Retro Japan: Beppu's iconic hot spa facility with sand baths offers a trip back in time
BEPPU, Oita -- An elegant building adorned with a "karahafu" curved gable above the entrance that houses a hot spa facility with sand baths in this southwestern Japan city offers visitors a glimpse of the atmosphere from the Showa era (1926-1989).
The Takegawara Onsen facility, which dates back more than 140 years, is located along narrow alleys in the city's downtown area. When the venue opened in 1879, it was just a shanty bathhouse that had a flowing hot spring with stones placed around it and a roof made of bamboo to protect against the rain. The facility was roofed with tiles during renovation work in 1902. That was apparently when the spot was named Takegawara Onsen -- literally meaning "bamboo tile hot spring."
The current structure was built in 1938 by Risaku Murakami, then-engineer at the Beppu Municipal Government's architecture section. With the curved gable, the striking building is iconic in the Beppu Onsen resort area.
Sand baths are popular at the facility. Customers wear a Japanese bathrobe, lie on the sand, and have the bathhouse employees cover their bodies with sand warmed by a hot spring to relax. This bathing style was recreated based on what people would do at beaches.
The high ceiling at the resting space, the well-polished shiny light brown floor and the sound of a tick-tocking wall clock brings bathers back in time to the Showa era.
Takegawara Onsen was registered as a tangible cultural property by the Japanese government in 2004. The water flowing directly from the hot spring source helps local residents as well as tourists relax.
(Japanese original by Minoru Kanazawa, Kyushu Photo Department)
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The Japanese version of this article was originally published on April 25, 2021.
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This series explores Japan's architectural wonders and secrets of yesteryear. Read more Retro Japan articles here.