Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Town of Hot Sand Bath

After spending two nights in Fukuoka, I rode on the Kyushu Shinkansen train and headed south to Ibusuki, one of the many famous onsen town in Kagoshima prefecture. The ride turned out to be longer than I originally thought, with the 1.5 hour high-speed train ride getting me to Kagoshima City than another 1.5 hour on the slower commuter train along the coastline of Satsuma Peninsula to Ibusuki town on the southeastern tip.

Ibusuki is particularly famous for Sunamushi or “hot sand bath”, an unique ritual where people were “buried” in sand heated by underground steam, so my first stop upon arrival was to make a quick trip to the Saraku Sand Bath Hall, one of the most popular facilities for enjoying the sand bath (and one that’s closest to my ryokan). The facility was simple but well-equipped. Upon entry, you paid the entry fee at the reception, and then proceed to the dressing room where you changed into the yukata robe provided. Then you made a short walk down to the covered area of the beach right outside, where you will be guided by the staff there to lie down at a designated spot (with the yukata robe on). After that they will cover you with sand from the neck down and let you rest in the hot sand.

I felt like I was being buried alive when the attendants started covering me with sand with the spade, but turned out the sand was actually quite comfortable, especially temperature was in single digit with light drizzle outside. I stayed a little longer than the recommended duration of 10 minutes and felt refreshed. It’s said to help with blood circulation and detoxification too.

I spent the night in an onsen ryokan called Shusuien (秀水園), just 10 minutes away by car from the train station and across the street from the sand bath hall. It’s a medium-sized traditional ryokan with modern facility. I stayed in one of the traditional rooms with tatami bedding on the high floor with balcony facing the beach. I loved the indoor and outdoor onsen facility – it’s not a busy day while I was there so when I went for a bath there at night and in the morning the next day, I felt I had the entire place to myself.

The meal service at the ryokan was impressive – apparently they were voted number 1 in meal category among Japanese ryokans by a travel magazine. The dinner – served inside my room – was an 8-course affair beginning with small cold appetizer bites served in porcelain bowls and a glass of  sweet umeshu (plum wine), followed by a platter of sashimi. I particularly liked the Kibinago fish (silver-stripe round herring) which is a local specialty in Kagoshima, which looked like sayori or needle fish, except it has a firmer texture and tasty with a dip of grated ginger and soy sauce.

The soup course with clear consommé and steamed crab dumpling was deceivingly rich and refreshing, then it’s a plate of stewed kurubuta pork with soybeans and daikon. Another Kagoshima specialty was served, which was the kurubuta pork, stewed and served with a soybean glaze. daikon and carrots. The main course was a small bowl of oysters baked inside the seasonal persimmon with miso glaze. I liked the subtle persimmon taste infused into the rich oysters. Finally it was a hearty bowl of “hotpot”, with crab claws, scallops, minced chicken meatball and vegetables, followed by rice, pickles, miso soup and seasonal fruits. (plus a bowl of warm red bean soup left on my table after evening turn-down).

After breakfast (another elaborate meal served inside the room with a great array of dishes and rice), I had another dip in the bath, packed up and made my way back to Kagoshima for the final stop of the trip. On my return journey, I booked a seat in the limited express scenic train called “Ibusuki no Tamatebako” (or Ibutama in short), which only ran 3 times a day each way.

The classic-looking train in black and white color scheme featured sideward-facing wooden seats which allow passengers unobstructed view through the window in this hour-long journey with only 2 stops. It completed with white smoke vent at the entrance as you walked in and out (giving you the nostalgic feeling of riding in an old steam engine train), a small dining section selling food and souvenir available only at this train, a baby/toddler section, and even a small “library” with books you can read during the ride. Very gimmicky but it was fun – I particularly enjoyed the cup of sesame pudding dessert made using the same color scheme as the train itself (which was sold only on this train line).

Ibusuki Shusuien Ryokan:
Saraku Sand Bath Hall:
Ibusuki no Tamatebako Train:

No comments :