Gunma

Guide to Kusatsu Onsen

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. 

About Kusatsu

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.

By Shinkansen

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. 

By Bus

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

Yubatake

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.

Kosenji Temple

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

Mt.SHIRANE

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) 

Restaurants

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
  • Yumehan
  • Mikuniya
  • Yumehana

Where to Stay in Kusatsu

Luxury

  • 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.

Mid Range 

  • Yubatake Souan – Western style accommodation located near the village center.
  • Kusatsu Hot Spring Hotel Takamatsu – Modern upscale hot spring hotel at an affordable rate.

Budget

6 Best Ski Resorts for Snowboarding in Japan

Any snowboard enthusiast would know that Japan is world famous for snowboarding and winter sports; There’s over 500 facilities in the country and the snow quality in Japan is amazing.

But you don’t need to be a hobbyist to enjoy snowboarding in Japan and it’s an activity recommended to anyone that visits the country. However, with the 500 different facilities in this small island, it’s hard to choose where to go during your limited time here. 

In this article, I present 6 different snowboard resorts, handpicked by us and our friends, that are some of the best ski resorts in Japan. Make sure to read until the end to find out Tomomi’s favorite spot!

Why Japan for Snowboard?

There are two main reasons why Japan is famous for snowboard: the snow and the facility. 

Japan is made up of 73% mountain and there is constant snowfall in these mountainous regions during the winter. The snow that falls in these regions are powder snow, really soft snow and something that you can only get in really cold climates. 

To complement the perfect landscape for snowboarding, Japan has built incredible facilities to encourage winter sports. There’s tons of ski lifts, restaurants in the slopes, and great transportation and lodging in these remote ski resort areas (not to mention the amazing views you can get at just about any ski resort).

When is Snowboarding Season?

Specific dates for snowboarding season may vary from area to area, but in general, it starts around the second week of December and ends around the end of March. Off-season usually starts and ends one week before and after the the season. 

For specific dates for snowboarding season, you can confirm through each ski resort’s website.

What to Bring?

While you can rent the snowboard, winter jacket, and winter pants at just about any ski resort, these are some items you should consider bringing to your trip:

  • snow hat/ helmet
  • snow goggles
  • snowboard gloves
  • winter socks
  • warm inner layer (like Uniqlo HeatTech)

Mailing Your Snowboard

In Japan, if you’re bringing your own snowboard, you have the option to send it by mail to the hotel you’ll be staying at. When you make the reservation, accommodations near ski resorts often also provide a mailing address for this reason. 

For those that take public transportation to the ski resorts, it can help take some load off their hands and for those that go by car, it can help clear up some space in the car. It’s not a bad idea and relatively affordable. Yamaneko provides quotes on their website if anybody is curious about the prices.

Niseko in Hokkaido (Most Popular)

Niseko is one of the biggest and probably the most famous ski parks in Japan. This back-country ski resort is located in a remote location in Hokkaido and comprised of 4 ski resorts, each with fresh powder snow and its own unique courses.

How to get there

  • From Shin Chitose Airport: 3 hours by train or bus (reservation required)
  • From Sapporo: 3 hours by train
  • From Hakodate: 4 hours by train

Where to stay

Budget

  • Always Niseko – Modern hotel with great service and free shuttles to the ski resort.

Mid Range

Luxury

Shiga Kogen in Nagano (Most Interesting)

Shiga Kogen is an awesome ski resort that’s less known amongst travelers. It is actually one of the highest ski resorts in Japan and is very close to nature. The Shiga Highlands, one of Japan’s 9 UNESCO biosphere conservation area, is located right at the base of the ski resort and the hot spring monkey park in Jigokudani is very close as well. 

The village area is very quiet and don’t often have English support, but for those that want to experience Japan’s nature in a more remote region, Shiga Kogen is a great place to visit. 

How to get there

  • From Nagano Station: 70 minutes by train
  • From Yudanaka Station: 35 minutes by local bus
  • From Narita/Haneda: 5.5 hour bus ride (reservation required and only during season)

Where to Stay

Budget

  • Hotel Mount Shiga – Simple hotel with snow gear locker and hot spring near the ski resort.

Mid Range

Luxury

Hakuba in Nagano (Most Balanced)

Hakuba is where they held the 1998 Olympics and it’s been a popular snowboard destination since. Once you’re in the Hakuba valley, you’re surrounded by white-topped mountains in every direction and there are a number of hot springs and restaurants so you can enjoy your time before and after the slopes. 

How to get there

  • From Nagano: 70 minutes by bus
  • From Tokyo: 6 hours by bus (reservation required)

Where to Stay

Budget

Mid Range

Luxury

Kusatsu in Gunma (Best Onsen)

The Kusatsu ski resort is one of the more underrated places for snowboarding. The Kusatsu Onsen Village is one of the most famous hot spring areas in Japan and the ski resort is within walking distance from here.

The Kusatsu ski resort is a bit smaller than others but it’s usually not crowded so it’s a good balance. It’s also very close to Tokyo and much cheaper than other resorts so you can even make a day trip!

How to get there

  • From Kusatsu Hot Spring: 20 minute walk or shuttle bus
  • From Tokyo: 6 hours by bus (reservation required)

Where to Stay

Budget

Mid Range

Luxury

  • Hotel Ichii – Spacious ryokan with Japanese and western rooms overlooking the famous Yubatake. 

Yuzawa in Niigata (Most Accessible)

Not only does the area get tremendous snowfall every year, Yuzawa is also one of the most easily accessible ski resorts from Tokyo, with an expressway and a Shinkansen station running through the area. 

The place is also filled with sightseeing spots, onsen, and restaurants which make it a great travel destination as a whole. If you happen to be traveling around in Tokyo in the winter months, I definitely recommend making a snowboard trip out to Yuzawa!

How to get there

  • From Tokyo: 90 minutes by Shinkansen or 4 hours by local train

Where to stay

Budget

  • Sports Plaza Shirakiba – Simple tatami floor rooms and has a restaurant, equipment rentals, and communal bath. 

Mid Range

Luxury

  • Hotel Futaba – 4 star hotel with Japanese and western room options and upscale outdoor bath. 

Zao in Yamagata (Most Unique)

The Zao ski resort is most famous for the thick, snow covered trees called Juhyo or “Snow Monsters”. There is so much snowfall in this area that the snow completely envelops the trees, making them look like giant snowmen.

Even with thousands of snowmen guarding the mountain, there’s still lots of room to ride your board down the slopes as Zao is one of the biggest resorts in the area. Throughout the year, Zao is also famous for its onsen, which is a perfect relaxation after a long day of winter sports. 

Snowboarding in this snowman village is a completely out of this world experience and she highly recommend taking a trip out to Zao if you can!

How to get there

  • From Yamagata: 40 minutes by bus
  • From Sendai: 100 minutes by bus
  • From Tokyo: 8 hours by bus (reservation required and only during season)

Where to stay

Budget

Mid Range

Luxury

What are some places you like to go for snowboard? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!