Winter winds always whip my fantasies south to warmer climes, and about the farthest south you can go by train in Japan is Ibusuki. A small coastal town on the southern tip of Kyushu island, it's home to some 47,000 residents and is marked by sandy beaches, lush vegetation, flowers and palm trees. Due to warm ocean currents, its average year-round temperature is about 66 degrees Fahrenheit, giving it the second-warmest climate in Japan after Okinawa.
Nagasakibana coast Ibusuki is so small that the best thing to do here-admittedly difficult in today's accomplishment-driven world-is succumb to the notion of doing almost nothing at all, except relax, settle into one of Ibusuki's Japanese inns (Hakusuikan Ryokan with its great views, Edo-era replica hot-spring baths, and new museum showcasing pottery and antiques is one of my favorites), and stroll the six-mile-long coast. At one end is Sun-Beach Ibusuki, Ibusuki's popular public beach, as well as Chiringashima, a small uninhabited island you can walk to in low tide.
Hakusuikan ryokan on Ibusuki's coast If you're inclined to be more active, there are also many scenic sights that beckon in Ibusuki's environs, including Nagasakibana Cape, Kyushu's southernmost point; Lake Ikeda, 769 feet deep with eels six feet long-and reportedly its own version of the Loch Ness monster; and the cone-shaped Mt. Kaimon, popularly known as Mt. Fuji of Satsuma.
Mt. Kaimon But what I look forward to the most is having myself buried up to my neck at Yunohama Beach, where the sand is heated naturally by hot springs that surface close to the ground. Here, at the Natural Sand Bath modern facilities that includes hot-spring baths and a sauna, I first change into a yukata and then walk down to the beach, where an attendant digs me a shallow grave and then shovels warm sand on my prone body, leaving only my head above the surface. It's great to just lie there, basking in the warmth and knowing that the thermal waters are working their magic on my joints, muscles, and skin (it's supposed to make your skin beautiful!). I admit it's also a funny sight, to see nothing but a sea of heads sticking out of the ground. Right now, as it begins snowing outside my window, I'd give anything to be one of those heads.