11/09/201/ (Tue) Kagoshima -> Yakushima-> Kaichu-Onsen
After we ate, we took a bus to the hot spring. It took more than an hour on the bus and cost more than 1,400 yen one way from Miyanoura Port to Kaichu-Onsen. Not so cheap but we had one-day bus pass! Also we enjoyed a long peaceful ride on the bus.
We got off at the Kaichu-Onsen bus stop, and walked down a path for about 10 minutes.
1. Wash your body before getting into the hot spring.
2. Don’t put your feet into “Agari-yu.” (I explain Agari-yu later in this post but you use “Agari-yu” before you leave the hot spring, so “Agari-yu” has to remain clean.)
3. No bathing suits allowed. Towels are allowed.
I’d like to apologize in advance for the low quality of the photos. The inside the hot spring was really slippery, so we mostly used my camera to take photos. It was really sunny but also windy with big clouds in the sky, so it kept going from super bright to really dark and the exposure was going crazy because of the contrast between the big dark rocks and clear water.
We put 100 yen in the donation box, took a bucket by the entrance where a concrete path led to the rocky beach starts, and headed down. And there it was. O_O
You can’t see the hot spring? Okay, how about this?
I didn’t want to be rude and take photos of the hot spring with people in it, so here’s a photo I found on Wikipedia to show you how it looks without people in it.
That’s right, Kaichu-Onsen is completely OUTSIDE. They call it Kaichu-Onsen (Underwater hot spring) because the hot spring appears only about a couple hours during low tide, twice a day. During high tide, the hot spring disappears underwater. (You can check the tide schedule online in Japanese but you can also ask someone at your hotel or inn for the schedule.) What makes this hot spring more famous is that, as you can see, there’s NO CHANGING AREA, TOTALLY CO-ED and NO BATHING SUITS ALLOWED. In other words, you just have to strip down and get cozy with the people in there NAKED. When we got there, there were already three older guys who were probably locals enjoying the hot spring.
If you travel all the way from New York to be in Yakushima, there’s no room for “being embarrassed.” Derek and I took our clothes off without any hesitation, and walked to one of the hot springs NAKED. First we washed with hot spring water and got inside. At Kaichu-Onsen, you don’t have have to use soap to wash your body before getting in, but rinsing your body with hot water is rule number one before getting into a hot spring.
As soon as we got in, we realized that the rocky surface was covered with moss so it was very slippery. The water is lukewarm and sooo clear that you can see EVERYTHING in the water, including your NAKED body. But don’t worry, the people who come to the hot spring don’t give crap about how NAKED you are. The old guys who come there often know that non-Yakushima residents could be embarrassed (especially if it’s a girl), so they were being nice chatting with each other and trying not to look at us.
But soon the old guys realized that I wasn’t shy. Probably because I was so excited going and in and out of the hot spring, testing the other hot spring pockets NAKED. Also it was sooo slippery, Derek and I were struggling/having fun trying not to slip and fall in the water. (Joking aside, the rocks are very jagged so you really have to be careful.)
Yakushima island is mostly comprised of granite, and the area where the hot spring appears is also granite. There are a couple of pockets on the ground where hot water is coming out from under the sea, and they just have pipes going to larger pockets, mixing it with the water from the sea right in front of your eyes.
Then one of the old guys who was washing his body pointed to a smaller hot spring pocket, and said “That one is for women. It’ll make you pretty. ” I know he was being nice, so I didn’t talk back asking him if he was suggesting I wasn’t pretty already.
The one he pointed to was big enough for one person or maybe two small people, so I got in by myself. I was surprised how much warmer the water was in there. I asked him why it was so much warmer. He said it was because the hot water was coming directly out of the ground to the pool. So basically it’s a bigger version of “Agari-yu,” but you can get into this one.
After I warmed myself up, I went back into the bigger one again. As we enjoyed the hot spring and amazing view, I asked the old guys about another hot spring near there, called Yudomari-Onsen. Yudomari-Onsen is also a natural outdoor co-ed hot spring but you can go there 24 hours a day. They were really nice telling me how to get there, and even told me the secret hot spring pockets a little past the big pocket at Yudomari-Onsen. One guy brought shochu in a plastic bottle and filled it with the hot spring water from Agari-yu, telling me that it’d taste awesome with shochu.
