Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Sandy Japanese Onsen in Ibusuki, Kagoshima

Looking Cool in the Hot Sand Bath
Looking Cool in the Hot Sand Bath
The idea of bathing in sand, at first, turned me off, but since I was traveling in Ibusuki City, which is famous for sand baths, I had to try it at least once. After all, how could I ever justify calling myself a hot spring addict if I didn’t? The scene at Ibusuki’s famous sand-bathing beach was comical. A row of people, parallel to the sea, were buried in the sand with just their heads sticking out. Small blue, red, yellow, and green parasols stuck in the sand protected the bathers' faces from sunburns. One by one, in random order, a bather would emerge from his or her hole, shake the sand off, and walk away. Another person would burrow into the sand.

When it was my turn, I paid and an old Japanese woman with round and firm arms shoveled heavy sand over me. Hot steam from the earth naturally passes through the sandy beach and the heavy sand became moist and warm and then hot. The heating process was gradual and relaxing. It felt like being in a sauna. I sweated out the poisons in my body while smiling at the blue sea and my fellow bathers in the sand. 

A sand bath is called sunamushi (砂蒸し) in Japanese. 砂蒸し literally translates as sand steaming. It is one of many varieties of bathing at Japanese onsens. Since that day, I have bathed in sunamushi in various locations, but nothing compares to that day on that steamy, sandy beach in Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture. To read more about Japanese sand baths, follow this link.

Kagoshima is also home to two other fantastic hot springs that I have written posts about: The first is a wild hot spring on Yaku Island. You can only enter during low tide because it is in the sea! The other is a very sacred hot spring on Sakura Island. Both are worth reading about and visiting.