Buried Alive

They buried me alive before breakfast.

My shallow grave had been dug already; the quiet man in the blue coat simply lied me down inside, pressed my legs tightly together, and pushed my arms against my sides. I lay in place silently, a willing corpse, listening to the terrible crunch of the shovel as the gravedigger cut into the piles of warm earth and dropped heavy loads of sand on top of my body.

Soon only my white head remained, a ghost peering up from the black beach. The sun was rising in the East but the man blocked the coming daylight with a red paper parasol. I only saw red and felt the heat of the Earth squeezing me tighter and tighter. Perspiration seeped out of me like blood from a wound. By now my face was glossy but my buried hands could not wipe away the concentrated sweat.

The sand baths of Ibusuki are hot, warmed from the natural hot springs bubbling just below the surface of the beach. Stick your hand in the volcanic sand and you feel the pleasant warmth—dig down any deeper and you’ll get scalded.

 

Guests at the public sand baths at the beach in Ibusuki. Private hotel spas offer similar treatments, meant to warm and invigorate the body. (AE, NGS)

 

Getting buried in the hot wet sand is therapeutic, they say. The translated brochure informed me that it was very good for lumbago and apoplexy, as well as menopause. I believe in preventative medicine, so I gave it a try.

“Fifteen minutes maximum,” the gravedigger had pointed at the only sign in English, and so through the sweat in my eyes, I watched the blurry clock some fifteen feet away from me, ticking so slowly. Hideous, high-pitched Japanese music squealed over a loudspeaker, like The Chipmunks singing kabuki opera. I wanted to plug my ears from the noise. I also wanted to wipe my dripping itchy face, but I was buried and immobile, my hands subdued beneath the boiling sand. Surely, this was more torture then spa treatment.

But Boris Yeltsin adored these sand baths, I was told. The former president of Russia had traveled here with his wife and daughter on vacation, revealed Shimotakehara-san, the CEO of my hotel, Hakusuikan. (I say, when Boris Yeltsin is the name that is getting dropped, then you know you’ve come to the right place.) Sand baths are recommended not more than once every two weeks or so, but apparently Boris Yeltsin was buried daily. What’s more, instead of the normal fifteen minutes, Boris lay buried and boiling for at least 30 minutes at a time. What a man.

But then again, Boris Yeltsin died a few years after. Death was not one of the disorders listed in the brochure as curable by sand bath treatments.

 

Men wearing yukata (bathing robes) rest after taking a sand bath in Ibusuki (AE, NGS)

 

Only dead people wear their kimonos left side tucked under right. At a Japanese funeral, the body is dressed in its final robe in this symbolic fashion. If you still have a pulse, you wear it the other way: left over right. I was very careful of this when dressing in my flowery blue and white cotton yukata—right side wrapped around the front, then left pulled over the top, and after, winding the dark blue silk sash two times around my waist and tying it up. I had not been properly instructed on the right way to tie up my yukata. I knew there had to be one right way because this is Japan—there is a right way for everything. I was most anxious about how to tie the bow—I wanted to appear more like a samurai and less like Pollyanna. I was only guessing at masculine protocols in the structured world of Japanese manliness—guessing that a perky silk bow tied in the front of my robe did not help my cause.

But now all of me was buried underground—my shameful silk bow, my funeral robe and my now-cooked body. In the brochure diagram there had been a before and after picture, two test tubes of “venous blood”—the first dark purple, the second cherry red. This was an example of the “wonderful effect of the sand bath”. In addition to treating any neuralgia, hemorrhoids, asthma and infertility, the sand baths would also change the color of my blood to red.

Vivid red. The same vivid red as the light that poured through the red paper parasol over my head, casting the clock with a red glow.

I tried desperately to relax but kept checking that clock, thirteen minutes, fourteen minutes; fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds, thirty-six seconds. Fifteen minutes passed and yet when it finally did, I failed to erupt from the grave. I waited, remembering Yeltsin, thinking I could hold out just a bit longer. I thought of the cooked octopus served me in some way or form at every dinner and lunch—purple on the outsides, white on the inside. That was me—a cooked octopus.

