CJ Jenkins Culture Nature Temple Japan

Kusatsu Onsen : A hot-spring heaven on Earth

Kusatsu Onsen is known in Japan as one of the most famous natural onsen towns. It is in the Gunma prefecture mountains, about a 3-and-a-half-hour drive from TUJ’s campus. The sulfuric water that flows through the town comes from and is naturally heated by the ground and is said to cleanse your body of impurities and remedy “all illnesses except lovesickness” (can’t have it all!). Along with the various open-air and indoor hot spring locations, beautiful mountain ridges are visible from almost everywhere around town, and I hear skiing is also great during the winter seasons! I recently had the chance to go on a TUJ trip to Kusatsu, and I can say it’s worth the hype.  

After a few hours and a couple rest stops later, we arrived at the traditional Japanese Ryokan style hotel that we stayed in for the night. It was small but cozy, and we had the entire place reserved for the weekend; the vibe was great. To make it even better, everyone was given a Yukata (meaning “bathing cloth,” commonly worn in Onsen towns and various festivals) to wear during our stay, which is part of the usual experience when you go to this type of inn along with tatami matted floors and multi- course meals called kaiseki ryōri.

Traditional Japanese dishes filled with various sea foods and vegetables.
Kaiseki ryōri, this was just the beginning of what became one of the best meals of my life.
Standing in front of the hot spring in the center of town. We had a wide range of Yukata to choose from. Mine has a tree pattern and my friends chose a crescent shaped pattern.
My 2 friends and I downed our Yukata. 

During our first day, we took time to explore the central area of Kusatsu. This is where Yubatake, the place that Kusatsu is famous for and what pops up in Google images, is located. Directly translated as “hot water field,” Yubatake produces one of the largest volumes of water among Japan’s hot springs. We were warned about the smell of eggs in the air that comes from the water’s sulfuric properties, but you get used to it. In the area, there were vendors in every direction selling all kinds of popular Japanese street foods like candied grapes and strawberries, mochi, and yakitori. We ended up going to a restaurant where we made our own takoyaki (fried octopus balls) on a tabletop grill; it was so good, and so cheap too! 

A grill with 18 craters to fill with takoyaki batter,
Takoyaki and yakisoba cooking on the grill.
The central hot spring, Yubatake.
Yubatake during the day. This is the end where water comes up from the ground
Drapes with kanji written on them welcome you into the onsen.
The entrance to the onsen we went to. For obvious reasons, I could not take pictures of the inside.

Later in the night, after eating our kaiseki ryõri and getting desserts from around Yubatake (we ate a ridiculous amount of food this day, which was awesome), it was finally time to experience one of the most beloved parts of Japanese culture, the Onsen houses. Whether you had a long day at work, feel under the weather, or just feel like doing a little self-care, these are the perfect places to reset your body and totally relax for an hour or two. At first, I thought I would feel out of my comfort zone to be undressed around so many strangers, but, when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. No one is paying attention to you, and if you can get over that hump, I can almost guarantee you won’t regret it. This ended up being one of my, and a lot of my friend’s, favorite experiences in Japan so far! The inside of this place was stunning. It looked like a big wooden cabin from the inside, with water literally flowing from the walls into huge pools of hot water, which flowed into the outdoor pools where you could watch the stars while soaking away. I would have stayed there forever if I could, but I do my fair share of reminiscing to make sure I don’t forget what it was like. 

The next morning, after the post-onsen-best-night’s-sleep-of-my-life, we ate our breakfast sets and headed off to explore more of Kusatsu before we got on the bus and headed back to campus. Another staple of Kusatsu is its Sainokawara open air onsen, found at the end of a bit of a nature walk near the outskirts of town. On the way there, we stopped at Kosenji, the biggest shrine in Kusatsu, returned to the same takoyaki restaurant from the day before, ate free samples from the vendors along the path, and conducted necessary touristy window shopping at all the souvenir shops. By the time we arrived at Sainokawara, we realized we didn’t have enough time to actually go inside, so we decided to relax by the public foot baths scattered around the trail. There we all mourned over the fact we had to leave this amazing place but were happy that we were able to come. I would highly recommend making a weekend trip here if you come to the Tokyo area, as it was not just one of the most fun times I have had in Japan, but in my life too! 

Some of the sights within Kusatsu (first three)
A bridge we stopped at on the way back to TUJ

Read about the experience of other students in Japan right now, and read my other recent posts! 

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