Beppu is a hot springs town. When we drove into Beppu, it was really interesting. My friend, Allison had warned me that the entire town is steaming. Billows of steam rise from every which way. I even read that some of the steam is so hot that you can cook on it.
We found our ryokan, which had 3 private family baths. So, we reserved a private bath for an hour before dinner.
***Warning to all of our vegetarian friends - the following is a crazy food moment - please don't freak out and disown us.***
We went to an isakaya type restaurant near our ryokan, where we drank a lot of beer. One of the specialties of Kyushu is raw horse meat. We wanted to try it in Kumamoto because that is the place to have it but we chickened out (except for Julian, he is always ready to try anything). We saw it on the menu so we decided to try it. It was actually sweet and tasted pretty good, but it was chewy, really chewy. My dad refused to try it. My mom and I could only handle eating one piece. Julian was happy to finish off the rest. My brother, Andy couldn't believe I had eaten that, he said next time I go to Central Park in NYC and see the horse drawn carriages my first thought will be yummy, get me some of that!
After dinner, we found a small jazz club where we drank some more and then headed home to pass out.
Day 6 – Onsening – The way to go
Our last day….We were heading back to Himeji that day and reserved a train for around 4pm. So we only had a few hours to hit the onsens or hot springs. My parents opted to go shopping, so Julian and I went to tourist information to try to figure out what we could see and do with so little time.
I love onsens and I’m realizing that I haven’t written all that much about the joys of onsen. Onsens are hot springs. Japan has hundreds if not thousands of hot springs all over the country. It’s a volcanic country so there are a lot of hot spots. Onsen is very popular in Japan from the most posh, elegant and expensive resorts to the local onsen for only 2-3 dollars that you can go to for the day.
Luckily, Julian and myself are not shy, we like to go to onsens. There are usually separate women's and men's public onsens, but at some of the resorts, hotels and onsens there are private family onsens that you can reserve for your personal use. In regards to the public onsens, some foreigners are really shy, but if you relax and have a good time and not worry about your body or how you look, you’ll be fine. People are in their own world enjoying the experience, so no one is looking at you or checking you out.
There are two important rules for going to an onsen. Rule number 1: You must wash before you go into the hot bath. There are always showers with soap/shampoo at the onsen so you can clean yourself before going into the onsen. Onsen is not for cleaning, it's for soaking. Rule number 2: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT go into an onsen with even a drop of soap on you or without rinsing off. The rest is just sitting, hanging out and relaxing, letting your muscles relax and your mind wander.
We hopped in a cab and headed for an onsen near the mountains and got our own beautiful family style bath, where we could hang out just us, in the onsen and sauna. It was awesome. Julian can spend hours in the onsen, I can only last about 15 or 20 minutes and then I have to get out for a little while cool off and then I can go back in. Julian has this whole method where he goes in, gets really hot and then gets out and puts freezing cold water on himself and then gets back in. It makes your skin tighten and you can feel your heartbeat…it’s really difficult to spray yourself with freezing cold water, but it feels great - very refreshing!
After the private onsen bath in the mountains, we grabbed another taxi and headed for the Takegawara Onsen, an older onsen in Beppu.
They have “sand baths”. The way it works - you pay about $10 and you get a cotton robe and you go into this big room with 2 huge sand boxes. The sand is black, course and it’s very warm/hot. Three to four women are working in the sand baths. The women dig a trench for you to lay in and then they give you a wooden, tall head rest to put your head on. The ladies rake and pile the sand on top of you. It’s like a warm and soothing cocoon which is about 42 degrees celsius. The sand is heavy so it feels really wonderful, like you have a heavy warm blanket tucked tightly around you. It gets really hot and you can feel your heart beating and you start to sweat. You are only allowed to stay in the sand for 10 minutes. It was the most relaxing and awesome experience ever. Aside from the novelty of being buried in hot sand, I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was after spending just 10 minutes in the sand.
Afterwards, I felt really spacey, and my body felt like taffy, all wobbly and soft and my skin felt so soft and I was just a big blob of goo. If I lived in Beppu, I would go once a week. It was really amazing! We asked the ladies to take some pictures of us in the sand, but it was really hard to get decent pictures.
We rinsed off and soaked in an onsen. Onsening always makes me hungry, so we ate and then headed back to Himeji. We want to try to go back to Beppu for a weekend of onsening. We missed seeing the "hells" or hot color pools bubbling up from the earth which are just for looking at, not soaking and the sex museum. Kyushu was fantastic. I would love to go back and see the southern half of the island and to explore the northern half a little more.