TIPS & NOTES: Kaichu-Onsen, only for the brave
It’s a very famous tourist spot, so during tourist seasons, groups of tourists will come by, take photos of the place (including the people in it) and leave, which can be very unpleasant. November is off-season in Yakushima, so we didn’t see any groups of tourists there . A towel is allowed but some people (usually older people) may still think it’s rude. So I suggest you just strip, get in there NAKED and enjoy the amazing view all around you. I can’t emphasize this enough but bathing suits are NOT allowed. I saw some sites in English that say bathing suits *seem to be allowed* in Kaichu-Onsen but this is not true. If you still don’t think you can get naked in public, there’s an “Ashi-yu” (hot spring for feet) there too. Oh also, if you have long hair, tie it up. It’s just a common knowledge for hot springs & public bath.
If you really want to get into the Kaichu-Onsen but you are shy, go there at low tide at night. There’ll be fewer people if not no people at all. But it’ll be very late at night and very dark so bring a flash light with you. (And be extra careful of the slippery rock.)
We saw two young Japanese guys debating whether they should do it or not for 10~15 minutes, but they gave up and left! I’m pretty sure it’s because they saw me.
I shot a short video showing the view from the hot spring! (I shot it with my digital camera, trying not to drop
it while balancing myself on the slippery surface of the hot spring, so it’s a bit shaky, but you get the idea.)
We wanted to go to the other hot spring, Yudomari-Onsen after Kaichu-Onsen, but we totally lost the track of time when we realized we’d been in the hot spring for an hour! The bus doesn’t run in Yakushima often, so we reluctantly gave up going to Yudomari-Onsen and decided to head back to Miyanoura. (We’ll definitely go to Yudomari-Onsen next time!)
When we got to the main building of the hotel, they drove us to the lodge. Inside the car, the driver asked us what we did, and we said we went to Kaichu-Onsen. He was really surprised when I told him that I got in.
The lodge was in the woods, surrounded by cedar trees. The driver said that there’d be Yakushima deer everywhere around the lodge at night. This lodge is very popular and it’s very hard to get a reservation during peak season. (I hear some people book the lodge for the next year when they leave.) It costs a little more than the other hotels, inns, or youth hostel by the main road but when I saw the photo of their bath and found out that there were vacancies, we had to stay there.
TIPS & NOTES: Staying in Yakushima
We stayed at my brother’s place in Tokyo, so I totally forgot to mention this but if you’re booking a hotel, make sure the hotel rates are PER PERSON or PER ROOM. Many hotels charge a room per person. For business hotels it depends on the hotel. (In Kagoshima and Kyoto, they charged per room.)
There are many hotels, inns, hostels and lodges to stay in Yakushima, but it can be troublesome to book a place since many of them don’t take reservations online. Some accept emails, but for the lodge we stayed at I had to call in to book a room.
“Accommodation” on Yakushima: a visitor’s guide – A very nice list of cheap places to stay in Yakushima (the site is in English, but the sites for the hotels are mostly in Japanese)
Yakushima’s official tourist site – Pretty much same as the list by Yakushima: a visitor’s guide, but with photos of the places from the outside. (the site is in Japanese)
*The main ports are Miyanoura and Anbou so there are many hotels around those ports.
Just keep in mind that many people there will not speak or understand English even though it’s a big tourist spot. The islanders are friendly in general but they’ll probably appreciate it if you try speaking Japanese or using a lot of gestures instead of trying to speak just English to them.
We dropped our stuff off and it was already time for dinner.
After dinner, we walked around the lodge. The lodge was especially pretty and very romantic at night.
Well, it was a lodge, so they had bathrooms outside the room. But it wasn’t like an outhouse. It was right outside our room, and one of them was a super high-tech toilet.
This lodge is also known for their beautiful baths but I’ll explain it later.
We had to get up around 3:30 AM the next day, and we knew it’d be a big day. Probably the biggest day of our trip, so we went to sleep very early.
We have over 4000 photos from this trip and there’s no way I can post them all on my blog. So I’m uploading photos from our trip to flickr as I write a post for each day. If you’d like to check out random photos from Japan or us goofing around in Japan, check out my flickr collection by clicking the link below!
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