If you love hot springs and you’re in the Tokyo area, why not take a trip out to Kusatsu Onsen Village?
Kusatsu is one of the most famous onsen villages in Japan, yet it’s not very known by those who travel to japan. The village is at 1200m above sea level in Gunma Prefecture and it’s a close distance to Tokyo.
Kusatsu is also a great place to go for hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter, which are both great activities when combined with the natural healing hot spring waters.
What’s most interesting about Kusatsu is that the local culture developed around the hot springs. The most famous landmark, Yubatake, is the heart and soul of the village and is located right in the middle. The Yumomi dance, started off as a method of cooling down the hot spring waters and has developed into a cultural dance. There’s also an endless choice of ryokans in this village where you can relax in the onsens and experience the finest Japanese hospitality. There are also free hot springs located throughout the village where you can just walk in and soak while you’re traveling.
Best Time to Visit
Winter is probably the best time to visit Kusatsu, and just about any onsen village. There’s no feeling like hopping into a nice warm open air bath on a cold, winter day.
In addition to that, the slopes open up for winter sports and there’s a ski resort located just 20 minute walk from the onsen village. In Japan, snowboarding and onsen go together like milk and cookies, which makes Kusatsu one of the best places to go snowboarding in Japan!
How Much Time to Spend in Kusatsu?
Kusatsu Onsen Village is quite small and to be honest, it can be covered in a day. However, the charm point is the hot spring so we recommend staying one night in Kusatsu to take your time and experience the high quality hot spring waters.
Getting to Kusatsu From Tokyo
The best way to get to Kusatsu is to take either the Shinkansen or bus from Tokyo.
Getting there by Shinkansen takes about 3 hours and requires two trains and a bus. This is the recommended way for those with the Japan Rail Pass since you can ride the Shinkansen for free.
From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Takasaki Station and switch to the JR Kusatsu Limited Express train. You get off at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station and transfer to the Kusatsu Onsen bus to get to the village.
For those without a Japan Rail Pass, you can get to Kusatsu Onsen Village at less than half the cost of the Shinkansen. It takes 4 hours but there are also no transfers. Two popular English highway companies are Willer Express and Highway Buses.
Things to do in Kusatsu
The Yubatake is the heart and soul of Kusatsu. Translating to “Hot Spring Field”, the Yubatake is a massive fixture that pumps up hot spring water and cools it down in the middle of central Kusatsu. You can definitely smell the sulfur as it pumps out about 4000 liters per minute, which makes it Japan’s biggest source for hot spring water. If you’ve seen it in the daytime, we suggest visiting it again at night, when the fixture is lit up!
Yukemuri-tei Hot Spring Foot Bath
There’s a small foot bath (ashi yu) located right next to the giant Yubatake. Here you can sit down, relax, and dip your feet into a small pool of the water cooled down through the yubatake.
Watch the Traditional Dance at Netsu No Yu
After the hot spring water is cooled through the Yubatake, the water temperature ranges around 51 to 94 Celsius which is still too hot to bathe in. Mixing this water with cold water would take out the value of the hot spring water, so the traditional method to cooling it down is by stirring it with a long wide paddle. This process developed into a traditional dance called Yumomi, in which they sing folk songs while churning the water.
At Netsu No Yu, you can watch the Yumomi performance and participate as well! Entering Netsu No Yu costs around 600 yen and the performance happens up to 6 times a day. Netsu No Yu is extremely popular among locals and extremely long lines can form, but the building can fit a lot of people so we recommend going in and taking a look.
From the Yubatake, you may notice a set of long stairs leading up to a red temple. If you take the stairs up, you arrive at Kosenji Temple, and you also get a nice clear view of the Kusatsu Onsen Village.
Sainokawara Park, a Natural, Hot Spring Park
You’ll never see anyone leave Kusatsu without visiting the Sainokawara Park. Sainokawara Park is a natural park located close to the central area of Kusatsu. Here you’ll see streams and puddles of what looks like rainwater but is actually hot spring water.
Towards the other end of the park is the Sainokawara Rotenburo (open air bath), one of the biggest open air baths in Japan. The baths are usually separated men and women, but around once a week at night, you wear a special gown and the baths become multi-gender. This onsen also allows tattoos as well!
Kusatsu Tropical Wonderland Zoo
What looks like a small sphere dome towards the east of the Yubatake is actually a zoo. The Kusatsu Tropical Wonderland may not look like much from the outside but is Japan’s highest zoo and is actually the number one zoo when it comes to reptiles. It houses many rare species and many visit the zoo to view the ruffed Lemur.
Hike up Mt Shirane in the Summer
You can take a bus from Kusatsu to Mt Shirane, a nearby active stratovolcano. Near the top of Mt. Shirane is the Yugama Crater Lake with its sky blue colored waters.
The mountain is closed during the winter and bus routes usually run from April to November, so if you happen to visit during the summer, we recommend taking a short hike up to see the incredible views!
Ski & Snowboard in Kusatsu in the Winter
There’s no other feeling like soaking in hot, mineral-rich water after a long day of snowboarding.
In Japan, winter sports and onsen go together like bread goes with butter and very few ski resorts have onsens with bath quality like the one at Kusatsu. The Kusatsu ski resort isn’t huge like Niseko or Hakuba, but it also isn’t as crowded. It’s also one of the closest ski resorts to Tokyo, which makes it a great winter destination!
Dip in the 3 Famous Onsens
While there’s a ton of free onsens, there are three famous ones that are paid: Otaki no Yu, Saigonawara Rotenburo, and Goza no yu.
Saigonawara Rotenburo is the only outdoor one located at the end of Sainokawara Park and the other two are indoors. If you’re a huge fan of onsen, we recommend checking out all three!
Try out a Free Public Onsen
If you walk around Kusatsu, you may notice small bath houses that kinda look like bathrooms. They’re actually small public bath houses and they’re completely free!
Theres many of these throughout the village and you can just walk in and have a bath in a small tub. They tend to be small tubs filled with very hot water so it may not be pleasant, but it’s still worth peeking into.
There’s 19 in total and they’re hard to recognize. Try to see if you can spot them spread throughout the village!
- Shirahata no Yu (白旗の湯)
- Okina no Yu (翁の湯)
- Chiyo no Yu (千代の湯)
- Choju no Yu (長寿の湯)
- Shirane no Yu (白嶺の湯)
- Chitose no Yu (千歳の湯)
- Ruri no Yu (瑠璃の湯)
- Seki no Yu (関の湯)
- Mutsumi no Yu (睦の湯)
- Kimi no Yu (喜美の湯)
- Tatsumi no Yu (巽の湯)
- Jizo no Yu (地蔵の湯)
- Nikawa no Yu (煮川の湯)
- Nagi no yu (凪の湯)
- Megumi no Yu(恵の湯)
- Tsutsuji no Yu (躑躅の湯)
- Choei no Yu (長栄の湯)
- Kobushi no Yu (こぶしの湯)
- Midori no Yu (碧の湯)
There isn’t a whole lot of selections when it comes to restaurants in Kusatsu, but these are some that are worth checking out!
- Cafe/Bar R
- Chikyu ya
Where to Stay in Kusatsu
- Hotel Ichii – Spacious ryokan with Japanese and western rooms overlooking the famous Yubatake.
- Hotel Sakurai – Upscale hotel with western room options, surrounded by tranquil gardens.
- Ryokan Tokinoniwa – One of the few 4 star hotels with outdoor baths, free dining, and sake bar.
- Yubatake Souan – Western style accommodation located near the village center.
- Kusatsu Hot Spring Hotel Takamatsu – Modern upscale hot spring hotel at an affordable rate.