Almost every tourist who comes to Japan brings with them the image of bathing in the beautiful and relaxing Japanese onsen (natural hot springs). Destinations such as Hakone, Beppu, and Kusatsu, attract many people purely for their world famous baths. Whether it’s the beautiful landscape, the uniqueness of the baths, or the ability to rest the mind and soul, Japanese onsen provide an experience every traveler must experience. With that said, the sand baths in Japan are equally calming and a must go for the onsen loving tourists.
Photo: mariten on Flickr
These sand baths may look familiar. Kids and parents of all ages have at one point been buried in the sand on a nice sunny day at the beach. It’s almost as classic as building sand castles or playing volleyball along the coast. Although the person getting buried eventually breaks free, they are left with sand in all the wrong places and a possible sense of regret for allowing it to happen in the first place. The sand baths in Japan are of complete opposite nature. Rather than regretting it later, you come out relaxed and feeling like a butterfly breaking the walls of its cocoon. If your body was sore or stiff; it magically feels completely refreshed. If you were tired and lacked sleep; you come out rejuvenated and ready to take on the day. While the sand baths may not provide the cultural experience that the onsen might provide, yet they do allow for complete mind and body restoration.
Although the idea of leaving a bath with sand all over your body doesn’t sound too comforting, there is a specific procedure that allows bathers the best possible experience. Before getting into the sand, individuals put on yukata that are given to them. Rather than enjoying the hot sand in a bathing suit, people bathe in these traditional Japanese outfit. Since the yukata are involved in the process, both males and females are allowed to enjoy the bath together, unlike the onsen in Japan. After being buried and laying in the sand for about 15-20 minutes, it is immediately followed by an outdoor onsen with the (now sandy) yukata on at all times. The transition from a hot pile of sand caressing your body to the soothing onsen bath is not only extremely refreshing but it makes your body feel as though it went through a deep hour long massage. Once out of the bath, bathers take a quick shower with soap and shampoo (provided there) before getting dressed and thereby, concluding the unique experience.
- I had a great experience in the Kagoshima sand baths.
Like many onsen in Japan, after exiting the bath, many people enjoy drinking milk, beer, eating ice cream, or even a full meal, since the long hours in the hot water make them crave for something chilled and delicious. I too, recommend consuming something after the bath. Whether it’s some ice cream, an iced coffee, a chilled beer, or some soumen noodles, something cold will taste absolutely amazing and satisfy those taste buds after a long hot bath.
- Vending machines that sell milk are present at most sand baths and onsen
- Photo: Patrick Donovan on Flickr
Sand bath locations
While onsen are found throughout Japan, sand baths are a bit more rare to spot. Some of the more notable ones can be found in: Ibusuki, Kagoshima and Beppu.
300-1000¥ is standard for a sand bath. Onsen in Japan typically do not cost too much, and can be enjoyed relatively cheap. The same goes for the sand baths all across Japan.
Best time to go
Anytime in the spring, fall and winter, would be an appropriate time to go. Going during June, July, August, and even possibly September, the weather could be a little too hot and humid to fully enjoy the bath. Since the baths are always covered, you can be worry free bathing even when it’s raining outside.
While there are signs at the bath and locker rooms regarding this, it’s important to note a few precautions before getting into the baths. As comfortable as it may be, a bather should never fall asleep in the sand as it will eventually dehydrate him/her. Furthermore, if the sand does get too hot, it’s recommended to move your body a little, even if it means breaking free a little. Your safety is more important than anything. Finally, make sure you haven’t had any alcohol in your system before hand. All these are standard safety measures and are typically applied to the onsen in Japan as well.
Photo: Dan Woods on Flickr
The baths or onsen in Japan are a must visit for anyone or everyone visiting Japan, and the sand baths are no different. Whether it is the sincerity of the experience, the massage like comfort, or the post bath ice cream, the sand baths provide something worth enjoying for every adventurer.