Steamy volcanic Kusatsu remains top of the onsen towns
Japan's travel agents have named Kusatsu Onsen the best in the country for well over a decade. Located in the highlands of western Gunma, Kusatsu is a haven for winter sports and hot springs, with mountain trails opening up for volcanic exploration. The healing waters are the big draw, but the landscape of this region is ideal for taking long nature walks.
- Bathe in some of the most famous hot springs in Japan
- Yugama, the pale turquoise lake that is one of the world's most acidic
How to Get There
Kusatsu Onsen is easily accessible by train and bus from Tokyo and Nagano.
Train: JR trains run from Ueno in Tokyo to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station (two and a half hours). A JR bus will then take you to Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal in 25 minutes.
Bus: The Joshu Yumeguri-go buses run directly from Shin-Minamiguchi Terminal in front of Shinjuku Station to Kusatsu Onsen daily (three hours and 45 minutes).
Two buses run from Karuizawa (Nagano Prefecture) to Kusatsu Onsen daily. The Kusakaru bus takes just over an hour from Karuizawa to the Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal. The Seibu Kogen bus runs from Karuizawa to Manza Onsen and Onioshidashi before reaching the Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal.
Kusatsu Onsen is regularly named Japan's best by travel agents
The onsen's waters are known for their healing qualities
Various Tokugawa warlords had Kusatsu's waters transported to Edo (old Tokyo)
A whole field of hot water
The Yubatake—literally meaning hot water field—is where the mineral-rich waters gush out from the ground. This is the symbol of Kusatsu, and it is right in the center of town. It is used to cool the hot water to a more bearable temperature. The onsen water is known for its high acidity, and it is potent enough to kill various kinds of bacteria.
Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane is an active volcano renowned for the craters around its summit. The most famous crater is the milky-turquoise Yugama, known as the most acidic lake in Japan. It is best to hike around the crater lakes and see the highland flora and fauna in the warmer months. In the winter, you can access the summit and absorb the magnificent views of the Japan Alps on a snowshoe tour.
Located on the border of Gunma and Nagano prefectures, Mt. Asama is an active volcano with a treeless conical shape. Onioshidashi Park is a must-see for its eerie volcanic rock formations, which were created during the last major eruption in 1783.
More than just a place to bathe
Kusatsu has scenic hiking trails, an international music festival, and the Tour de Kusatsu bicycle race. If you love winter sports, come for the eight-kilometer downhill run at Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort . Located between Kusatsu and Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane, you can ski, snowboard, or even go heli-skiing and then come back to relax with a long soak in the famous hot springs.
Explore the narrow streets near the Yubatake and you will find treats to eat such as onsen manju (steamed buns), onsen tamago (eggs boiled in the hot spring), and rice crackers. There are arts and crafts shops and museums toward Sai-no-Kawara Park.
A worthy alternative to Kusatsu
Nearby Manza Onsen has been a local secret for many years. You can feel the high sulfur content of the milky-white waters tingling on your skin. This is one of the highest-altitude hot springs in Japan, making it an ideal place to enjoy a rotenburo outdoor bath in the snow with a view.