Written by Ramona (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Kusatsu Onsen Trip: Discover Amazing Hot Springs And Local Culture
Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan's top three hot spring resorts, is easily accessed from Tokyo by highway bus. Start your two-day stay in Kusatsu by enjoying local entertainment inspired by the hot springs, stunning views, and refined cuisine at a ryokan.
Kusatsu Onsen - A Fantastic Hot Spring Resort North of Tokyo
Kusatsu Onsen, located in Gunma, is one of Japan's best three hot spring resorts. Highly acclaimed for the quality of its hot spring water, it is a relaxing holiday destination popular with visitors of all ages. Moreover, Kusatsu Onsen is easily accessible from Tokyo by highway bus in about four hours.
A two-day trip to Kusatsu Onsen allows you to enjoy all that this beautiful town has to offer, from hot springs and breathtaking scenery to delicious cuisine and local culture. The itinerary introduced below contains suggestions on how to spend your first day in Kusatsu. Check this article for tips for the second day.
8:05 - 12:05 -- Travel from Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen
Take the highway bus for Kusatsu Onsen departing at 8:05 from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal. There are other buses at 9:10 and 10:10 but we suggest departing early in the morning in order to make the most of your time in Kusatsu.
Please consider purchasing your ticket in advance, either at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal ticket counter or online from the Japan Expressway Bus Net.
For the online purchase, select first "Tokyo" as your departure point and "Gumma" as your destination. Your route is Tokyo/Shinjuku--Kusatsu Onsen/Ikaho Onsen. You'll be departing from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal and getting off at Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal. Online payment by credit card is accepted.
On the day of your departure, please arrive at least 15 minutes earlier to check the number of the bus platform your bus departs from and to reach it in time.
12:30 - 13:30 -- Lunch at Sobakichi - Enjoy Delicious Soba Noodles!
You'll reach Kusatsu Onsen just in time for lunch, so how about refueling with delicious local cuisine before starting your explorations?
The representative dish of Kusatsu is soba noodles, and at Sobakichi, you can taste some of the best soba in town. The nearest store to the bus terminal is Sobakichi Yubatake Store, located right in the town center, in the vicinity of the Yubatake, "the hot spring fields," which Kusatsu is famous for.
We ordered the Sobakichi signature dish, Konebachi-mori, which consists of a bowl of fragrant soba noodles (you can select the size of the portion), a soup of your choice, and tempura (1,242 yen in total). Our soup was a hot, delicious maitake mushroom soup. The vegetable tempura was crispy and light. It was a delicious, satisfying meal that filled us with energy at the start of our adventure in Kusatsu.
14:00 -- Check in at the Ryokan: Mukashigokoro no Yado Kanemidori
We would suggest checking in at your ryokan first and leaving your baggage there.
Kusatsu Onsen has many excellent lodgings. Most of them are renovated traditional hot spring ryokans that offer modern comfort and an extraordinary experience of Japanese hot spring culture.
For our stay, we chose Mukashigokoro no Yado Kanemidori, a stylish inn located close to the bus terminal, tucked in a quiet back alley, just one-minute away from the bustling town center.
The interior of this ryokan allows you to feel the elegance of Japanese aesthetics in every detail of its design.
After checking in, you'll be invited to pick a yukata (light kimono) from the various ones available. Wearing a yukata is one of the fun things to enjoy in a hot spring town.
The rooms are spacious, with a Japanese layout. The hanging scroll and the flowers in the alcove reflect the seasons. Guests rest in futon bedding, which is laid out on the tatami floor by the ryokan staff in the evening.
After changing into your yukata, how about going for a walk around the town?
15:00 - 16:00 -- A Stroll along the Streets of Kusatsu Onsen
One thing you'll notice about Kusatsu Onsen right away is that the town is bustling with visitors of all ages. Many of them are strolling around in their yukatas, looking happy and relaxed.
