Kusatsu is an onsen town, about 1,200 metres above sea level, beside several volcanoes including the active Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane (Shirane), and known for its healing waters. Water for the town originates from Mt. Shirane with a flow of more than 32,000 litres per minute. This is one of the largest natural outputs of hot spring water in Japan. The water is very acidic, having a sterilizing effect. A 6-inch nail is said to dissolve to only a small metal shard after 10 days.
During the Edo period, Kusatsu became famous for its therapeutic waters. One of the shoguns at the time was said to have shipped its waters to his castle to bathe. Then, in the Meiji period, a German court physician to the emperor, Dr. Erwin Bälz, popularized the healing effects of the water even more by researching and championing its healing properties. Today, Kusatsu continues to be a popular hot spring destination, with upwards to 3 million visitors a year.
Unusually enough for Japan, Kusatsu does not have a train station of its own. The nearest station is 1 Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station (長野原草津口駅) on the JR Agatsuma Line. The limited express Kusatsu runs twice in the morning (10:00 and 12:12) from Ueno Station in Tokyo, taking 2 hr 20 min and costing ¥5,070, from which you can take a connecting bus (25 min, ¥710) to Kusatsu. At any other time, you'll have to take the Shinkansen to Takasaki and transfer to local services (3 hours, ¥5,810), or the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa (about 70-80 minutes, ¥5,710) and arrange further transport, or take local trains with 2 or 3 transfers (3½ hours, ¥3,020).
2 Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal JR operates the Jōshu Yūmeguri (上州ゆめぐり) direct bus to Kusatsu bus terminal several times a day (hourly) from Shinjuku (Tokyo) Expressway Bus Terminal, which takes around 4 hours and charges between ¥3,000 (in advance) and ¥3,600 (on board). Buses also connect from Kusatsu to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi (¥710) and Karuizawa (¥2240) to link with the rail lines.
Kusatsu is not very big and major transportation is going to be bus or car. There is a Kusatsu town loop bus (¥100), which connects most of the major sights and big hotels within the town. Although hilly, most sights within the town centre can be explored by foot.
There are also free hotel shuttles that ferry people from either the bus station or the yubatake area to surrounding hotels. A bus line is available from the bus terminal to connect with the ski area.
- 1 Yubatake (湯畑) (5 min north of the bus station down the hill). Literally "Hot Water Field", this hot spring in the center of town gushes out 5,000 liters of 70°C water per minute, making it Japan's largest. There is an elaborate cooling system of wooden conduits and a number of baths directly around it. Free.
- 2 Joshinetu kogen national park (上信越国立公園). The second biggest national park in Japan. There are several mountains, lake, and hills includes shirane mountain.
- 3 Kusatsu shirane mountain (草津白根). Shirane mountain is an active volcano and the crater lake is famous as a tour site. color of the water of crater lake is emerald green.
- 4 Asama Volcano Museum (浅間火山博物館, asama kazan hakubutsukan), ☏ , fax: . April to November: Th-Tu 08:30-17:00, last entry 16:30. Good for from kids to adults to experience power of volcano and a global beat of the earth. Adult ¥600, child ¥300.
- 5 Kataoka Tsurutaro Art Museum (片岡竜太郎美術館), Kusatsu 479, ☏ . An art museum of Japanese artist Tsurutarō Kataoka. The concept is to be a place which people can stop by with yukata (浴衣) that is Japanese traditional clothes. There is a shop for souvenir. ¥950-300.
- 6 Tropical zoo Kusatsu Nettaiken (草津熱帯圏), Ooaza-kusatsu 286, ☏ . 08:30-15:00. A tropical area which people can see different types of animals. In the jungle dome, they create subtropical area by using the hot spring heat and keep in the dome warm, so animals are able to survive. Adult ¥1000, high school student ¥700, child ¥600.
- 7 Kusatsu Bälz Memorial Hall (草津ベルツ記念館) (in roadside station Michinoeki kusatsu undojaya kōen). Small exhibit in memory of Erwin von Bälz, who discovered the good effects of Kusatsu hot spring.
- 8 Sainokawara Park (西の河原公園 (Sainokawara Kōen)) (10 minute walk west of Yubatake). A small valley with a river fed by the natural hot springs surrounded by forest. An open air onsen is present within the park for a fee. There is also the Kusatsu visitor centre in the park detailing the flora and fauna of the region (descriptions are all in Japanese). Free.
