Buried Alive

Buried Alive

A certain amount of it has to come down to trust. Advertising today has got to a point where people regurgitate the work of copywriters as their own opinion without really knowing what they’re talking about: “Yeah but [this generic health product or treatment] is full of nutrients and natural goodness.” What does that actually mean? How do you actually know? Just because something says it’s natural does not make it good. Hemlock is natural. So is necrotising fasciitis. Hell, wasps are wholly organic.

For me – a pedantic cynic – a lot of what are classed as “natural” remedies are little more than placebos. There’s nothing wrong with feeling better, even if the chemical and physical changes in your body are zero – no, it’s nice to feel nice. But selling homoeopathic this and organic that and claiming that it’s infinitely superior to, say, a PH-tested factory-produced cream is, in my opinion hogwash. (That’s not an opinion that’s shared by Katy.) Antioxidants are a classic example. Everyone seems hell-bent on spending a lot of money on antioxidants, and the number of products that claim to contain them is hilarious. Chocolate with antioxidants? Never mind the colossal calorie count and the saturated fat, this has a magic extra ingredient that, when you really think about it, makes it good for you! Yeah!

These are the kind of thoughts that were sloshing around my head as we arriving in Ibusuki to experience a volcanic sand-bath. Here in the south of Kyushu, it seems everything is at least partially volcanic. All the way from Mount Aso, further north in Kumamoto, down to Kagoshima, the Earth’s innards are ready to spill forth. That’s abundantly clear on Sakurajima, which as been in a highly active state since 1955. It’s not all potential cataclysm though. Nope, at the enormous Hakusuikan spa resort, the volcanic power has been harnessed for guests. Sir Sean Connery stayed here while filming You Only Live Twice, and if it’s good enough for the big man…

Of course there is a regular onsen, but the sand-bath is something much more unusual. The concept is that the visitor lies on a bed of dark volcanic sand, which is heated from below by a steaming hot spring, and is then buried up to their neck. The result is that blood-flow greatly increases – up to three times that of a normal onsen, even. So we decided, to suit up in special sand-yukatas and give it a try.

Lying there, with a hot weight pushing down across my chest, is how I suppose it feels to be sat on by a sumo wrestler. Can I move? I’m not sure I could, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t – this is lovely. Somewhere in the back of my head a voice says this is all unnecessarily messy, and there’s a whisper that the exact same effects could be achieved by lying under a kotatsu. But those rubbish, cynical thoughts, are hazy, ill-defined things, washing away in the volcanic heat. Lethargy overcomes me, but just before it does, I turn to say something to Katy… She’s already asleep.

Or maybe she’s passed out. The heat is intense and after the relaxing phase passes, it becomes something more concentrated. The former Russian premier Boris Yeltsin visited here and spent 30 minutes with his considerable girth buried under the sand. He was evidently made of stronger stuff than us.

Just fifteen minutes later, we’re making our own Kill Bill-style break for freedom, sweating profusely as we do so. We feel totally drained,and relaxed at the same time, but if our blood-flow is increased, it’s certainly not hanging around in our brains. We take a seat on a bench and greedily guzzle down some water, the volcanic room spinning gently around us. “Relaxing”, probably isn’t the right word, but I’ll say this much: it definitely works.








1 Comment

  1. Kavey
    November 28, 2011

    Hee! This looks odd and fun and warm. All of which appeal to me!