Long hours of non-stop travel can be unkind to the body. The mind suffers slightly as well, feeling the paradox of moving across tremendous distances, at remarkable speeds, all the while sitting still. Of course, the excitement of being in Japan doesn't disappear; the idle simply need to be reactivated. The best way to do this is to visit an onsen as soon after you arrive as possible.
My first destination, Kurume Onsen, sits atop a small slope off Yu Ban road. Despite its insipid exterior and somewhat tacky foyer, the baths themselves are surprisingly lovely, a world apart from the place's facade.
Having arrived early in the morning, I was able to shower – to scrub myself raw, really - and soak in solitude. I had my pick of several empty pools: one with a couple tiled “water beds,” two with jets bubbling from the floor and peripheral walls, another made of cedar fed by the main mineral water source.
I chose the latter, lowered myself into the hot, sulfuric pool and breathed for what felt like first time since leaving home. I ran my fingers along the water-softened wooden lip above the neighboring tub as I stretched my arms; I arched and folded my torso; I opened my hips, cranky from so much sitting. I let the water roll over my shoulders, and breathed some more. My body sufficiently loosened, I settled by the steamed, floor-to-ceiling window and rubbed out a circle for a glimpse at the courtyard. Vapors rose temptingly from a pool at the base of the hill, and a beautiful garden was sculpted out of it. You would never have guessed, passing by on the street.
After an hour-and-a-half of blissful soaking, I scrubbed once more, and gaped at the woman in the mirror – she was flushed, tomato-red, a newborn. Clearly, my circulation had improved since stepping my weary feet across the threshold at Kurume Onsen – and my spirits had as well.
If you find yourself in Kurume City, visit its only hot spring and take advantage of the 3-hour early-morning bath offering, as I did, or make arrangements for overnight stays in a Western- or Japanese-style room at the hotel. During an extended stay, sample their aromatherapy, massage, and dining services. And breathe.