Seeing Kusatsu’s Yumomi Ceremony Live

The hot spring water that flows throughout Kusatsu comes from deep within the earth and, as a result, is very, very hot. Between 51 and 94 degrees Celsius to be exact. You may be wondering how this water is cooled. Adding cold water?

One of the ways the water is brought to a comfortable temperature for bathing is yumomi (water stirring). The process involves stirring the water with large, wooden boards measuring 30 cm wide and 180 cm long, adding air to bring the temperature down. Using other methods, like adding cold water, would reduce the pH and mineral content of the hot spring water, which is the secret to its healing benefits.

One of the most popular attractions in Kusatsu Onsen is the Yumomi Experience. Held six times a day (three times in the morning and three times in the afternoon), the performance lasts less than 30 minutes. Held in Netsu no yu, near the Yubatake right in the center of town, the ceremony is performed by eight to 10 women (sometimes men) to bring down the temperature of the water. The stirring is done rhythmically, while a song is sung.

The key to catching one of these performances is to get in line. And get in line early. The first performance of the day seems to be the most popular, and tickets can only be purchased 30 minutes in advance. The bathhouse has seating on two levels, given on a first come, first served basis. Sitting on the lower level does have one distinct advantage: close proximity to the entrance to the performance area, which provides the opportunity to volunteer. Volunteers have the chance to try stirring the water themselves.

The ceremony is a beautifully choreographed performance that really feels like a window into the past. It’s the preservation of traditions such as this one that make Kusatsu Onsen so special, reminding us necessity is the mother of invention and that sometimes the most simple method is the best.

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by Petra

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