Asia | Japan | Kyushu | Beppu – My bit of Volanic Activity
Even before the alarm went off this morning, I heard what I really didnt want to hear rain. I rolled over and turned off the alarm clock. There would be no purpose to get up and get going today. I had had enough fun in Kyoto playing tourist in the rain, and it was not going to be worth it to do that again here today. My goal for the morning had been to see the Mount Aso and the Nakadake volcano, but that was not going to be possible, or any fun, in the rain.
Finally I did rise, and pack, and mentally prepare myself for the twenty minutes walk back down the mountain to the train station in the rain. At least it was going to be downhill today. I went to the front to check out, and the owner took pity on me. Since I am traveling alone, his wife could fit me and my luggage in her car for a ride to the train station. Fortune smiled.
The next train is not back to Kumamoto as I had planned, but to Beppu. Since I have not spent my time this morning climbing a volcano, I figure I can go to Beppu and try to see the colored hot springs before traveling on. This JR Rail pass is a wonderful thing. I can just pick a train and get on, and I dont have to worry about the cheapest way back to Tokyo. I pick a car and get on, and to my delight, across the isle from me is a Japanese young lady in her twenties with a tiny black bob-tailed kitten. The kitten is climbing all over everything, and mewing periodically for its bottle. After a feeding, he settles down for a quick nap in her lap, during which his human would usually fall asleep as well. The kitten would be the first to wake, and he would wander over and across the chair until he stepped a paw on her arm and she would wake again. It brought a smile to my face to watch them for miles and miles.
We reached Beppu before 11 AM, and I head for the tourist information desk. I have seen pictures of some of the Devils Pools in Beppu. There are pools of volcanic water in white, blue, and blood red, along with a typhoon pool (which erupts every 25 minutes) and the Monks pool a pool of mud in which the bubbles are supposed to look like Mons heads. After finding out it is a 30 minute bus ride one way, and they are not even all together, I inquire about onsen and baths in the area. The information counselor tells me of some baths, and then he tells me of a hot sand bath nearby I think we have a winner!
The spa of Takegawara Onsen is not your normal Onsen. They are used to enough tourists that the front desk attendant has a list of yes or no questions written in three languages (Japanese, English and Korean) that she can point at to find out what we desire. I buy a ticket for the sand bath, and a towel, for 950 Yen. I enter the locker room, which has two customers and two attendants in it currently. I undress and head for the sand with my towel. The attendant is not fluent in English, but she is very good at charades. She informs me to lay my towel, which is about 1 foot by 2.5 feet, long ways down the front of me, and to lie down in the pit in the sand they have dug. This towel JUST covers the length of my torso, and I am glad I am not any taller. As I lie on the sand, the two attendants start to shovel black volcanic sand onto a pile on my body. Then they reshape the sand, one making me a better pillow under my head, and the other reshaping the pile on top of me so that it slopes into the ground. Ten Minutes, OK? OK I reply. There is a clock on the wall and they point at it repeatedly and say ten minutes, and then they point at the bath. I am supposed to stay in here for ten minutes, MAXIMUM ten minutes, and then get out and take a bath.
As I lie in the sand, I am slowly being steamed clean, and smooth, from the hot sand. Funny thing is, my feet are sticking out. I dont know if I was too tall, of if this is to allow heat to escape. I ponder this as I wait. And wait. And watch the clock. At some point, by body relaxed from the position it was in when I laid down. Now my spine feels more relaxed, but there is hot sand burning places that it wasnt touching originally. Ten minutes. I try to think about nothing, to relax, to not stare at the clock. Ten minutes. Aaaacccccckkkkk!!!!!!!!!! Im frying in here! I made it eight minutes.
I rose from the depths of being buried from my ankles to my neck in black sand, and I started to shake to sand from me. At this point, there are no attendants in the room, and only one customer left in here with me. She is in her fifties or sixties I would guess, dressed and getting ready to leave, and if I didnt know any better, I would think she was waiting to make sure I did the right thing before she leaves. I go to the first rinsing station, and she comes over. She washed my towel clean of the black steaming sand, and handed me a bucket to rinse myself with. Charades again. When I started to rinse myself properly, she walked back to her locker. When she decided I was clean of sand, she motioned me over to the next bathing area. Here there is body soap and shampoo, and she knows the word shampoo, so more charades and I begin washing myself. You wash outside the bath, and you fill your bucket with water from the bath and pour it over yourself and let it run down the drain. Once again, she decides that I am clean, and she signals me to get in the bath and soak. I get in a soak, and I think this is hotter than the sand! Maybe the heat can escape more readily from the sand than from the water. Instead of steaming in the sand, I am boiling myself in this water. How do they do this? My guide decides that I am OK, and she departs with a Good-bye! to which I wave and say Good-bye!
I soak for a while, and decide that I am done. I dry, dress and leave, and as I leave, there is a sign on the wall that shows how they pipe the water, steam and heat up from the heart of the volcano. Lots of kanji, and the numbers 55 degrees Celsius. 55 Celsius! Thats 131 degrees Fahrenheit! No wonder I felt cooked!
I walked back to the train station. As I rode away from Beppu, I was amazed at how smooth my skin felt. Now I know the reason Asian women look so young they fry all the dead skin cells right off their bodies!