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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Japan Day 8: Samurai Residences in Chiran, Sand Bath in Ibusuki

By now we were already kind of Onsen experts, having been to some inside and outside Onsen and even a mud Onsen. But we hadn't experienced a hot sand bath Onsen, so we had planned to go to Ibusuki, which is about one hour away from Kagoshima Chuo Train Station. But we wanted to combine it with a visit in Chiran, where they have a samurai district with beautiful gardens. We had already seen online that one can take a bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station to Chiran and then onwards to Ibusuki. With the bus timetable from the tourist information inside the Kagoshima Chuo Train Station, we were told at which stop (Bus Stop 16) the bus departs from.

We walked from the Silk Inn Kagoshima to the bus stops in front of the station. Then we realized, we didn't have any small cash for the bus and hurried to a nearby shop to buy something small, in order to change. That is because they change 1.000 Yen notes (about 7 Euro) inside buses, but nothing above that. Luckily we managed to be back in time at the bus stop and joined the queue. This is also something special in Japan - even at bus stops they are very organized and stand in a queue. That makes traveling a lot less stressful, than for example entering a ferry in Croatia, which I still remember vividly.

When there was a bus and we weren´t sure if it´s ours, someone in the queue told us it´s not yet the right one. Later inside the bus another woman told us where to exit the bus, there was no way of understanding for us what bus stop they announced in Japanese inside the bus and we didn´t see any signs. Although no one spoke English and we don´t speak any Japanese, it somehow worked out. It was about a 70-minute drive until we reached Chiran at about twenty minutes after 9 a.m. with the sun shining brightly. The bus stop at the samurai residences is just at the eastern entrance of the town and from there we just had to walk a few steps and then south, until we came to the first garden at the eastern end of the samurai residences street, where a ticket for all the gardens was sold and where we were greeted with free green tea!

We went on to the street to see more gardens and they were all very elegant and well tended. And they all are in just one street. We liked it so much that we skipped the next bus to Ibusuki and decided to take a later one, so we wouldn´t have to rush.

When we had seen all of the gardens, we thought about going back to the bus stop or walk through the town to the next bus stop, at the Chiran Peace Museum (also called "Kamikaze Peace Museum" or  "Chiran Tokko Museum"). We decided for the latter and crossed a bridge and had some breakfast and ice-cream on a bench next to the river. 

Then we walked westwards and came along a Doll Museum, but skipped that. We went along the main road and came into a fork, but nearly took the wrong street, but thankfully got it right and realized, that the walk to the next station was much longer than expected. We walked and walked, but no Peace Museum in sight. Finally after about 15 minutes walked we came to a garden which I believe was part of the museums's ground. We saw the bus stop just in front of the parking lot of the museum at the main road and there was a timetable on it, that confirmed it´s the right one. We just had a few more minutes until the bus would arrive, so we couldn´t go to the huge looking museum, unfortunately. It seems to be a huge tourist attraction, as there were busloads of people. At the bus stop we also meet the couple of Japanese tourists who helped us at the bus station in Kagoshima and they were also on continuing their way to Ibusuki. 

Soon the bus to Ibusuki came and this time they had English announcements. It took about an hour to the Sunamusi Kaikan/Sand Bath bus stop. It was already early afternoon, so we decided to have lunch before going to the Saraku Sand Bath Hall, which is just at the bus stop. We sat down nearby the ocean, where the sand ahead already was steaming. It´s so hot, that you can´t just go there. Just when I had unpacked the meal I brought from Kagoshima (something from the "1 gram, one Yen"-stuff from the supermarket the day before), put it on my legs and wanted to take a bite, a huge, and I mean really huge, seagull or something shot down out of nowhere, grabbing some of my fishballs and throwing half of the rest to the ground. We decided, there must be a safer place to eat and I threw away the rest of my meal, where the seagull´s or whatever it was, feet had been in. 

Just opposite the sand bath was a restaurant and so we went there. We tried to order our food based on the pictures on the menu but since my friend who is extremely picky with food, I tried to order something for him (in English). Well, I was not really sure if the woman who served us, who is also the owner of the eatery, understood what I meant. I actually just left it to fate at whatever comes to our table, I will eat it anyway. Suddenly a young woman and her mother at the next table talked to us, who overheard that we talked in German. She was half-Japanese, half-German and now living in Canada and glad to have an opportunity to speak German again. She asked her mother to translate in Nihonggo, what we ordered and the special request of my friend. So it was cleared up whatever confusion there must be. It was a nice little chitchat with Monica and her mother. We talked about how nice the places where we've been and how friendly an accommodating the Japanese people are, and the food also was great. When we finished, we walked back to finally enter the sand bath. We had to rush a bit, because there was just a bus coming full of Asian tourists, who also wanted in and we wanted to be first at the ticket counter.

Inside you have to go the changing rooms where the lockers are, strip naked and put on the kimono that you get when you paid your entrance fee. Then we had to walk outside to the beach along the promenade. There was the shade on the beach part where the tourist were buried in the hot sand. It was a bit windy and we were busy holding our kimono together on our short way to the beach. Then we were shown in our place, had to lie down in the very shallow pit of hot sand and were buried with our kimonos with just our heads jutting out. The sand was not only hot but also felt heavy. We were advised to stay under for about 15 minutes and it was indeed enough. Still it was kind of relaxing and definitely something of an experience. After that we tried to get rid of the wet sand (you of course sweat a lot) and walked back to the building. There was the entrance to the Onsen where you put back the kimono, wash the sand off and then enter the hot water. After some relaxing we went back to the locker room and later I went up to the building, where you have a view. 

We decided to walk to the Ibusuki Train Station. When we came with the bus, we passed it and it seemed to be in walking distance. In the end it took nearly half an hour to walk there, as we obviously didn't take a shortcut. We had originally thought to take another trip from Ibusuki. There´s a bus from Ibusuki to promising looking destinations: outdoor Onsen Healthy Land, Cape Nagasakibana and the Flower Park Kagoshima. But it seemed too late already, so we just showed our Japan Rail Pass upon entering the train track and took the next train back to Kagoshima Chuo Station, which was a bit more than an hour away.

Back in Kagoshima we returned to our favorite supermarket in the basement of the Amu Plaza Shopping Mall next to the train station to get more of their "1 gram - 1 Yen" food. After dinner we relaxed again at the Onsen in our hotel. This would be the last night in Kyushu and the next day we would leave for our next destination, Hiroshima. With more time, we also would definitely have gone for a few days to the island of Yakushima, which is reachable by ferry from Kagoshima and a World Heritage Site. We also would have loved to visit another volcano, the Mount Aso, which seemed to be best reached from Kumamoto. Well, maybe next time as we intend to go back to Japan.

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