Driving to Kusatsu
Winter driving in the Gunma countryside
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Japan, with all its grinding work hours, high tech wizardry and futuristic architecture, can also offer spectacular vistas and natural phenomena. To witness this transformation when urban, turns to suburban and then downright country, we drove from the sea in Shonan to the snow covered hamlet of Kusatsu nestled in the Gunma mountainside. The drive took us north and then west. We took the new Ken-O expressway - the one that our car navi can never find- along the Kan-etsu and then on to national roads Routes 17, 353, and 145. We drove down in the valleys and up in the mountains and then along Route 292 to Kusatsu Town.
It was an absolutely beautiful sunny afternoon. However, two days prior, 20 centimeters of snow had blanketed the area. The landscape, while stunning, give a palpable meaning to all those signs for chains on tires. But in one of many authentic “only in Japan” moments, roadsides along the route, especially in hilly areas or just before sharp curves, were dotted with little stands with bags filled with dirt.
There were still a few minor tense moments as we hit small patches of icy roads. But all of that disappeared just before Kusatsu. Driving along on the “Musical Road” we were pleasantly surprised. We were already at 40km/h so our unchained tyres, revealed a familiar melody as we drove over the specially designed road surface. Cool! Another “only in japan” moment! But I still can’t name the tune.
Arriving into town at 5:00pm that Sunday, we immediately noticed there was much more snow in the town of Kusatsu. Thanks to our car navi, we immediately found our accommodation for the night. Hotel Sakurai a 3 star onsen resort hotel.