Get buried in warm black sand in this Meiji-era onsen — that's tattoo friendly!
There is no shortage of onsen (hot spring) options in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. However, only Takegawara Onsen offers both a retro atmosphere, the typical hot spring and a sand bath experience all in one place!
You’ll reach the onsen by taking a 10-minute stroll along the lively streets from Beppu station, near Beppu Bay. This city is an onsen haven, with many of the baths being open to visitors with tattoos, including Takegawara.
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If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to lay on your back and be buried alive, don’t miss the sand baths. Don’t worry, the staff members, called sunakake-san, only bury you up to the neck. In about 10 minutes, you’ll be so relaxed by the hot sand you won’t even think about the fact that you can’t move. The sand is heated by nearby thermal springs and will soothe any stiff joints and muscles.
Both male and female visitors use the same sand bath facility, but you’ll be wearing a yukata (summer kimono) during the process. After you’re done, wash the sand away in a bath near the sand pits.
Getting into the onsen
The regular bath is located on the right side of the first floor, opposite the sand bath. There is a small changing area before you head down a set of stairs leading to the bath. Although there are no proper showering facilities, you are still supposed to rinse off by scooping water out of the onsen with a bucket – don’t be that foreigner who doesn’t follow the unspoken rules. The baths at Takegawara are kept at about 43 degrees Celsius — which is quite hot even for Japanese people — so tread lightly. Cold water is also available from a tap if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. Try to keep your body at ease while enjoying the calming effect!
You have to appreciate the history of Takegawara Onsen as you gaze at high ceilings with wooden beams and cream-colored tiles that have turned brown through the test of time. Oita’s locals have come and gone through the centuries, but the building remains, strong and resilient as ever.