- Kusatsu visitor center (草津ビジターセンター), Kusatsu 521, ☏ . 09:00-16:00, closed on Thursday, the 2nd Tuesday of the month and for New Year. To learn the relationship between Kusatsu hot spring and volcano and nature and plants of Kusatsu. Free.
- 9 Netsu-no-yu, 414 Kusatsu (Besides Yubatake). Daily 09:30, 10:00, 10:30, 15:30, 16:00, 16:30. A bath house converted into a performance centre. Watch performances of the Yumomi ceremony where residents in the past used to cool down the hot spring waters using wooden boards. During the performance, you can also have a chance to try out the ceremony and receive a certificate at the end. Adults ¥600, Children ¥300.
- See also: Public baths in Japan
The water in the Kusatsu hot springs is strongly sulphuric, and is famous for making the skin beautiful. (The flip side is that it smells like rotten eggs.) In addition, it is said that Kusatsu hot spring has beneficial effects on poor blood circulation, muscular pain, and so on.
There are a variety of hot springs within Kusatsu for tourists to visit. Many accommodations will have onsen facilities present within their building. There are 19 public baths within the town, but not all of them are open to visitors.
- 1 Sainokawara Open-air Bath (西の河原露天風呂 (Sainokawara Rotenburo)), Oazakusatsu 521-3 (In Sainokawara Park and 15 minutes walking from Yubatake), ☏ . Apr–Nov 07:00–20:00, Dec–Mar 09:00–20:00. This is the biggest outdoor bath in Kusatsu located within Sainokawara Park. ¥600 for adults, ¥300 for children.
- 2 Otaki Hot Spring (大滝乃湯), 596-13 Kusatsu (5 minutes from Yubatake), ☏ . Daily 09:00–21:00. There are different kinds of hot springs and it's known as the department store of hot springs. There is a restaurant to eat and also people are able to use massage service by appointment in front office. ¥900 for adults, ¥400 for children.
- 3 Goza Hot Spring (御座之湯), 421 Kusatsu (Besides the Yubatake), ☏ . Daily 07:00–21:00; hours may change depending on season. Built in the style combining Edo and Meiji era bath houses, this onsen overlooks the Yubatake field. It has two bath halls which alternate between males and females. ¥600 for adults, ¥300 for children.
- 4 Therme Therme (テルメテルメ), 618 Kusatsu (15 minutes from Yubatake by walk), ☏ . Daily 11:00–20:00. Therme Therme is in the Kusatsu Hotel Village complex, which also has a golf course and ski area. The concept of this facility is German hot spring plus Japanese traditional taste of hot spring. There is a swimming pool, water slides, and hot spring facilities. Adults ¥1,340 (weekdays), ¥1,770 (weekends & holidays).
- 5 Kusatsu Big Bath (草津ビッグバス), 750 Kusatsu (15 minutes from Yubatake by walk), ☏ . 24/24. Onsen facilities that are part of Now Resort hotel. ¥1000 (weekdays), ¥1200 (holidays).
- 6 Kusatsu Hot Spring Hall (草津温泉館) (15 minutes from Yubatake by walk). This hall is one of the facilities in Kusatsu Highland Hotel (草津ハイランドホテル). ¥800 for adults, ¥400 for children.
In addition to hot spring facilities, there are free open air foot baths scattered throughout the town. One is right outside the bus terminal while another is beside the Yubatake fields. Dip your toes in the waters for a refreshing break after walking.
- 7 Kusatsu international ski area (草津国際スキー場, kusatsu kokusai sukījō). In the winter time, Kusatsu is famous for its skiing area and this place is good to visit. It also is a nice hiking area in the warmer months.
Arts and crafts
- Craft and folk craft, Kusatsu city, 872-1, ☏ . In the city, one of the activities is to experience making Kusatsu craft.
There are several events in Kusatsu throughout the year.
- Flower festival (花祭り) is in May.
- Shirane shrine festival (白根神社祭り) is in July.
- Kusatsu hot spring thanksgiving festival (草津温泉感謝祭) is in August.
- Kusatsu international music academy&festival (草津国際音楽アカデミー＆フェステバル). is in August.
