Friday, October 5, 2012

Kagoshima and Ibusuki

It seems like every town in Japan worth a dot on the map has its own special thing. Ibusuki, down at the bottom of Kagoshima prefecture, has a couple.


Ibusuki is about an hour south of Kagoshima city, so when we went in August, we decided to make it a daytrip. I have a driver's license, so we decided to rent a car to go tooling around. I appreciate my fellow American's perspective, that roads and driving are not, in fact, scarier or in some way worse than doing battle with a small town bus schedule.
This was pretty much the nicest car I had driven in years.
I had looked up the tides the night before, and it turned out we were there during a spring tide (those are full or new moon tides, stronger than other times) and that low tide was to be at 11:45 or so. This meant we could walk out along this sandbar to Chiringa-jima, an island described as one of the most fragrant islands in Japan.

There's the island! 
All we have to do is walk across this little isthmus.
 It was a beautiful day to be at the beach, if you had like a swimsuit or that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, the sunny heat of a beach day makes for a pretty sad sand-hike if you only have 'real shoes' and clothes on. I seriously considered going for a dip clothes and all because I figured I was going to be approximately as soaked with my own sweat. The fact that the little fish looked like puffer fish and no one else was touching the water (not even the kids) is all that kept me out.

It's a beautiful scorching near-noon here on the hot sands.
We never made it to Chiringa-jima. It was too hot and we had plans to be bathed in sweat later. We moved on toward another of Ibusuki's wonders, the swirling somen restaurant.

Naturally, being around lunchtime, we were not the only people with this idea. There was a long line to get in to the restaurant which kept us waiting about 15 or 20 minutes despite the massive number of tables the restaurant seemed to contain.

The place is called Tosenkyo, and it's built in a valley blessed with a cold spring. Using the flow of cool water, every table has a water flow where the noodles swirl around so you can snag them and eat them. It also keeps the air down there relatively cool under the shade of the trees.




There are also lots of fish in the water. These fish are on the menu; always fresh!


After lunch, we headed toward Mt. Kaimon and Ikeda Lake. Ikeda is a caldera lake, and is home to giant eels. Mt. Kaimon is a volcanic peak.

The giant eels on display were just sad. 
Lake and Kaimon!
From there we drove down to Nagasakibana, where there is a shrine and a lighthouse.

The Ryugu shrine is connected to the legend of Urashima Taro. 
Urashima Taro is the turtle dude who opened the gift box containing "the span of a life." If that doesn't sound familiar, check it out here

Aaaand there's the lighthouse.
The lighthouse area was really beautiful, and is the southernmost point of... this part.. of this prefecture. Or something.

This is the pamphlet we were using to figure out where to go; there's no way we could have gone to as many things without driving. But the main draw of Ibusuki is its hot sand baths, which are famous as a beauty treatment and for cleaning the blood. It's also supposed to help with circulation and various other maladies, basically whatever is helped by being buried in hot sand (and the subsequent sweating you tend to do). Also it's just really fun -- who doesn't like being buried in sand?

The sand is hot because it's heated from below by the volcanic powers of the island which in this particular area tend to come up just under the beach.

I don't have any photos from our actual burial because you strip down as for any public bath/hot springs experience and emerge clad only in the provided cotton cloth yukata. Then you lie down in a shallow pit with your minitowel wrapped around your head so the staff can throw sand over you with their shovels. They were very no-nonsense about it; I felt like a giddy little kid.

We were up underneath that wooden thing in the background.  (photo cred)
As soon as you are buried, you can feel your heartbeat in you whole body. You're just throbbing from head to foot under the weight of hot sand. It's awesome. The other thing I tried was digging down just a little bit with my hands. Like a centimeter. The sand felt way hotter underneath.

Afterward you feel totally refreshed and look totally beautiful. (photo)
Just kidding. After ten minutes, maybe fifteen if you want extra baking, your yukata is sticking to you with sweat and you emerge, dust off, and go back up to the building for a regular water-type onsen bathing experience.

The hot sand is pretty much the main reason we went to Ibusuki, so once we were done there, we pretty much returned the car and took the train home to Mandi's house.

This is the view from her apartment of Sakurajima. And there it goes.
The next day, we were joined by Laureno just before I had to leave, so we used that time to visit a cat cafe (for my first time) and eat pastries for dinner (which was one of the worst decisions of that month).


I still maintain I would prefer a dog cafe. It would be way more relaxing (for me)!

Dinner.
How I felt on the train and for the next couple days. 

3 comments:

  1. I looked really determined to eat those noodles.

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  2. Great article. I'd love to use one of your photos for a news piece (Dark Matter News on Art Bell's radio show). I like the Ryugu shrine and the one showing the statue of Taro and tortoise. Of course I will credit you with the rights and attribution in a caption below the photos.

    Cheers.
    Robbie Reilly in Tokyo

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