Kusatsu Onsen: Japan's Premier Hot Spring Resort

Kusatsu Onsen: Japan's Premier Hot Spring Resort

Kusatsu Onsen is a famous hot spring resort high up in the mountains of Japan, sitting at 1,200 meters above sea level. Known for its rich history and generous supply of high-quality spring water, it's said that the waters here can heal anything except a broken heart.

Located in Gunma Prefecture, a bit northwest of Tokyo, Kusatsu is surrounded by the active volcanoes of Mount Shirane and Mount Motoshirane. It's a perfect getaway for any season, offering skiing in the winter and great hiking trails when it's warmer.

The town itself has a welcoming feel, making it a beloved destination for both relaxation and adventure. Whether you're looking to soothe your muscles in the soothing hot springs or just enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, Kusatsu Onsen is a place that will make you fall in love with its simple charms and warm hospitality.


Kusatsu Onsen


A Historic Place Of Healing And Relaxation

Kusatsu Onsen's allure spans centuries, starting from when Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first samurai ruler of the Kamakura shogunate who lived from 1147 to 1199, visited during his reign. His historic visit is still remembered and honored to this day.

In later years, the town gained international praise from Erwin Bälz, a German doctor who came to Japan in the late 19th century. He proclaimed Kusatsu as the finest highland hot spring he'd ever seen, a statement that added to its fame during the era when he served as the personal physician to Emperor Meiji.

Literary and artistic figures have also been drawn to Kusatsu's charm. Naoya Shiga, who lived from 1883 to 1971, penned parts of his renowned novel "A Dark Night’s Passing" while staying in the town. Taro Okamoto, an avant-garde artist active from 1911 to 1996, was so fond of Kusatsu that he helped design a gourd-shaped promenade in the town center.

In 2000, as a nod to its enriched past and in celebration of the town's centennial founding, Kusatsu commemorated one hundred historical figures by placing their names on stone posts, creating a permanent link to its historical and cultural significance. This blending of history with natural beauty makes Kusatsu Onsen a timeless retreat.


Ancient Kusatsu Onsen Town


How To Get To Kusatsu Onsen

Getting to Kusatsu Onsen is part of the adventure! Kusatsu is a cozy little town with about 6,000 people, and it's tucked away so neatly that it doesn’t even have its own train station. Instead, you can catch a bus from Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station, which is about two and a half hours from Tokyo by express train.

If you're coming from Tokyo, another great option is the Joshu Yumeguri Go bus. It runs directly from Shinjuku to Kusatsu, making it super convenient. Once you arrive in Kusatsu, everything is within walking distance, but there are also buses available if you want to rest your feet a bit. This charming town is easy to navigate, letting you soak up the local atmosphere at your own pace.


Express train to Kusatsu


Hot spring culture

Yubatake sits right at the center of Kusatsu Onsen and is the beating heart of the town's hot spring culture. This "hot water field" pumps out a staggering 4,000 liters of hot spring water every minute, fueling the baths and inns around it.

The water from Yubatake is naturally very hot, reaching temperatures over 158 degrees Fahrenheit, and carries a hint of sulfur in the air.

Wooden channels cleverly guide this steaming water to various public baths and hotels in the area. Sai-no-Kawara Street, bustling with shops and accommodations, wraps around Yubatake, where you'll also find a free footbath open to all.

A short walk away is Netsu-no-Yu bathhouse, which offers a peek into the local traditions with its beautiful wooden design. However, the real magic of Netsu-no-Yu isn't for bathing but for watching the ancient art of yumomi, cooling down the hot spring's water.

Here, skilled workers use large wooden paddles to stir the water, performing a traditional song and dance that turns the whole process into a lively show. These performances happen throughout the day, giving everyone a chance to see this unique blend of culture and practicality.


