Bathe like royalty and experience the local longtime tradition of yumomi.
The healing power of Kusatsu Hot Spring is so treasured that Japan’s first, eighth and 10th shoguns had shipped the thermal water to Edo Castle to bathe in it.
The revered hot spring area in Gunma Prefecture (also known as Kusatsu Onsen) is located just two and a half hours from Tokyo by car.
Soaking in the culture at the Kusatsu Onsen
At Kusatsu, you can also find a unique type of onsen water that’s source is a hot crater lake called Lake Yugama. Located 1,200 meters above the sea level on top of Mount Shirane (also known as Mount Kusatsu-Shirane), it is only 30 minutes away by bus from the main tourist area. With moon-like scenery, the white rocks on the mountaintop and the emerald green water of Lake Yugama make you feel otherworldly. Yugama is also known to be one of the most acidic lakes in the world.
Once finished with your visit to Mount Shirane, you can take the bus back to the main tourist area of Kusatsu city.
Back in Time
The small town of Kusatsu has a historic feel to it. Just strolling around the old-world streets will allow you to experience true Japanese culture through the mixture of hot springs, restaurants, local shops and even beautiful nature. If you are looking for some souvenirs, you can find Kusatsu Yunohana bath salts and the famous onsen manju (sweet bean cakes) at the local street shops.
The heart and soul of Kusatsu
In the center of Kusatsu city is the main area, Yubatake (translated in English as “hot water field”). A source of hot spring waters for nearby hotels, Yubatake is a unique place where you can observe the sulphuric waters coming down from the nearby Mount Shirane.
The active volcano (which last erupted in 2018, after more than 30 years of inactivity) gives the water an extremely hot temperature (about 70 degrees Celsius) and makes it impossible to take a bath at that temp. That’s why the locals of Kusatsu have developed the technique called yumomi. This describes the process of stirring bathwater using wide wooden planks in order to cool it down instead of adding cold water which would compromise the purity of it. You can observe this local tradition at Netsu-no-yu, a local onsen next to Yubatake.
Around Yubatake, you can also dip your toes in the public foot baths. While you soak your feet in the super hot water, you can mingle with other tourists and start new friendships while in Japan.
The best time to admire Yubatake onsen is during the evening. Once the sun sets, multicolored lights around the hot spring turn on and the scenery becomes magical.