Stroll down charming alleys in your cotton yukata and wooden sandals breathing in the aroma of Kusatsu Onsen, an authentic onsen town in Gunma Prefecture.
Although there is no train station in the town, Kusatsu is still easily accessible.
The most convenient way is by car, taking in the beautiful scenery along the Japan Romantic Road linking Nagano, Gunma, and Tochigi. From Tokyo, it takes around 3 hours, or from the shinkansen station in Takasaki, it takes around 1.5 hours.
There are direct buses from Shinjuku Bus Terminal. Take the JR Joshu Yumeguri-go bus to Kusatsu, via Ikaho Onsen. One way is ¥3,200 and ¥5,600 return.
The nearest train station is JR Naganohara Kusatsu Station. It takes around 2.5 hours from Ueno by direct express train (¥4620). From there, take the connecting 25-minute bus ride to Kusatsu (¥670).
Yubatake Special Light-Up (March)
Flower Festival (May)
Shirane Shrine Festival (July)
Hot Spring Appreciation Festival (August)
Kusatsu International Music Academy and Festival (in August)
This large hot water system is the symbol and heart of Kusatsu Onsen. The distinct aroma will guide you to the yubatake — literally translated as hot water field — in the center of town. Geothermal water rises to the surface straight from the source and is cooled as it runs along a series of connected wooden chutes while maintaining the natural mineral content.
Hot steam billows as the water gushes down into the emerald reservoir. Kusatsu has the highest water output of any onsen in Japan. With high temperatures (around 55°C) and high acidity, the water is said to cure many conditions and is especially good for your skin. Several Tokugawa shoguns had the water transported in barrels to their castle in Edo (now Tokyo).
From the yubatake, you can easily stroll to Netsunoyu hall to watch the yumomi performance. Onsen workers cool the water by dipping and turning wooden planks, churning the water to the rhythm of a folk song. You can get a chance to try the rhythmic cooling, but it's harder than it looks. There are also several free public onsen baths around the center of town; you can find details at the information center next to the yubatake.
Take the narrow alley near the Netsunoyu and explore the quaint arts and crafts shops, featuring milky glass inspired by the waters. Be sure to try onsen manju (steamed sweet buns) and onsen tamago (eggs boiled in the hot springs). Follow the alley all the way to Sainokawara Park, an open area where natural hot water surfaces in several pools.