirishima Onsen Station. After driving down a very narrow lane we parked our car on the roadside and headed down an overgrown path, down into the Amori River valley at the upper end of its gorge. As the vegetation gave way at the river bank we again discovered an abundance of interesting geological features in the river bed. We picked our way over the smooth stone passing many curved and hollowed out pot and churn holes, some filled with water, others with pebbles and tiny stones. After crossing a green island, here the crystal clear Amori River cutting through the rocky features looked too inviting, so at this point and we sat down to dangle our feet in the cool water. Jerome slipped in for a cooling swim and then boys added to the stones in the river skimming stones across a big pool.
Acess to Chikurin Hot Spring竹林の湯
After returning up the path to the car we headed across to another tributary of the Amori River that descends from the direction of Kirishima Onsen. I had seen online that there is a secret riverside onsen, the Chikurin Hot Spring竹林の湯 a “noyu”, which we just had to explore. Driving along the country road we noticed a wooden gate on the road side just a few hundred meters before the more formal brick huts of the inside Shiohita Hot Spring building. We avoided this and walking back, past the cute sign with the bamboo princess, we ducked underneath the low wooden tori gate, descending through a huge bamboo forest, the elegant stalks towering above us into the sun light.
Relaxing at the Secret Riverside Onsen
The path ran back, parallel to the river tumbling below and slowly became a little muddier, as we reached the natural spring site. The spot is clearly loved by some of the locals as some old chairs and wooden decking marked out a place where you can strip off to dip in the warm waters. All around springs bubbled up through the dead leaves of the forest floor, collecting together in a series of basins before cascading into the cold waters of the river below. The water was Japanese bath hot and surprisingly clear under the few floating leaves. We shed our clothes and sank into the welcoming waters of the Chikurin Hot Spring竹林の湯 in an almost Zen like trance. The quiet of the forest surrounded us punctuated only by the trickle of the spring waters. The light through the trees enhanced the feel of being at one with nature as we lay back to enjoy this unusual onsen experience.
Totoro Bus Stop
Relaxed after our natural bath we climbed back up to the road and set off for the drive back towards Kirishima. Upon reaching the outskirts of the city we stumbled across and enchanting cottage by the roadside. The house was fronted by a wonderful bus stop featuring a family of “Totoros” each fashioned from old used sake barrels. This amazing little place seemed be some kind of plat nursery but sadly it was closed during our visit. I think we would all have loved to take the Totoro home with us. I admired the incredible collection of moss balls – the Japanese art of Kokedama. These Kokedamas were all around the little cottage and I vowed to make some myself on returning from our travels.
Where we stayed in Japan:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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