Once is not enough: My Ibusuki summer trips
Over the course of my two years working in Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県 Kagoshima-ken), Ibusuki (指宿) was the only place in the prefecture which I visited twice, because there was just so much to do that a single day trip could not cover it all. To me, Ibusuki is a summer place. Located on the coast, there are campgrounds and beaches. Ibusuki also grows fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, watermelons, and okra, which come into season in summer. But the most iconic thing about Ibusuki must be the sand baths.
Pre-COVID, you were allowed to bring your own phones, and staff would help you take a picture of your blissful face in the black sand, but when I went it was no longer allowed. Here’s an official picture instead. (Image credit: Kagoshima Prefectural Visitors Bureau)
Many people go to Japan for the onsen (温泉 hot springs), but how many of you have tried an onsen not with water, but with sand? As it turns out, Ibusuki is home to the world’s only two natural hot sand baths, or sunamushi onsen (砂蒸し温泉, literally steaming sand hot springs).
Dressed in a provided yukata (浴衣), you lie down on the warm black sand. The staff shovel sand all over you and stick a cutesy umbrella above you to protect you from the sun. The weight of the sand is as comforting as a tight hug, and you can extricate your limbs whenever you want to adjust the temperature. You know that perfect temperature in your blanket when you wake up in the mornings? That was it. I dozed there for an hour. Brilliant blue sky above; the smell of the sea around you; the sand-hug; the warmth; the lapping sound of the waves—sunamushi onsen is a holistic sensory experience that I highly recommend.
Saraku Sand Bath Hall (砂むし会館砂楽)
Address: 5-25-18, Yunohama, Ibusuki-shi, Kagoshima, 891-0406
Nearest station: Ibusuki Station (指宿駅)
Access: 4-minute drive from Ibusuki Station
Opening hours: 8.30am–8.30pm
Admission fee (Sand Bath + Regular Onsen): ¥1,100
Tel: +81 99-323-3900
A quaint brick building walled off in an enclosure of gigantic trees. (Image credit: Jia Han)
Many people know about the sand baths, but not even my Japanese friends knew that Ibusuki also houses the first herb garden in Japan. On the way there, my friend told me that herb growing isn’t big in Japan for a few reasons. Firstly, most herbs originated from the Mediterranean, so they do best in Mediterranean climate, which is different from Japan’s. Secondly, Japan frequently experiences typhoons, which bring salt water that kills plants. Thirdly, flooding also kills herbs. As a result, herb growing in Japan usually has to be done in greenhouses, but that makes things expensive.
Therefore, it was bizarre that this herb garden was not only located in the wrong climate of Japan, but the owner seemed to have gone out of his way to shake his fist at nature itself. The herb garden is in coastal Ibusuki, where the typhoons often come, bringing salt water. Also, the stronger winds at coastal areas can damage fragile herbs. Finally, the garden is located at the foot of Kaimondake, an active volcano that last erupted in 885 AD. According to my rudimentary geography, I assume that rainfall gathers at the base of the volcano, which would therefore be prone to flooding.
The herb garden smelled amazing in the summer heat as we walked through the grounds. On our walk, my friend pointed out this tree to me:
See anything special about it? Neither did I. (Image credit: Jia Han)
The special thing is that you rarely see tender, green branches sticking out of a thick, woody trunk like this—usually it’s thinner, woody branches right? It’s a sign that the branches (perhaps leaves) are being constantly harvested as herbs.
The garden also makes its own honey, although it’s not for sale.
Does the pollen from herbs make the honey especially delicious? I’ll never know. (Image credit: Jia Han)
However, the small shop does sell many other products, including perfumes, herb teas, and herb cookies which I highly recommend (the white ones are my favourite).
The white cookie tastes amazing, I highly recommend it. (Image credit: Jia Han)
Kaimon Sanroku Koryoen (開聞山麓香料園)
Address: 6229 Kaimonkawashiri, Ibusuki-shi, Kagoshima, 891-0602
Nearest station: Satsuma-Kawashiri Station (薩摩川尻駅)
Access: 4-minute drive from Satsuma-Kawashiri Station
Opening hours: 9am–5pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81 99-332-3321
A lazy person’s dream: do nothing and food comes to you like magic. (Gif credit: Jia Han)
Nagashi sōmen (流しそうめん flowing noodles) is a summer special. Traditionally, a long bamboo shoot is cut in half, and noodles are dropped into cool, flowing water from the top. You stop the noodles at your position and then eat them. In Kagoshima, the noodles are put into a circular trough instead. This means that if you miss the noodles, you can try again! Plus, less noodle wastage, and you can sit round the table with your friends to eat.
(Image credit: Jia Han)
Tosenkyo Somen Nagashi (唐船峡 そうめん流し)
Address: 5967 Kaimonjutcho, Ibusuki, Kagoshima, 891-0603
Nearest station: Higashi-Kaimon Station (東開聞駅)
Access: 6-minute drive from Higashi-Kaimon Station
Opening hours (summer): 10am–8pm
Cost: Approximately ¥1,000, depending on your order.
Tel: +81 99-332-2143
(Image credit: Jia Han)
Most of the activities here can be enjoyed even outside of summer. Tosenkyo Somen Nagashi is open throughout the year, and there are indoor areas with heaters when the weather gets cold. A warm sand bath with a cold winter breeze on your face would feel wonderful too. Whenever you go, take note of the sunset time, when you’ll be guaranteed a beautiful view of the sea, with Kaimondake in the background.
Header image credit: Jia Han