Surrounded by mountains, Kusatsu benefits from Mount Kusatsu-Shirane’s hot springs, located a few kilometers away from its center. Kusatsu’s main activity and interest is thus the onsen resort. The city is quite small, and it takes at most 10 minutes’ walk to reach any place of interest.
The day and night show of Yubatake
The steaming hot water is brought by wooden canals from the heart of the mountain to a large outdoor cooling facility. The whole system is called Yubatake and truly resembles a "hot water field". The perfect parallelism of the wooden canals fascinates visitors, who stroll along the fences or try one of the two ashiyu, the foot baths, containing water from the same hot spring.
The hot waterfall, the Japanese lanterns Yutaki and the wooden structures give a natural charm to the place. Quite crowded in the daytime, Yubatake at night offers fairytale like and peaceful nightly landscapes, with the steam rising in the dark and a very beautiful highlight of the structure.
Temples and restaurants in downtown Kusatsu
Yubatake is the center of the town, and the starting point to the paths for most attractions. Just in front of the "hot water field" stands the Netsunoyu building where the Yumomi ceremonial, typical of Kusatsu, is performed every day. This show is a must-see for first time travelers in Kusatsu, as they can watch the traditional manual cooling of the hot spring waters. In a more secluded place a little bit further south, a long stone stairway leads to the Kosenji, Kusatsu’s temple. In the opposite direction, towards north, Shirane Jinja Shrine and its surroundings offer a nice walk in the upper parts of the city.
All these places are small size facilities, located quite close to each other, and the walk between them is pleasant, even in snowy period, as the paths are always clean and clearly identified. A couple of shopping streets start from Yubatake. Numerous small eateries serve Japanese traditional pastries, tea and skewered grilled fish. Some good soba noodle restaurants can also be found in these streets, like Matsumi, with its delicious duck noodles, in a peaceful and pleasant setting. On the other hand, Yakiniku Azuma is a good restaurant for grilled meat and fresh beer amateurs after a bath.
Kusatsu’s public onsen
Kusatsu City manages several bath houses. The smallest ones have only one bath (men and women separated), but their entrance is free, which contributes to the uniqueness of Kusatsu. It makes it easy to try several onsen and enjoy many atmospheres:
- We particularly appreciated Shirohatanoyu, whose wooden bath is located under a high tower, giving a cathedral-like feeling amidst rising steam.
- Jizonoyu is a must-try for every hot bath amateur. There is also an ashiyu foot bath at the entrance.
- Gozanoyu, is one of the three biggest public onsen, and is a beautiful wooden modern building.
- Otakinoyu, located a bit off to the east, is characterized by a huge wooden room, with a series of underground baths of various temperatures.
- Finally, Sainokawara Park, a bit off to the west, provides open air hot baths in an invigorating forest setting.
Most of the hotels and ryokan inn also have their own onsen. Winter is the touristic peak season in Kusatsu, so the prices of the accommodations rise accordingly. However, as the city is quite small, most of them are in a convenient location, not very far from the Yubatake and the bus station.
Mount Shirane also houses a skiing area called Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort.
How to get to Kusatsu
From Ueno JR Station:
- ~1h30 by Limited Express train to Nagano-Hara-Kusatsu-Guchi Station (¥5,370 / ~US$ 48.30 or free with the Japan Rail Pass, the only direct train, but less frequent)
- ~25 minutes by local bus to Kusatsu Onsen, frequent departures during the day (¥710 / ~US$ 6.40 or free with the Japan Rail Pass)
or ~4 hours by JR Kanto bus from Shinjuku (¥3,800¥ / ~US$ 34.20)
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Shirohatanoyu and Jizonoyu baths: free
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Shirohatanoyu and Jizonoyu baths: open every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
How long / when to visit
Allow one to two days
Best season in winter
草津温泉 (Kusatsu Onsen)