A review of the sand bath in Beppu – a unique take on Japanese bathing culture
Beppu, on the Island of Kyushu, is Japan‘s most famous place for visiting hot springs. Almost 3.000 hot spring vents are said to be in the city. While most of them are discharged in traditional Japanese hot spring resorts, called onsen, some are used for quite ingenious attractions. One of them is the sand bath at the beach of Beppu. Being a huge fan of Japanese bathing culture, I just had to embark on this somewhat queer experience.
Now let me tell you that I have visited a lot of onsen throughout my stays in Japan (check for example my review of Takaragawa Onsen – in my opinion, the best hot spring in Japan). The sand bath at Beppu beach really has little to do with a traditional onsen. It is, all things considered, a tourist attraction and a fun way to spend an hour. That being said you should absolutely go there! Here is my review:
The sand bath experience in Beppu
The sand bath is basically nothing else but a huge sandbox that gets submerged with natural hot spring water to heat up the sand. Allegedly all the health benefits of the onsen water will stick to the wet sand, but I got my doubts! Once the sands are thoroughly soaked and steaming hot, the water gets drained again and the volcanic sand is ready for your bath. People are let in, while the sands gradually cool down. The warmth holds for one bathing sessions. After that, a new heating process will be started.
Due to this process, they sell tickets for certain bathing intervals. Meaning: Every 30 minutes a new batch of onsen-fans gets their chance to be buried in the sand. Know that there are only a limited number of spots per bathing session – you might have to wait a couple of minutes or even longer to get your chance. I got one for 2:30pm and only had to wait 20 minutes. You can either decide to wait in the nondescript waiting area at the beach or go for a stroll. Be aware that the ticket will only be valid for your exact appointed time.
Entering the sand bath
Along with my ticket, I got a yukata (a traditional Japanese cotton garment) and a towel (towel was an extra charge). Once the sand tub was ready, a brisk Japanese woman indicated me to come over and lie flat on the steaming hot sand. I was quite thankful for the yukata – not only to keep the sand away but also as a further barrier against the intense heat. A wooden pillow served as a head rest (not quite the epitome of comfortable!). The woman really didn’t hesitate at all, adjusted my arms a bit so they were close to the body, and started to heave the sand upon me using a big shovel. Maybe 2 minutes later I was all covered in sands.
Sadly it was quite a bleary day. Otherwise, I could have enjoyed the beautiful view. Instead, I was looking at a grey mass of something short of raining. Still, steadily the heat kept seeping into my whole body – the steaming vapor of the hot sand bath smelling faintly volcanic.
The whole experience will last approximately 30 minutes. After that, the onsen staff will unbury you with deft delves of their spade. The whole time you will be more or less unable to move, with the heavy weight of the sand forcing you to be immobile. As a curtesy, you can hand over your camera and they will take pictures while you enjoy your bath.
Once you are free to stand up, you are ushered to a bathing facility where you can get rid of your soiled yukata and take a shower. Inside there is a little (real) onsen tub, where you can soak for another minute or two – if you got the wish and don’t feel too drowsy. During that time the staff will even out the sandbox and ready it for another turn. Here is an official site for more some more information and directions.
Rating the sand bath at Beppu beach
Personally speaking, I have to say that the sand bath at Beppu beach is quite a relaxing thing to do – for the first 15 minutes. After that, an increasing feeling of claustrophobia started to take over. I was never a guy who could lie still for more than 5 seconds!
Also, you really have to prepare yourself for getting sand in every niche and cranny of your body. Luckily it is not the fine-grained sand of, say Koh Yao Noi in Thailand, you will still carry along as a souvenir for months to come. Still, especially on a sunny day when you can really enjoy the view on Beppu Bay, I would rate it as an enjoyable experience. On top of that, it is so quirky that it makes for a fun story to tell back at home. It might not be the utmost luxury travel experience – but not everything can, eh?
Would you go to the sand bath? Or is getting buried in sand better left for children under 16 on a white beach in Italy? Share your thoughts with me!