Cultural performance of Kusatsu onsen


Getting around

Kusatsu is a relaxed town that's easy to navigate by foot. At the heart of it all is Yubatake, the vibrant hot water field from which the town’s many baths draw their steaming waters. You can stroll from here to most of the local attractions and ryokan (traditional inns) effortlessly.

If you're in the mood for a bit of nature, Mount Shirane is just a 30-minute bus or car journey from the town center, offering stunning views and a refreshing change of pace.

Yubatake (Hot Water Field)

Yubatake, which means "hot water field," is the heart of Kusatsu and a powerhouse of hot spring water. It gushes out 5,000 liters per minute, making it one of the most prolific sources in Japan.

The water surfaces at more than 70 degrees Celsius, carrying a hint of sulfur in its steam, and is slightly cooled in wooden conduits before flowing into the local ryokan and public baths. These conduits also collect sulfuric sediment, known as yunohana or "hot water flowers," which is gathered and sold as bath salts in nearby shops.

The area around Yubatake is a bustling hub with many ryokans and shops, drawing a constant flow of visitors. In the evenings, many people stroll around in traditional yukata and geta sandals, adding to the town’s charm. The place becomes especially magical at night when Yubatake is beautifully lit up, and there’s even a free foot bath where you can relax after a day of wandering.




Sainokawara Park

Sainokawara Park is nestled just outside the hustle and bustle of Kusatsu's town center. This park spreads across a valley teeming with natural hot spring sources and includes a vast outdoor bath. The trails that wind through the upper parts of the park offer beautiful views of the surrounding nature.

Throughout the park, you can see hot spring water naturally bubbling up, forming warm pools and streams that meander down the valley to meet the central mountain stream. There's even a hot water waterfall, complete with a free foot bath at its base for a quick soak.

One of the park's highlights is the Sainokawara Rotemburo, a public bath that features two large outdoor pools separated by gender, each big enough for 100 bathers. It's the perfect spot to relax and soak in the serene atmosphere.

Just a ten-minute walk from Yubatake, you'll find Sainokawara Park down a quaint road flanked by many ryokans and shops, making it an easy and charming detour during your visit to Kusatsu.


Sainokawara Park


Netsunoyu, Yumomi, and a Dance Show

At Netsunoyu, you can catch a unique performance that brings to life the traditional art of yumomi, a technique used since the Edo period to cool down Kusatsu Onsen's naturally hot waters. Performers use long wooden paddles to rhythmically stir the water, which helps maintain the perfect temperature for a soothing bath.

The show features performers dressed in light kimonos called yukata, singing "Kusatsu-bushi," a song that praises Kusatsu as a must-visit destination. The combination of singing and the rhythmic movement of stirring the water creates a captivating experience.

The Yumomi and Dance Show takes place six times a day at specific times in the morning and late afternoon. Tickets are affordable, with adults paying 600 yen and children 300 yen, and you don't need to make a reservation to enjoy this cultural treat.


Yumomi Dance Show


Try a Hot Spring Foot Bath at Yukemuri-tei

At Yukemuri-tei, right next to the iconic Yubatake, you can enjoy a soothing foot bath crafted from hinoki cypress in the traditional azumaya style. This spot echoes the history of Matsunoyu, a beloved public bath from the Edo period, with its naturally flowing hot spring water.

Just a short three-minute walk from the Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal, you’ll find another inviting foot bath in front of Jizo no Yu. It’s an ideal spot to give your feet a little rest, whether you’ve just arrived in Kusatsu or you're taking a break from browsing the shops near Yubatake.

These foot baths are open around the clock and are completely free, offering a perfect slice of relaxation anytime you need a pause during your adventures in Kusatsu.


Yukemuri-tei Foot Bath


Have a taste of Mouth-Watering Joshu Wagyu Beef

In the lively area around Yubatake, you'll find a delightful mix of shops, cafes, Italian eateries, izakaya bars, and places serving up delicious yakiniku, udon, and soba noodles.