- Summer Insect-collecting (夏休み昆虫採集大会) is in August for families.
- Yubatake special light up (湯畑特別ライトアップ) is in March.
- 1 Yoritomo (頼朝), Kusatsu city, 116-2 (3 minutes from Kusatsu hot spring bus terminal), ☏ . 09:00-18:00. Souvenir shop. ¥600.
- Honda souvenir shop (本多みやげ店), ☏ . 08:00-22:00.
- Yamagataya souvenir shop (山形屋土産店), ☏ . 08:30-22:00. This shop is famous for beckoning cat (招き猫) and there are thousands of beckoning cats in this shop.
- center yutaka (センター豊), ☏ . 08:00-21:00. Different kind of unique souvenir items.
- 1 Aoyama (あおやま), Kusatsu city, 497-1. Hand-made buckwheat noodles restaurant which is located on Sainogawara Street. There are varieties of hot soba, cool soba, and rice.
- 2 Matsumoto (まつもと), 486-5 Kusatsu (5 minutes from Yubatake along Sainokawara St.), ☏ . F-W 11:00-16:00, closed Th. Udon noodle shop known for its himokowa wide udon noodles using local flour, a Gunma prefecture specialty. Also serves a variety of tempura with the set meals. ¥1000 for a set meal.
- Chikyu-ya (地球屋), Kusatsu city,157. It is a good place to eat creation dish. Beef stew is a key item in this restaurant which is made of Joshu beef by boiling for five hours. there is also sweet fish risotto set which price is 1050 yen that os good for lunch. They have some unique named dessert such as "A whisper of an evil " which is a chocolate cake.
- cafe・shinkichi (カフェ・シンキチ), Kusatsu city, 524-104. Daily original special bagel will be sold. daily lunch and side menu are served and serve few kinds of alcohol drink.
- Taketomo dining (たけとも食堂), Kusatsu city, 486-5. It is a dining which is located on center of the Kusatsu city and famous menu is "Maitake-mushrooms pork cutlet", price is 1580 yen. They serve hot and cool soba, and different types of bowls and law meal which will be served main dish with few side dishes.
- Donguri (どんぐり), kusatsu city, 562-16. It is a famous European restaurant. they have been taken up with television and magazine. a famous item is acorn hamburg for ¥1050.
- Tuki-ya (月や), kusatsu city, 470-30. It is a famous Shabu-shabu restaurant which was opened in 2006. It's taken up with TV and key item in this restaurant is "pork shabu-shabu set' for ¥1700.
- ma Sushi (眞すし), kusatsu city, 340. It is in center of Kusatsu and local people often go this place. They provide variety kinds of sushi and each season, they have special menu. This place is often used as party place.
- Ramen ichiban (らーめん壱番), kusatsu city,116-2, ☏ . 11:30-14:30, 19:30-23:30. It serves eight types of ramen.
- Ryu en (龍燕), Kusatsu city,116-2, ☏ . Lunch 11:30-14:30 dinner 17:00-21:30. Ryu en is a Chinese restaurant just in front of yubatake (湯畑).
- Kusatsu Plateau Beer (草津高原ビール), Kusatsu city,454-13, ☏ . 09:00-20:00. Beer which is good for health is the feature and a target. Water is from Czech republic.
Hotels with outdoor bath
- Kusatsu hot spring hotel resort (草津温泉ホテルリゾート), kusatsu city, 15-8, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. ¥10500-21000.
- Daito kan (大東館), kusatsu city,126, ☏ .
- Tenoji ya (ての字屋), kusatsu city,360, ☏ .
- Nara ya (奈良屋), Kusatsu city,396, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00.
- 1 Hotel village (ホテルヴィレッジ), 618 Kusatsu, ☏ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. A large hotel complex with both Western style rooms as well as rustic cottages. There are large indoor onsen facilities as well as an outdoor onsen for both males and females. Additional activities include a bowling alley, karaoke rooms, and a high ropes course. From ¥14000.
- Hotel Takamatsu (ホテル高松), Kusatsu city,312.
- 2 Kusatsu Onsen Kiyoshigekan (くさつのお宿 清重館), Kusatsu 280-4 (10 minutes walk from the city center), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 11:00. Medium-sized ryokan with outdoor hot spring. From ¥5500.