Sure, some of us come from colder countries than Japan, but the most painful thing about the Japanese winter is that you can never get the inside of your house warm! Japanese people feel the pain too. Ergo, the kotatsu. If you visit a Japanese home during New Year’s, you will find the whole family huddled under one warm kotatsu, watching TV, with the occasional dash to the washroom. Great for family bonding, perhaps, but not so great for everyone’s health. Best to get out of the house. But where to go?
How about lovely Ibusuki, in Kyushu’s far southern Kagoshima Prefecture? Ibusuki, with its mild climate, numerous hot springs, and year-long flowers, is famous throughout Japan as an ideal winter destination, attracting over 3,000,000 tourists every year.
Ibusuki’s biggest event is the Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon held on the second Sunday of every January. The Marathon attracts over 13,000 runners for its two courses (applications for the 2003 event are already closed). In addition to the full 42.195-km marathon, runners can test their endurance in the shorter 10-km event. The event is unparalleled as a spectator event, with runners making their way through a gorgeous course lined with blossoming yellow nanohana (rape blossoms). The whole city comes out to cheer on the athletes, creating a lively atmosphere.
If you get chilly from being outside cheering all day, you can always warm up in Ibusuki’s hot springs. Over 12 tons of hot-spring water come up from 800 sources every day in Ibusuki. The locals claim that their hot springs are the ideal cure for rheumatism, neuralgia, skin disease and ﾒfemale disordersﾓ (whatever that means).
Best of all, Ibusuki features Japanﾕs only natural sand bath, located at the seaside Saraku Sand Bath Hall. The Hall staff dig a hole for you in the warm sand, and you crawl in, warming your body to the core over ten minutes. A profoundly relaxing experience for body and soul. The Hall also offers traditional hot-spring baths and a recreational area.
Ibusuki may be a little far from Fukuoka, but there’s no better place in Kyushu to forget the cold. Flowers, hot springs, a marathon and a sand bath. What more motivation do you need to get out from under that kotatsu?
Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon
January 12 (Sun.) Full marathon (41.195 km) starts at 9:00. 10-km race starts at 9:30. Begins at the Ibusuki City Athletic Field.
Tel:0993-22-2550 (Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon Planning Committee)
Access:Take the train from JR Hakata Station to Nishi-Kagoshima Station on the Kagoshima Line (about 4 hours). From there go to Ibusuki Station by express train on the Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line (50 minutes). The Ibusuki City Athletic Field is about 10 minutes by car from Ibusuki Station. On the day of the Marathon, a special paid shuttle bus will be made available.
Saraku Sand Bath Hall
Address:5-25-18 Yunohama, Ibusuki City, Kagoshima
Hours:8:30-21:00 (on weekdays, closed from 12:00-13:00 for cleaning)
Prices: Sand bath,900yen including yukata. Hot spring only,600yen.