Kusatsu Onsen, one of Kanto, Japan’s less discovered gems

All roads lead to yubatake

I recently visited Kusatsu for Deep Japan with the goal of re-discovering the magic of this mountain town that is consistently ranked as one of Japan’s best hot spring resorts. It was my visit to the town and it remains one of my top destinations in Japan. In this series of five articles I’ll cover the town, the hot springs, it’s romance, and how to get there.

On to the town … !

Kusatsu is centered around yubatake (literally hot-water field), where plentiful hot spring waters flow over wooden containers which cool the water before distribution to hotels and collect minerals which are packaged in limited supplies for visitors to recreate this Kusatsu experience back home. The contrasting black and turquoise tones of yubatake make for a truly unique townscape and an awesome photo spot.

Winding streets and a plethora of interesting shops

It feels like all roads lead to or from yubatake making it hard to get lost. The town is compact and it’s easy to walk wherever you need to go. The narrow, windy, hilly streets are packed with shops selling an attractive selection of crafts and gourmet items and you could likely do all your Japan souvenir shopping just in this town.

Some of the friendly vendors are eager to give you samplings of their manju (sweet red-bean paste buns) or other products like Japanese pickles in the hope that they’ll win your business over their many competitors. Take the advantage to experience a new snack on your strolls and you are sure to find an interesting souvenir or gift.

There are a number of liquor shops along the streets too and many of them offer the chance to sample some of the local sake (rice wine). Tsuchiya has a small bar open until 6pm where you can stop off an enjoy larger servings at reasonable prices. Small bottles of sake make great souvenirs. After tasting a good number of the sake on choice I opted for one bottle each of an unpasteurized sake, a cloudy sake, a plum liquor containing plum pulp, and a locally produced beer.

Small and charming

In Kusatsu it’s likely that your hotel is not far from the center too, so don’t worry about carrying everything you may need for the day. You only have a short walk if you need to head back and it’s wonderful to be able to return to your room for a break during the day.

Being 1200 meters (4000 feet) up in the mountains Kusatsu gets lots of snow in the winter and there’s a ski resort close by. You’ll need to wrap up, but being able to drop in and out of the shops, cafes and hot springs keeps you warm.

Kusatsu’s concentration of things to do in a small area and unique character make it feel a little like a time-slip theme park … without the high entrance fees.

Kusatsu’s hot springs the town's romantic side are the topics of my next pieces.

Lots of reasons Kusatsu is famous for hot springs

The romantic side of Kusatsu

Back to nature at Kusatsu

The many different ways to get to Kusatsu

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AndrewShuttleworth's other advice

The many different ways to get to Kusatsu images

The many different ways to get to Kusatsu

Kusatsu is less frequented by foreign visitors given that it doesn’t have a train station, never mind a bullet train stop. That isolation is one of the reasons Kusatsu has managed to maintain its spe…

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