Beppu, Japan: Being buried by hot-spring-infused beach sand makes for a subterranean sauna
My skepticism grew with every scoop of rich, black volcanic sand the tiny old Japanese woman cast over me with her shovel.
She danced around my tall frame gracefully as she buried me, just as she had done to the hordes of other people she had buried alive.
“What am I doing here?” I thought to myself.
I had agreed — correction, I had paid 1,000 yen (about $10) — to be buried alive at Beppu Kaihin Sunayu, which literally means “Beppu beach sand hot spring,” which is supposed to act as a sort of subterranean sauna.
The sand felt heavy on my chest. My arms were covered, then my legs. I wanted to squirm in discomfort, but the weight of the sand simply wouldn’t allow it.
The sand was hot from the underground springs synonymous with the city of Beppu, in Oita prefecture. My pores opened and I began to sweat as steam rose from what felt like a burial mound.
I could hear the sounds of the ocean. This is where the tide began to change for me.
The old Japanese woman built a pillow out of sand for my head. She packed it in around my neck.
This was pretty nice.
I was starting to enjoy myself.
I looked toward the heavens, squinting under a bright sun. I took a deep breath and began to feel at ease. I closed my eyes and let the sand do the rest. The warmth from the hot spring-infused sand relaxed my travel-weary mind.
Not long after, I began to laugh; I had developed an itch on my ear. Cracks began to show in the sand on my chest, which now heaved up and down. The Japanese woman hurried to dump more sand on top of me. She smoothed it out. I was her sculpture and I was ruining the perfection she sought.
She told me to stop laughing. It only made me laugh more. Finally she scratched my ear with an onsen towel. I thanked her wholeheartedly. She smiled.
The 15 minutes were up before I felt like they had begun. I broke through the mountain of sand like a chick emerging from an incubated egg.
I was a new man.
As my friends and I departed, the spa workers once again flooded the enormous sandbox with hot spring water to reset it for the next group to pass through.
I wasn’t done as I made my way inside. I cast my robe into the bin and got into the shower. The black sand clung to my body.
Then it was time for a soak in Beppu Kaihin Sunayu’s onsen, or hot springs.
It was quite a relaxing experience.
The city of Beppu is a must-visit destination for any foreigner traveling on the island of Kyushu. The city is nestled beautifully along the coast and in addition to its world-famous hot springs features great bars and restaurants that cater to the city’s international university students.
Its hells, or natural hot springs, attract all types of visitors and feature everything from elephants and hippos to crocodile farms.
Its onsens, which can be found from Hokkaido to Kagoshima, are some of the best in Japan, and that is saying a lot since the country perfected pampering and spa treatments.
Beppu Kaihin Sunayu most likely isn’t for those who fear confined spaces, but you won’t really know whether you are built for it until you try it. So, like the immortal words of Will Ferrell in the film “Step Brothers,” “Close your eyes, let the dirt just shower over you.”
Beppu Kaihin Sunayu
Beppu Kaihin Sunayu is on Route 10 in downtown Beppu, right along the water. Its Google Map coordinates are 33.311955, 131.501482.
Open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. March to November; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m December to February. Closed on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
1,000 yen per person.
Vending machines near the free outdoor foot bath offer cold beverages.
Telephone: 0977-66-5737; website: city.beppu.oita.jp/01onsen/02shiei/09kaihin/kaihin.html or English language tourism site: http://english.beppu-navi.jp/item/44.