A highlight here is the Joshu wagyu beef, known for its incredible tenderness. This premium beef comes from cows grazed in the rich, green pastures of Gunma, which are fed by clean, mineral-rich waters. This special diet ensures the beef is exceptionally soft and flavorful.

One spot you can't miss is Shitatsuzumi, a yakiniku barbecue restaurant run by a butcher who knows his meat. They buy whole cows to offer a variety of succulent beef cuts at great prices. The taste is unforgettable and sure to satisfy your craving for authentic Japanese barbecue.


Joshu Wagyu Beef


Shopping for Souvenirs at Kusatsu Onsen

If you're looking for a lasting souvenir, consider the karinto sweets from Yuagari Karinto. These treats have durable packaging with a traditional Japanese design, making them great gifts. Another good option is the Yuagari Joshu Beef Bun, made with Joshu Wagyu beef. It's a tasty snack to enjoy while walking around the town.

Grande Fiume Kusatsu offers popular rusks in various flavors like sugar, butter, Earl Grey tea, and garlic. These different tastes are sure to catch your interest. They also sell gelato, which comes with a rusk – a perfect chance to try both.

Other souvenir options include manju, senbei rice cakes, Gunma's specialty dried udon noodles, and Japanese crafts. You can also find cosmetics made with minerals from the hot springs, ideal for gifts.


Shopping at Kusatsu



Night Lights at Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu becomes a beautifully lit town after dark. The areas around Yubatake and Sainokawara Park are especially lovely, offering a magical view that's quite different from what you see during the day.

Kosenji Temple, near Yubatake, looks stunning at night. During the Yume no Akari event, held on the second and fourth Saturdays or holidays from March to November, the temple’s stone steps are lined with 1,200 candles in clear cups, creating a beautiful display.

In Sainokawara Park, the lighting adds a romantic feel, perfect for enjoying the park’s open-air bath under the night sky.


Kusatsu Night


Exploring Nature Around Kusatsu Onsen

Visiting Kusatsu Onsen gives you a chance to see some fantastic natural sites nearby. Just a short walk away is Sai-no-Kawara Park, where you can watch the steam rise from the naturally heated wells and pools. There are walking paths that let you enjoy this calm setting.

For those willing to travel a bit further, volcanic Mount Shirane is an option. Standing tall at 2,160 meters to the northwest of Kusatsu Onsen, it is accessible from April to November for hiking.

The walk from the Shirane Resthouse to the crater lake, Lake Yugama, is fairly easy. Lake Yugama, with its striking turquoise water, is impressive all year round. In autumn, Mount Shirane shows off beautiful colored leaves, and in winter, it hosts several ski resorts on its snowy slopes.




Where to stay

Yubatake Souan Ryokan

At Yubatake Souan, guests can enjoy sweets and snacks in the cafe, though the ryokan does not offer full meals. However, this is not an issue as there are many restaurants along Sai-no-Kawara Street nearby.

The building, which dates back to the Meiji era (1868–1912), has been modernized to ensure comfort, cleanliness, and convenience for its guests, while still retaining the historic feel of Japan's earlier times.


Yubatake Souan Ryokan


Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Boun

Dating back to 1599, Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Boun is known for its long history and excellent service. The hotel features several natural hot springs, known for their acidic waters that are believed to help with metabolism and skin health.

Guests can choose from Western and Japanese-style rooms, some of which include a private hot spring bath. The hotel is just a short walk from Yubatake and Sai-no-Kawara Park. Additionally, guests can enjoy facials, massages, and other treatments at the hotel’s salon.


Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Boun


Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Sakurai

Located just a 10-minute walk from Yubatake, Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Sakurai offers a variety of room types, including traditional Japanese-style rooms and rooms that blend Japanese and Western styles. The hotel is proud of its large bath, which extends about 30 meters, making it one of the longest baths in the region.

Kusatsu-Onsen-Hotel- Sakurai

Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Sakurai