By Mandy Bartok
I visited Ibusuki after a few tiring, busy days and it was exactly what I needed. About an hour and a half drive south of Kagoshima City, Ibusuki is famous for sand baths, so I decided to head to Ibusuki Tennen Sunamushi Onsen to see what all the fuss is all about.
When you enter the onsen, you are given a yukata (traditional summer garment) and a towel and instructed to wear only the yukata and take the towel with you outside to the sand baths. As you make your way from the reception desk to the sand baths via the changing rooms, you can see various signs translated into English, my favorite was simply, 'Please note the burn'.
I had heard from friends who visited here before that they only lasted one minute in the sand. Bearing in mind the recommended time is ten minutes, the aforementioned sign was a little worrying. But, we soldier on. Upon reaching the sand pit, that is thankfully sheltered from the blistering sun, you simply lay down in the sand. Employees of the sand bath then start to shovel sand on you.
I have never been buried alive, but that is what it began to feel like as you are submerged fully with only your head sticking out. Then you wait. Unsurprisingly, it is hot and you do sweat...a lot. You are, after all, laying in volcanic sand. When your time is up, you simply stand up and get out.
Make sure you remember to check the clock when you get in. My friend and I were expecting someone to say when our ten minutes was up, but no one does. So, we probably stayed in a few minutes extra for good measure to make sure we got the full experience.
Afterwards, you go through two stages of shower, a hot bath and another shower. Then you leave, honestly feeling great and completely relaxed. I took a bit of time to look out at the ocean from the upstairs lobby whilst dehydrating with drinks and ice cream. This was a perfect way to end the sand bath experience.
I wanted to eat at a nice local restaurant and asked in the onsen, who's staff gave me a fantastic leaflet showing lots of great looking restaurants. I went to place called Kurobuta To Kyōdo Ryōri Aoba (黒豚と郷土料理 青葉) and ate kurobuta nabe, or black pork soup/stew. Afterwards you soak rice in the soup, it was delicious, one of the best meals I have eaten in Japan and great value at around 1000 yen. The staff were friendly too, chatting to us about our home country's and what we thought of Japan.
My friends and I finished the day at the beach right next to our campsite, Ibusuki Eco Campground. We looked out at the opposite side of Kyushu, contemplating what a nice, sleepy little seaside town Ibusuki is.
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I moved to Japan in 2010 to become an English teacher. I came with little knowledge or preconceptions about Japan and thought I would just see what it was like. I found out I love it here, the job, the people, the culture, the life, I want to spread the word about what a great country Japan is to visit. Come to Japan, you won't regret it!