Best Budget Spa Trip in Japan: Beppu Sand Spa

It’s 7:15am on a monday morning (weekend after spring-back daylight savings to boot) and I’m be-gowned and getting conveyed into the  tomb or otherwise known as an MRI machine.  I know, what does a MRI have to do with any trip to the spa to relax?  I guess it was a combination of what I was dressed in a cotton robe and quite ready to fall back asleep.  It’s kind of how I felt when my husband and I got to the sand spa in a town called Beppu in southern Japan this past October.

Getting into a very tight space where I can’t move and try not to think of the fact that it’s like being buried alive is one of those things that I really don’t enjoy.  We all have our cope mechanisms and mine is to use my imagination.  I imagine myself in a place where the situation is reversed but has some of the same themes.  (the robe and closed spaces) My recent trip to Beppu is the quickest and best I could come up with.  It was a good choice.

The fall visit to the Sand Spa or in Japanese Suna-yu on the Beppu shore in southern Japan is Japans answer to Las Vegas.  It’s famous for its hot springs of various colors and mineral types and of course the sex, gabbling, African Safari Park, Rakutenchi Kid Park, Aquarium, a day of seeing monkeys at Mount Takasaki and it’s rotten egg smell.  We had just a few days were here for the Japanese Spas alone.

There are many spas to choose from in Beppu.  There are 8 onsen areas which include Mud baths, Drinking Spas (good for the stomach I guess),  Waterfall baths,  and Sand Baths.  There cater to families, couples and single travelers and prices go from budget to luxury.

We opt for the most interesting and budget friendly.   The first one we visited is called the Sea Side Sand Bath which is located down route 10 in Beppu.  It was a 15 minute bus ride from our hostel SPA Hostel Khaosan Beppu.  They have their own indoor spa but we decided to try ones that we could do together and not single sex.

The Sand Bath Spa was amazing and probably one of the closest Japanese cultural traditions I have had so far besides the usual Saki drinking and Sushi eating.  Here’s how it goes down:

  1. The visitor is given a cotton robe to use as well as a locker and towel.
  2. Out on the beach the attendant digs out a 2 foot trench where you in your cotton robe recline into.
  3. Next, they continue to shovel hot steamy sand on top of you covering you completely (everything except the head).  The sand is course and sometimes too hot and heavy for some.    I was one of those who needed to just close my eyes, do some relaxed breathing exercises and just try not to freak out.  I managed to keep everything under except my hands.
  4. Along the way, the ladies help keep you covered since if you tend to want to move  a little.
  5. When the 25 or so minutes of being soothed by the hot salty steam were over they unburied us.  We then showered off and had the option of soaking in there indoor onsen and showered off the black sand.

The attendants were great.  They off to take pictures and make sure that visitors were as comfortable as possible throughout the 25 or so minutes immersion.  They even put small umbrellas next to our heads when the sun got in our eyes.  At the end I was perfectly relaxed even after the claustrophobic panic feelings soon left.   I made it through with newly finished skin new and an appetite for more spa treatments.   What a great experience.   The budget part is that the 25 minute spa costs us $20 each.  We also had a day pass so we could hang out as long as we wanted to.

Some useful information needed for planning your spa trip to Beppu.

Train info: The best way and most economical way to travel in Japan is by getting a JAL Rail Pass before you depart.  We used a service called JTB USA here in New York City.  I take advantage of using services where I can make transactions in person.  The price is based on the current exchange rate which was 88 yen to the dollar so it came out to be $500 per person for 14 days of travel.  Seems steep but check out the individual trip changes and you’ll see for yourself.  It also depends on if you are going to travel beyond Tokyo and Kyoto which I highly recommend if you have the time.

The best site to start with is my favorite Seat61.com and it’s easy to figure out train schedules by using Hyperdia.com

A good place to visit before Beppu is Hiroshima.  There was a train that left Hiroshima in the morning and we just needed to switch trains once in Kokura.  We arrived in the late afternoon.  The scenery was wonderful as well.

Accommodation:

This is a place where you can find a fairly cheap and nice place to stay.  I just did the easy hostelworld.com search and found a place called SPA Hostel Khaosan Beppu.  They were very helpful with recommendations (they have put together their own guide of the area with details, prices and how to get there)  there was the free hot spring right inside the hostel for guests, free wi-fi and an overall relaxing atmosphere.  The convenience store was also a 5 minute walk away.

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