The main attraction of Kusatsu is Yubatake, the hot spring fields. The hot spring water in Kusatsu comes from a major source and is originally about 50 to 90 degrees Celsius, which is too hot to bathe in. The Yubatake is a "hot spring cooling system." Hot spring water is directed to these fields first so that it cools down through exposure to the air. It then falls into a basin from which all the ryokans and hot spring facilities take their bathwater.
The Yubatake offer a spectacular view that seems otherworldly. They are beautifully lit up in the evening, so be sure to see them again after dark.
There are many charming souvenir shops and confectionery stores in the area, as well as benches to sit on. Do treat yourself to some of the local delights!
16:20 - 18:00 -- Watching the Yumomi Show at Netsu no Yu
The Yumomi Show is a type of local entertainment that is unique to Kusatsu, attracting visitors from all over Japan and overseas. "Yumomi" refers to the traditional method of cooling the hot spring water manually by twisting and turning it with wooden plates.
At Netsu no Yu, located right near the Yubatake, visitors can watch the Yumomi Show six times a day at 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 15:30, 16:00, and 16:30. The entrance fee is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children.
Originally a hot spring facility, Netsu no Yu is now a performance hall specialized in this type of local entertainment. The hall also hosts rakugo (traditional storytelling) performances in the evening. The admission fee for these shows is 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children.
The Yumomi Show at 16:30 consists of traditional chants and dances performed by a group of Yumomi-musume. They work on cooling down the water in the rhythm of a folk song. It's amazing to see them all perfectly synchronized.
After they show how yumomi is done, audience members are welcome to try it themselves!
18:00 - 19:00 -- Dinner at the Ryokan
Staying at a ryokan in Kusatsu Onsen allows you to enjoy excellent Japanese cuisine.
Mukashigokoro no Yado Kanemidori offers its guests a kaiseki meal course consisting of several delicate dishes. They are made with carefully-selected ingredients––most of which are produced locally. In addition the refined combination of flavors, you'll surely be impressed by the visual appearance of these dishes, which is inspired by the features of the current season.
19:00 - 19:45 -- Marveling at the Yubatake Light-up
It would be a waste to miss out on seeing the charm of Kusatsu Onsen at night. Every ryokan, dining place, and hot spring facility in town is full of customers' laughter and enjoyment.
The Yubatake are lit-up at night in artistic, vibrant colors that enhance the otherworldliness of the scenery.
The town's appearance changes at night, revealing another side of Kusatsu--one that is entertaining and mysterious.
After 20:00 -- Enjoy Deep Relaxation in a Hot Spring Bath
Before going to bed, do take a relaxing hot spring bath. Most of the ryokans in Kusatsu offer excellent onsen.
Mukashigokoro no Yado Kanemidori has a gender-segregated indoor bath open to all the guests, as well as open-air baths that can be reserved privately for one hour. If you wish to use the open-air bath, please mention it at check-in.
We used the open-air bath, and it was incredibly relaxing to feel the warmth of the hot spring with one's whole body. We highly recommend trying it for yourself!
Look forward to Day Two!
If you enjoyed your first day in Kusatsu, wait to see what awaits you on the next day!
Visit the beautiful Kosenji Temple and stroll through Sainokawara Park with its natural scenery formed from hot springs. Then, pick up souvenirs and have a coffee at a charming cafe. These are just some of the things to be enjoyed on the second day of a Kusatsu Onsen trip.
For other great places to visit in Kusatsu Onsen, please visit this page: https://www.kusatsu-onsen.ne.jp/guide/en/
Shinjuku Bus Terminal → Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal → Lunch at Sobakichi Yubatake Store → Check-in at the ryokan → Yumomi Show at Netsu no Yu → Dinner at the ryokan → Yubatake light-up → Hot spring bath and overnight stay at the ryokan
Transportation: 3,800 yen
Accommodation: from 17,000 yen and above
Lunch, local snacks: around 2,000 yen
Yumomi Show: 600 yen/person
The writer visited these facilities on September 24, 2019.
Supported by Kusatsu Onsen Inn Owners Cooperative