Kusatsu Onsen is a hot spring district located in Gunma Prefecture, with the largest volume of high quality hot spring water in Japan. A well-known hot spring resort, Kusatsu is also known as a skiing destination in the winters, with picturesque hiking trails for the rest of the seasons. The town is also considered the best hot spring resort for the last ten years, according to the “Top 100 Hot Spring Resorts in Japan” by Kankokeizai News Corporation. In addition, the town also boasts many restaurants that breathe life into the town’s nightlife.
The steaming hot springs flows freely around the town, making hot spring hopping a recommended activity for visitors coming for the experience. There are about a hundred hot springs in Kusatsu–the most notable being Yubatake, which flows like a waterfall in the town center.
Kusatsu Onsen has a specialty snack that is a must-try for the area–Onsen Manju. A traditional Japanese steamed sweet bun that’s filled with red bean paste, but what makes it special is its use of hot spring water for the dough and cooked with the steam from the hot springs. One can buy this special treat in any confectionery shop in the area. Visitors can also enjoy a Yumomi Performance that is held everyday where a local group comes in costume to stir and cool the hot spring water–accompanied by folk songs and a dance.
Nearby, there is the Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort which offers courses for beginners and families. The ski resort also offers a free shuttle bus ride from Kusatsu Onsen area. More adventurous tourists can also take a hiking trip around Mount Shirane, also called Kusatsu-Shirane, which is a series of volcanic peaks. It is also home to the world’s most acidic lake in the Yugama Crater.
One of these many accommodations is Tsutsujitei, a fusion of traditional ryokan ambiance with resort-hotel elements. The hotel boasts of a 17,000 square meter garden, and 10 luxurious guest rooms. It also has special accommodation in the form of a separate villa on the property that comes with its en-suite open-air bath. Japanese kaiseki dishes are served to the guests, delicately prepared by the chef with featured seasonal ingredients from Tsukiji, and unique to Tsutsujitei. Guests are invited to relax in the large communal bath, “Urara no Yu” and the private bath “Tama no Yu”. The hot spring waters are known to be acidic and have been popular for generations for their therapeutic effects.
Near the Yubatake, Hotel Sakurai features guest rooms overlooking the mountainside, some with their private hot spring bath. The building and the rooms are also accessible to people with disabilities. the hotel-style ryokan offers Japanese, Chinese, and Western cuisines that feature homemade “Asama brewing tofu”, local vegetables, Joshu Beef, and Rainbow Trout Ginhikari. While a short distance from the city center, Tokinoniwa is a hilltop ryokan that features multiple hot spring baths, spacious rooms, and tatami flooring throughout the building. Each room features a private open-air hot spring bath. In addition to the private baths in the suites, guests can experience spa hopping at the large public baths with the 23 types of bathtubs and open-air baths wherein the waters are sourced from two springs.
A more traditional Japanese inn, Naraya, a prestigious ryokan, has a history that spans over 130 years, from its founding in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and is situated near the “Yubatake”, or hot water field. Guests are invited to relax in the large communal baths with hot spring waters sourced nearby. Alternatively, there are private indoor baths that can also be reserved in advance. Osakaya is another historical and luxurious ryokan with a history spanning over 150 years and was designed with traditional Japanese architecture that utilizes geometric patterns and black and white motifs. Seasonal meals are served in the guest rooms, with dishes featuring Echigo Seafood, Tsukiji Tuna, and Kyoto vegetables. Sukiyaki kaiseki featuring Joshu beef is also offered for the guests in the teahouse. The ryokan features multiple hot-spring baths with the waters sourced directly from the nearby “Yubatake” or water field. With a choice of open-air and indoor baths, guests may be able to take their pick among cypress baths and rock baths. Osakaya also features a tea room and a gallery that displays works and the inn’s history over the years.
The many accommodations around the town are clustered closely together, making it an ideal place to explore, as everything is a short walk away. Fortunately, getting to Kusatsu is very convenient from Tokyo, where many direct buses are en route per day. Travelers can also take the train or bus from Naganohara and Karuizawa.
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