Sunday, May 14, 2017

Onsen for Shy Travelers: My experience of Sand Bath thermal hot spring Spa in Ibusuki Kyushu

In October 2016, I traveled to Japan using the 14-day Japan Rail Pass. While I was traveling in southern Kyushu 九州, I took the opportunity for a day trip from Kagoshima 鹿児島 to Ibusuki 指宿 for their famous Natural Sand Bath Spa 砂蒸し温泉 on the beach. I am dedicating this special Onsen day trip experience to some travelers who are shy and have concerns about the traditional naked hot spring in Japan.

- To read about my experience fo Swimsuit Onsen Hot Spring in Hakone near Tokyo, visit: Japan Onsen for Shy Travelers - Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Swimsuit Hot Spring Bath and Private Onsen Ryokan
- To read about my day trip to Atami Onsen town, visit: Atami Onsen area - Hot Spring Day Trip from Tokyo


Many of my readers inquired about swimsuit Onsen or private hot spring while traveling in Japan. The truth is that traditional Onsen will never allow swimsuit in their sacred hot spring pool because the swimsuit is considered unhygienic to the natural spring water. Private Onsen are nice for honeymooner couples but Onsen Ryokan accommodation with private en-suite hot spring is usually very expensive, costing about $400 to $700 USD per night. Natural Sand Bath Spa offers shy travelers to enjoy this unique and relaxing experience while being covered by Yukata 浴衣 clothing

I would recommend visitors to first get to Kagoshima by either flight:
*Tokyo to Kagoshima: 1 hour 55 minute, about $150 USD round trip on Skyscanner
*Osaka Itami to Kagoshima: 1 hour 10 minute, about $120 USD round trip on Skyscanner

or by Shinkansen bullet train:

*Tokyo area to JR Kagoshima Chuo: ~7 hours, about $270 USD
*Osaka area to Kagoshima Chuo: ~4 hours, about $185 USD
*Hakata/Fukuoka area to JR Kagoshima Chuo: ~1.5 hours, about $95 USD

then take the Limited Express Train from:

*JR Kagoshima Chuo 鹿児島 中央 station to JR Ibusuki station: ~50 minutes, about $19 USD

***bullet train and limited express train were all covered by nation-wide Japan Rail Pass


Based in Kagoshima area in southern Kyushu, I took the scenic train named "Ibusuki no Tamatebako limited express" 指宿のたまて箱 to JR Ibusuki station.

Luxurious yet retro style of interior design of the scenic train offered an interesting experience for about 50 minutes.

Many of the scenic train in Japan offers souvenir or limited edition dessert for purchase during the train ride.

After 50 minutes of train ride, I arrived in JR Ibusuki train station; English speaking staff was available at the tourism information counter inside of the station.

After obtaining information of the most famous Sand Bath facility, my cousin and I decided to take the 15 minute walk instead of waiting 30+ minutes for the infrequent local bus nor taking the expensive taxi.

Because of Ibusuki's southern geographical location, trees and streets of Ibusuki have some resemblances of tropical island.

After about 15 minutes of walk, I arrived at the Saraku facility building; followed the sign to take the escalator to go to the second floor to "check in"

I took my time to read their multilingual instruction for how to enjoy their Sand Bath Onsen Spa.

After paying about $11 USD for the use of the combination of Sand Bath and pool type of Onsen bath, they handed me a small towel and a Yukata for the Sand Bath Onsen.

I soon changed into the Yukata they gave us in Men's changing/locker room. Complying with their Onsen rules, everyone should be naked underneath the Yukata.

After stepping out of the building, signs were directing us to go to the shaded geothermal beach area. Steam was coming out of the sand on the Ibusuki beach.

After entering the shaded area, I saw many staff member with large shovels getting ready to "bury" customers under the sand for the therapeutic Sand Bath thermal hot spring. All guests were wearing Yukata to cover up the body before being semi-buried by the shoveling staff.

Tiny umbrella was sometimes used to block off the scorching sun from hitting guest's face. Enjoying the wonderful Sand Bath natural hot spring with an ocean view was definitely priceless and it was the highlight of the day trip to Ibusuki area in southern Kyushu. Maximum of 10 to 20 minute of the therapeutic natural spa time is recommended by the facility to prevent overheating and excessive water loss. The heat and steam from the geothermal sand is said to be therapeutic in terms of improving body's cardiovascular circulation. I wonder if they have double blinded evidence based data to back them up on their statements.

Resting lounge and Ramen restaurant were available inside of the Saraku facility hall for guests after changing back into street clothes. I recommend drinking large amount of water before and after Sand Bath Onsen Spa as the sweating during the hot spring accounts for large amount of water loss.

One of the perks of taking day trips to small town or village in Japan is the opportunity of discovering hole in the wall type of restaurants. On the way from Saraku Sand Bath facility back to JR Ibusuki station, my cousin and I stopped by one of the few restaurants in town for a quick bite before heading back to Kagoshima.

Nanshu Ramen restaurant was definitely a true mom and pop's type of Ramen shop in the small town of Ibusuki

There was no compromise in taste in the small town of rural Japan, as their Shio Ramen ($5 USD) and their Miso Ramen ($6 USD) were both very tasty. Their Shio clear soup Ramen was light yet very flavorful. Shio ramen is definitely a healthier choice when compared with heavy Tonkotsu pork bone soup Ramen in Hakata.

There was a distinct aroma in their Miso Ramen soup base, which made the Ramen irresistible from putting down my spoon.

After finishing up our Ramen lunch, we walked back to JR Ibusuki station and headed back to Kagoshima for the second part of the day trip: Sakurajima 桜島 near Kagoshima


Ibusuki Sand Bath Hall "Saraku"
5-25-18 Yunohama, Ibusuki 891-0406, Kagoshima Prefecture
TEL: +81 993-23-3900
砂むし会館 砂楽
〒891-0406 鹿児島県指宿市湯の浜5丁目25番18号

For travelers who like to slow down their pace and stay in Ibusuki overnight to enjoy the Sand Bath Spa and hotel/Ryokan, consider looking up the following Onsen Ryokan or hotel with Sand Bath service.

*Kyukamura Ibusuki Resort 休暇村 指宿
*Hakusuikan Ibusuki Ryokan 砂むし温泉 指宿 白水館
*Seaside Hotel Ibusuki 指宿 シーサイド ホテル
*Kaijyo Hotel Ibusuki 指宿 海上 ホテル
*Phoenix Hotel Ibusuki 指宿 フェニックス ホテル
*Iwasaki Hotel Ibusuki 指宿 いわさき ホテル

Ibusuki is the most well established location for Natural Sand Bath Onsen Spa but Ibusuki is not the only place in Japan for the special experience. Travelers can consider visiting Beppu Beach Sand Bath in eastern Kyushu (closer to Hakata/Fukuoka) for more options of this type of wonderful experience.

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