After sixteen minutes the gravedigger returned, shovel in hand. He would not leave me lying there any longer. He commanded me to get up, and like Lazarus, I complied, breaking the earth with new strength and struggling to my feet. Yeltsin could have this one—for the record, it was at a Japanese resort in Kyushu that I accepted the fact that Boris Yeltsin is much more of a mensch than I shall ever be.

I shook the black pepper sand from my robe, looked back at the rather morbid imprint of my body in the ground and felt very happy to be alive. If that was the only effect of the sand bath therapy, then perhaps it was all worth it.

Afterwards, I lingered under a long, cold shower that proved beneficial in curing me from the effects of the heat. And then I had breakfast, which turned out to be a wonderful treatment for hunger.

 

Near Ibusuki, cone-shaped volcano Mount Kaimon last erupted in 885 A.D. (AE, NGS)

Comments

  1. Shan
    September 13, 2011, 8:41 am

    Cooked like an octopus… LOL

  2. Ken
    Toronto
    September 13, 2011, 9:43 am

    I learn something new about Japanese traditions and practices every day from you Andrew-san. Thank you.

  3. Monica
    Missouri
    September 14, 2011, 11:48 pm

    Your therapeutic burial gives me the shivers. I am very glad you are alive, too! Thanks for the journey, this one is very educational. God bless. Lovely photos, btw :)

  4. [...] sailors washed ashore on the beaches of Ibusuki—the same hot black sand beaches where I had buried myself the day [...]

  5. [...] days. I had done all the touristy things you’re supposed to do—I had seen the volcano, had bathed in the sand, had visited the Shimadzu palace and its cat shrine, and had toured far more museums than is [...]

  6. EUN
    Kingwood
    September 16, 2011, 11:42 am

    I had an experience of this kind of thing not in Japan in Korea and it’s actually good.

  7. [...] Evans is currently in Japan, check out his posts: the "Buried Alive" story and hipstamatic pictures are really [...]

  8. Scott
    November 9, 2011, 3:19 pm

    I went to the hot sand baths when I lived in Kagoshima 10 years ago. It was so relaxing and I loved it! I stayed buried for 45 minutes. At that point my tailbone was on fire… My Japanese boss had grown up in Ibusuki and regularly spent 4-5 hours buried. Maybe you can’t do that now?

  9. Wanda
    blue springs
    December 16, 2011, 7:41 am

    Amazing! My family & I are about to go to Hawaii. Our vacationing spot just so happen to be situated a block from a volcanic black sand beach. It was meant for me to read this post before this trip. For the last few months, a top desire of mine has been to detox my body, oxygenate it, flush my lymphs, get my cells’ wall permeable so that they can absorb oxygen & excrete toxins more efficiently… I see clearly now why I was drawn to this location near the volcanic sand as a vacation spot! I will bury myself before breakfast… tough it out, like Yeltsin! It is so rare to find an adult with highly oxygenated cherry red blood today. Blood bank & hospital staff would agree. Priceless information in this blog. Great photos. Much appreciated.

  10. [...] being buried alive in Japan to dogsledding in Canada to indulging in Creole cuisine in New Orleans, Andrew Evans’ line of [...]

  11. Huy Trinh
    Dallas, Texas
    March 28, 2012, 7:18 pm

    t has never been boring to read your article. Your detailed description of this therapeutic experience give me the feeling of reading a adventure novel. I find your addition of the famous figure- Boris Yeltsin into the experience really interesting because with that famous name, your article about “sand bath” draw my attention in the first lines. Now I learn there’s more about Japan than the cherry and the sun. I’m excited to try the “sand bath” one day. Thank you for your passion in sharing the cultures to the world.

  12. travis
    May 3, 2012, 8:35 am

    wow i would notr beable to do that i would get scared

  13. […] I never imagined that I would get paid to build bombs, cuddle sharks, track bears, kiss pandas, be buried alive, make Swiss cheese, or chase elephants from my yard. But I did all those things—and so can […]

  14. Shan
    November 4, 5:01 pm

    I want to try that