If you happen to arrive in Beppu by train, as you exit the railway station you will immediately notice a peculiar sculpture. It represents an elderly be-speckled gentleman dressed in western fashion, walking forward with his fist in the air and cape flowing behind him, like a superhero about to take off. To top it all there is a small child hanging in the air holding the rim of his cape.
This unusual statue is of Aburaya Kumahachi, the father of tourism in Beppu. Before settling in the future resort town, Mr. Aburaya lead a turbulent life. He was the son of a rice wholesaler in 1863, just couple of years after Japan opened up to the world. He traveled wide and made his way to North America which he traversed from Canada to Mexico. Along the way he converted to Christianity and picked up a bit of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
Upon settling in Beppu at the age of 49, he started popularizing the local natural attractions, organizing the first bus tour with Kamenoi Ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) which featured the first Japanese female tour guide. He is also the person who came up with the idea of the now famous “Beppu Hells Tour”.
With his business associates, he founded “Otogi Club” (Fairy Club), dedicated to providing children with music, books, and other entertainment. The club even organized Santa Claus visits during Christmas time. The children of the club gave him the nickname “Shiny Uncle” because of his bald head.