Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hello, Kyushu! The Escape to Beppu.

As January changes to February, it seems, if anything, the weather’s only getting colder! Friday once again saw my little nowhere town transformed into a real-life Christmas card scene. Stepping out the door for work, in the morning, I was greeted by THIS view.

I learnt my lesson after failing to capture a picture last time and dashed back indoors to snap a shot to share with you! Then it was off to Tokai Elementary for a morning-long snowball fight! Friendships were forgotten and it was each man (or, as it happened, small child) for himself as the (now unrecognisable) playground was transformed into a to-the-death arena. At one point,  one 1nensai girl got a little ahead of herself and decided it’d be funny to splat a fistful of powder in Jim-sensei’s face from point blank range. Well, I wasn’t going to settle for that and retaliated with my own tear-inducing face-bomb. Look, girl, I don’t care that you’re only six years old, if you’re big enough to dish it out, you’re gonna have to be big enough to take it! It's my job to teach valuable life lessons, right? Well, let's just say, she learned one of the more important ones that morning...DON'T MESS WITH JIM-SENSEI. Rawr.

With the snow carrying on through the afternoon, and my having genuinely forgetting how life was when I could feel my fingers and toes, what better place to jet off to for a weekend break than Beppu, Japan’s very own hotspring capital? Beppu’s in Oita prefecture, western Kyushu (only a three-hour ferry ride away from Yawatahama in Shikoku), and boasts the largest number of hot springs in a single city in the whole of Japan! There were a tonne of different varieties to choose from – including a cacophony of standard water baths, as well as some more unconventional mud and sand baths, too! Our schedule being limited for time, we plunged straight in at the deep-end and opted for the hotsprings of the sand and mud variety!

The sand onsen in particular was an experience to remember! The onsen itself was nestled in a building over one-hundred years old. Walking in the door, we paid our fee, in exchange for which we were handed our yukata (a special kind of robe) and led downstairs to the sandbaths. There, two little old women were waiting, shovels in hand, to pile spade upon spade of steaming sand on top of us, until we were nothing more than two floating heads in a black grit sea.

Now, if you’re not used to Japanese bathing, the idea of taking all your clothes off and walking around butt-naked in front of a bunch of strangers (who often aren’t too inhibited to stare) might take a little getting used to. Personally, I found it kind of liberating to just throw caution to the wind and bare it all! So many people have insecurities when it comes to their body image – I wouldn’t say I’m entirely immune from that category – that it was quite refreshing to just say, “You know what, fuck it, this is me and I’m putting it all out there!

Having been well and truly refreshed at the onsens, we ventured further afield to explore the Hells of Beppu, the scientifically-dubbed “geothermal hotspots” scattered all across Beppu from which you can see steam, water and mud shooting from fissures in the ground, all in beautiful surroundings of Japanese wildlife and architecture. One lagoon was so hot that there was a basket of eggs being boiled in it!

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