20/01/2022

Kusatsu Onsen, Best in Japan for 18 Continuous Years

Kusatsu Onsen is a hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture. For almost 20 years, it held fast to its No.1 amongst Japan’s 100 Best Hot Springs. With high quality natural hot spring waters, and historical plus cultural heritage of Yumomi water cooling technique, it’s not hard to see why. 

※ Kankokeizai, “にっぽんの温泉100選

Table of Contents

  1. History of World Class Kusatsu Onsen
  2. Experience Kusatsu Onsen’s High Quality Waters
  3. Access From Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen
  4. Takeaway

History of World Class Kusatsu Onsen

History

How old is Kusatsu Onsen? So old that nobody knows for sure when it was discovered. There are several stories theorizing its discovery but no concrete proof. The earliest evidence of Kusatsu Onsen’s use was during the Kamakura period when the first shogun Minamoto no Yorimoto had a soak in it. The onsen’s popularity was said to have started from then. 

Kusatsu Onsen became known to the rest of the world thanks to Dr. Erwin Von Bälz. He was a German doctor who contributed greatly in bringing Western medicine to Japan. He was also the Imperial Family’s personal doctor. After analyzing Kusatsu Onsen’s waters, he sang praises of its high quality waters and potential as a spa retreat. 

※ Kusatsu Onsen, "Basic Data"

Experience Kusatsu Onsen’s High Quality Waters

Yumomi Performance

Kusatsu Onsen’s source water is extremely hot even by hot spring standards, with temperatures measuring between 50°C to 90°C. For comparison, regular onsen bath water is between 36°C to 41°C. Most people, even Japanese, can’t stay long in temperatures above 40°C. To retain the water’s high quality and healing effects, instead of diluting with cold water, a traditional technique to cool down the water called Yumomi 湯もみ is used.

In Kusatsu Onsen, you can watch how Yumomi is done in a Yumomi Performance by locals. The history of the technique is explained, and a traditional dance will also be performed. It is a popular performance that many visitors would not miss out on. You may also get a chance to try doing Yumomi yourself. 

Venue: Netsu no Yu 熱乃湯

Cost: 600 yen (Adult)

Performance Times: 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 15:30, 16:00, 16:30

Note: Double check the performance/event calendar. At certain times there are special performances or extra shows.

※ Kusatsu-Onsen, "Major Attractions" “Netsu no Yu 演目紹介と時間・料金

Kusatsu Onsen for Day Visits

There are plenty of onsen facilities in Kusatsu. The majority of them are ryokan facilities where the hot springs are available for overnight guests only. For day trip visitors, there are 3 hot spring facilities available:

Otaki no Yu 大滝乃湯

The most popular onsen in the area with several baths available including an outdoor one with waterfall features. Sauna and massage is also available.

  • Entrance Fee: 900 yen (Adult)
  • Opening Hours: 9:00~21:00, last entry 1 hour before closing time
  • Free Amenities: Shampoo, body soap, hairdryer, lotion, tissues, cotton bud

Bath and hand towel set available to rent for 250 yen.

Sai no Kawara Rotenburo 西の河原露天風呂

The biggest open air onsen in the area. 

  • Entrance Fee: 600 yen (Adult)
  • Opening Hours: 7:00~20:00  (4/1~11/30), 9:00~21:00 (12/1~3/31), last entry 30-mins before closing time
  • Free Amenities: No information available.

Goza no Yu 御座之湯

Combined waters from two different hot spring sources makes for even more therapeutic soaking. A special service they offer is
Yukata de Sanpo, a Yukata rental service for 3 hours at the cost of 2,500 yen. The entire set includes not just the Yukata, but also Obi, Geta, socks, and a bag.

  • Entrance Fee: 600 yen (Adult)
  • Opening Hours: 7:00~21:00 (4/1~11/30), 8:00~21:00 (12/1~3/31), last entry 30-mins before closing time
  • Free Amenities: Shampoo, body soap, hairdryer

Kusatsu Foot Bath

Not keen to get naked with strangers, or just not a good day for soaking? You can still enjoy Kusatsu Onsen’s waters at Yukemuri Tei 湯けむり亭. This is a free foot bath located right next to the Yubatake. It’ll work wonders to soothe your exhausted feet.

Kusatsu Public Bathhouses

Kusatsu’s public bathhouses are reserved for locals only as part of their daily lives. However, there are 3 public bathhouses that are open to the public as an opportunity to experience the local’s daily lives. The 3 are Shirahata No Yu 白旗の湯, Chiyo No Yu 千代の湯, and Jizo No Yu 地蔵の湯. They are all free to use.

Kusatsu Spa House

Therme Therme テルメテルメ is a onsen and swimming pool facility. This spa offers outdoor (summer only) and indoor pools, beauty treatment, jacuzzis, onsen, saunas, foot baths, massages, and more. 

Entrance Fee (Adult): 

  • Pool & Onsen: 1,480 yen (Weekdays), 1,920 yen (Weekends and Peak Season)
  • Onsen Only: 930 yen (Weekdays), 1,150 yen (Weekends and Peak Season)

Opening Hours: 

  • 11:00~20:00  (Weekdays)
  • 10:00~21:00 (Weekends and Peak Season)
  • 9:30~20:30 (Summer)

Swimsuit Rental: 550 yen (Men), 880 yen (Women)

※ Kusatsu-Onsen, "Bathing Facilities"

Access From Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen

There are 3 ways to get to Kusatsu Onsen from Tokyo:

Via Train

From Ueno Station, take the JR Akagi Limited Express Train to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station. Make your way to the bus station, and take the bus bound for Kusatsu Onsen. 

  • Cost: 6,080 yen
  • Time Taken: 3 hours

Via Shinkansen

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa Station. From the bus station, take the bus bound for Kusatsu Onsen.

  • Cost: 8,260 yen
  • Time Taken: 2.5 hours

Via Bus

From Shinjuku Nishi-guchi Bus Terminal, take a direct bus to Kusatsu Onsen.

  • Cost: 3,510 yen
  • Time Taken: 4 hours
※ Kusatsu-Onsen, "Access"

Takeaway

Kusatsu Onsen is not just a hot spring retreat, it is a town rich with history, culture and tradition. A soak in Japan’s best ranked onsen is a great treat, but there’s so much more to learn here.

Witness the Yumomi technique of cooling down hot water that has been passed down through generations, try the unique Kusatsu bathing style of Jikan-yu and Awase-yu, meet with locals in the public bathhouses, and try some hot spring foods. It is truly an onsen wonderland that you cannot afford to miss!

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