Back to nature at Kusatsu
One of the great things about Kusatsu is that it's out in the heart of Japan's countryside which, while one of the most attractive features of Japan, remains unexplored to many visitors who zip through tunnels on the Shinkansen on their journey from city to city.
Sainokawara Park is another unique, 'only-in Kusatsu' spot were you can stroll among chalk white and emerald pools of hot spring water.
If you are able to get up to a high point in Kusatsu – for example the ski slopes or a high floor at Hotel Sakurai, you see that mountains ranges extend as far as you can see. But experiencing nature in Japan is really taken to the next level when bathing in a hot spring.
Other than a small towel, you literally are naked. You can't take books or digital devices into the baths and there's very little noise or other distractions on the walls, putting you in a really good spot to stop, relax, breathe and ponder something … or ponder nothing. If you go in off-peak hours or are lucky enough to have a private bath you may also find yourself on your own. It's precious to experience peace and calm like this if you normally live in a bustling town or city.
While indoor pools are nice, I almost always spend most of my time in the outdoor bath. In winter, you'll face a few unclothed seconds outside in freezing temperatures but immersing yourself in the warm pool makes the challenge worth it. That’s part of the back to nature experience. Often there will be a covering of snow around the bath perfecting the seasonal scene. In summer, while it can be hot during the day, the mountains can get cool in the evening and early morning and bathing under the stars or in the crispness of the fresh morning air is unbeatable.
Solitude in a hot spring can be nice, but when others are there it can also be a good place to strike up a conversation. It can be intimidating for both sides to kick off a dialogue with a naked, bathing stranger who may not speak your language. I always find it's nice to give a short polite greeting or nod if you enter the bath with others already there and you’ll get a sense of who wants to chat and who doesn’t. If you feel like a conversation then a short quip like ‘isn’t this spring water great’ can spark things off. Even if you don’t speak any Japanese you’ll often find people with good enough English for a casual chat. If you find someone who is familiar with the area I always like to ask if they can recommend other hot springs close by. It’s a great way to find places you may not have come across otherwise.
Whether it’s the raw, bathing experience or the people you meet, the culture of Kusatsu and onsen is great for breaking down barriers and getting back to nature.
My other articles on Kusatsu start here https://www.deepjapan.org/a/4349.