Experience: Sand Baths in Ibusuki

Alright, a show of hands. Who out there doesn’t mind being buried alive?

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about sand bathing. No, not sunbathing. And not bathing in an onsen, my preferred type of bathing here in Japan. Nope, sand bathing is pretty much what it sounds like – being covered from neck to toenails in volcanic sand to sweat out all the bad stuff.

Kyushu is known for its volcanic activity, which is what makes this such a magnet for onsen lovers like myself. However, in both Beppu (on the east coast of Kyushu in Oita prefecture) and Ibusuki (on the very southern tip of Kyushu in Kagoshima prefecture), the trend is to bathe in the sand instead. Supposedly, it’s a more powerful purifying experience than a therapeutic hot spring, but I can’t say I noticed it cured what ailed me.

The sand baths
The sand baths

To start with, check into any of the facilities in Ibusuki that provide sand bathing and pay for your rental yukata. In this kind of bath, you DO need to wear clothes, but only a yukata and nothing else. No cheating, not that you’d want to. Everything gets a bit sweaty.

Outside, the staff will pound out a sand pillow for you before having you lie down on the beach. You wrap the little white towel they’ve give you around your head and mouth and lay your arms at your sides while they proceed to bury you by the shovelful. Don’t be misled by the beautiful brochure pictures showing colorful umbrellas and sea views; you really can’t see more than the tarp above your head and for us, the sea view was blocked by a huge roll of canvas siding. Bit of a disappointment, I have to admit.

Once you’re covered the clock starts. The recommended time for sand bathing is 10-15 minutes and NOT a minute more! I believe the sign mentioned all sorts of health disclaimers for longer time periods but I wasn’t too worried. By about eight minutes in, I felt as if my bum was on fire and ten minutes was definitely my max. I emerged from my “bed” looking like the Swamp Monster exiting his bracken pond, shaking bits of sand off as I went.

The obligatory photo, before you feel like your bottom is burning up
The obligatory photo, before you feel like your bottom is burning up

It’s a bit of a pricey experience since all you really get is 10-15 minutes in the sand, but afterwards, you head inside and hose down before getting to relax in the onsen tubs. So in the end, I got my preferred bath after all.

Should you do it? Eh. It’s a novelty thing. If you want to check something off your list, then go right ahead. I just felt the entire experience was a bit quick and not really worth the price we paid (if I remember correctly, it was about ¥1000 per person).


On a side note, I am celebrating my birthday today by spending a most likely sleepless night at Haneda airport in Tokyo waiting for my early morning flight to Paris. I’ll be out of Japan for the next few weeks on a much-anticipated, French-speaking adventure! I’ve set some entries to autopost while I am gone, so please be patient if I don’t respond to comments (or emails, for that matter) in as timely a fashion as I usually try to do. See you all in May!


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