By Sherilyn Siy
Situated within Beppu’s downtown district, Takegawara Onsen immediately stands out with its classic, Meiji-era architecture. This onsen (hot spring) was founded in 1879. Apparently the original rooftop was made up of bamboo but later replaced with tile, hence the name, takegawara (lit. bamboo tile). It has an immensely classic and authentic feel to it. Incidentally, I first noticed it during a night out exploring without actually knowing what it was. It looks iconic; however, it’s not just famous for its age and history. Inside this old, wooden building, you can receive a suna-yu, or sand bath. Then afterward, you can relax in the onsen bath, which is famous for being extremely hot, but that’s the way the locals like it!
The suna-yu sand bath is a process where you lay supine and are buried up to your neck in hot sand that is heated by the thermal springs. During this activity, you’ll be wearing a yukata robe and an attendant will steadily pile on the sand. The entire experience only lasts 10 minutes. Some claim there are health benefits to this, while others just enjoy being ensconced within a heap of hot sand. It can be very calming, and a great way to get you ready for your bath.
You may already be familiar with Japanese onsen bathing etiquette; and although there's information and rules posted within the establishment, I’ll outline a few of the basics. The bathing areas are separated by gender. There are absolutely no clothes allowed in the bath. There’s a room for you to change in and to store your clothes & belongings while you bathe. All you bring with you to the bathing area is your washcloth (you can either bring your own or purchase one at the establishment). Before you actually enter the bath, you must first rinse off. And the washcloth you bring is not to touch the actual bath, which is why you’ll often see them folded up and resting on the heads of other bathers. My personal tip is to find a shower where you can soak the cloth in cold water, rinse it off, fold it up, and use it to offset the heat of the onsen.
Depending on season and time of day, the crowds will vary. During my visit, it was quite normal by public onsen standards per my experience. Don’t be surprised to see a variety of international visitors here as it’s a very popular spot to visit in Beppu. Therefore you can take comfort in the fact that Takegawara is quite acclimated and prepared to accommodate foreign tourists.
The Takegawara Onsen is quite easy to find. It’s only about an 11 minute walk from Beppu Station or a 7 minute walk from the Beppu Kamenoi Hotel. I highly recommend a stop here. The onsen experience can be awkward to some visitors at first, but I assure you that it will be a relaxing and memorable experience. And the historical significance of this particular establishment makes it all the more special!
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I currently reside in Saga Prefecture. Before landing here in 2013, I’d been traveling to Japan since 2004 for both vacation as well as family visits. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to travel about and see much of this remarkable coutry. Although my interests are quite eclectic, I've always had a distinct fascination with old Japan. I suppose this began as a young boy brought up on a steady diet of samurai and ninja films. However, many years later, that interest deepened, surpassing romanticized curiosity. I have sufficient knowledge of Japanese history and culture and make it a point to visit various castles, temples, and other interesting placeswhenever I travel. It is my objective to be able to share some of that experience with you in hopes of inspiring you to visit a particular place or at least provide you with some peripheral knowledge about places you've already been. Safe travels and always remember: "The map is not the territory" - Alfred Korzybski