Must hurry to post this before winter has completely gone!!
Japanese people are so much in love with onsen, hot springs. Generally, ‘onsen’ refers bathing facilities, inns around hot springs or hot spring resorts. There are numerous hot springs here and there in Japan, and people enjoy various types of bathing facilities in a dozen ways: popping in an urban public bath house equipped with a sauna or offers spa massage services, dipping in an open-air hot spring on riverbank or riverbed after a long bike or motorcycle ride in mountains, staying at a luxury ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, to enjoy onsen and very tasty and high quality Japanese cuisine, etc.
An ideal onsen holiday – must be in rural mountains or by the sea, hopefully snowy places in winter. My favourite one is, at an onsen close to the sea, eating crabs and doing a public hot spring bath crawl, which I am going to try again next winter and post on this blog .
Hakone Hot Springs Resort is one of my favourite destinations – no crabs though. Hakone is very popular among hot spring goers and tourists because of the easy access from Tokyo, and beautiful and spectacular views of Mt Fuji.
The onsen holiday we enjoyed this winter was a simple and basic one for a weekend gateway from Tokyo. Kusatsu Onsen is one of the most famous hot springs resorts in Japan, and considered one of the three most renowned hot springs along with Arima Onsen and Gero Onsen. We made a visit at a very cold wintry weekend – windy and snowy – so it was an ideal day for taking an onsen!
The most popular tourist place is Yubatake, the biggest (in water volume) hot spring in Kusatsu Onsen, which literally means ‘a field of hot water’, where hot spring water is cooled down in the wooden conduits by a few degrees before it gets distributed to the various ryokan and public baths.
Kusatsu Onsen is famous for its quality and quantity of spring water. In Kusatsu Onsen altogether, about 32,000 liters of hot spring water are pouring out of the ground per minute and Yubatake itself 4,040.
Another tourist attraction is Yumomi performance in Atsunoyu Building adjasent to Yubatake. Yumomi is a traditional way to cool hot spring water. Unlike other onsen, the temperature of spring water is extremely hot – it depends on the sources but it’s between 50 °C and 90 °C (125°F – 195°F) – while at many other onsen, the water needs to be heated up as it isn’t hot enough to bath in.
It used to be cooled down like this (What a labour!) but not any longer.
After the performance, we had some walk up to Sainokawara Koen Park with hot spring streams, ponds and waterfalls.
There is a open-air onsen in the park for public use – of course, we didn’t try it 😀
Instead, we enjoyed rotenburo, an outside bath in the hotel we stayed.
MUST EAT in Kusatsu or Onsen Resort
Onsen Manju, a steamed bun stuffed with koshian, mashed and sweetened azuki bean paste. It is said that the munju used to be steamed with steam from hot springs but not any longer. I highly recommend Matsumura Manju shop’s in Kusatsu!
You might also want to try Onsen Tamago. Onsen Tamago, an egg poarched inside its shell slowly cooked in 30-40 °C hot water, is another speciality. Well, it’s still called so even though boiled in a pan over a stove at home… but anyway, it is literally authentic Onsen Tamago!!
How to get to Kusatsu Onsen
Bus from Shinjuku, more precisely at JR Yoyogi Station, is the easiest way but advanced booking is a must!
There is another way with trains – http://kusatsuonsen-international.jp/en/access/
Where to stay
The Kusatsu Hotel, where we stayed, is one of the best ryokan in Kusatsu Onsen and has a long history – opened in 1913.