Travelers have been visiting Beppu for its natural baths for years, but now the onsen is coming to them instead.
Almost exactly a year ago, Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu was rocked by a pair of powerful earthquakes, with the initial tremor coming on April 14 and a powerful aftershock taking place two days later. Kumamoto Prefecture was the hardest hit, but Oita Prefecture also significant damage.
The Oita city of Beppu is one of Japan’s most famous onsen, or hot spring, resorts, and the local economy is heavily reliant on tourism. In the days immediately after the quakes, some 110,000 hotel reservations were cancelled, but once the repair work started, the blow was softened by travelers choosing to visit Beppu out of an express desire to financially support the local community. Others contributed to charity drives or sent messages of encouragement to the town, and now, one year later, Beppu wants to give them something in return.
In the Japanese language, there’s something called an ongaeshi, which is a present you give to show your appreciation to someone who treated you with kindness. Though they’re written with different kanji characters, ongaeshi has the same starting syllable as onsen, which is fitting since Beppu has announced it will be giving an onsen water ongaeshi.
Beppu has begun taking applications for bathtub-filling quantities of the town’s hot spring water, delivered by tanker truck to any home, business, or facility in Japan, free of charge. The only requirement is that applicants must have visited Beppu, wanted to visit Beppu, or kept the city in their thoughts at some time following the earthquakes, which really means that anyone and everyone qualifies.
The program’s official website makes no mention of the total quantity of water that will be given out, and states that it may not be possible to accommodate every request. Still, Beppu seems serious about giving out as many ongaeshi as it can, and with the application form asking applicants if they’d like their supply of hot spring water delivered between May and July, August and October, or November or later shows that this is going to be a long-term program, as does the fact that applications, which can be made here, will be accepted through January of next year.
Source, image: Beppu Ongaeshi official website
Follow Casey on Twitter, where between it’s fabled hot springs and legendary fried chicken, he’s thinking a trip to Oita might be in order.