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Goin’ Japanesque!

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma: The Famous Hot Springs in Japan You Should Not Miss

The temperature is coming down day by day in Japan, and winter is gradually coming. When winter is approaching, the Japanese start feeling a strong longing for hot springs. Yes, the onsen season is arriving soon.

Japanese islands have many volcanoes, being located near the borders of four tectonic plates, North American Plate, Eurasian Plate, Pacific Plate and Philippine Sea Plate. Thanks to the volcanoes, Japan has many onsen across the country and people have loved them since ancient times.

Among the countless onsen towns in Japan, this time I visited Kusatsu Onsen in Azuma County Gunma Prefecture, the super-famous onsen in Japan!

 

Premium Onsen Even the 8th Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa Loved

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Photo by flickr

Kusatsu Onsen has been loved by many Japanese people since ancient times and it was ranked the highest during the Edo Period (1603-1868) on the onsen rating. The eighth Shogun of the Edo Period, Yoshimune Tokugawa (1684~1751) has had a famous episode in Japan that he ordered onsen water to be brought in wooden tubs from Kusatsu to Edo for his medicinal bath.

In Kusatsu Onsen, wooden frames remain still today that were actually used to draw onsen water for the Shogun at the time.

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Writer’s Photo, Wooden frames still exist today

These wooden frames from the Edo Period can be seen at Yubatake, which is located in the central area of the town of Kusatsu Onsen. Yubatake is a hot water field installed to gather high-temperature onsen water and cool it down naturally to the temperatures that people can bathe in. The onsen water temperature is very high in Kusatsu Onsen, the highest being at Bandaiko Onsen, and it is over 90 degrees Celsius! Even the water of low-temperature onsen is around 50 degrees Celsius, and it is still too hot to use for bathing without cooling first.

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Writer’s Photo, Yubatake

In many onsen towns they lower the temperature by adding water, however, in Kusatsu Onsen the temperature is adjusted down to a comfortable level for people to bathe in by bringing the hot onsen water once to this Yubatake. By so doing the benefits of onsen can be enjoyed without ever being diluted.

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Yunohana, Photo by flickr

Incidentally, in the process of bringing hot spring water to this Yubatake, component of onsen water settles down at the bottom of the wooden frames. It is called “yunohana”. They scoop up this yunohana on a regular basis in Kusatsu Onsen and sell it in a container such as a plastic bottle. Yunohana is a convenient product, as you can enjoy an onsen bath even at home with this. As a matter of fact, it means foreign visitors can reproduce similar benefits of Kusatsu Onsen in their own countries if they take yunohana home as a souvenir. 

 

Kusatsu Onsen Specialty “Yumomi”

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Writer’s Photo

Yumomi is a unique tradition of Kusatsu Onsen and in this method people stir hot onsen water with six-feet-long wooden boards in order to lower its excessive temperature.

People sing Kusatsubushi, a traditional song handed down over generations in Kusatsu, chanting “choina, choina” while stirring the hot onsen water. This sight is unique to Kusatsu and you cannot see it elsewhere. The phrase of the song, “Kusatsu yoitoko ichido wa oide (Kusatsu is a good place, come at least once)” is also very famous.

At “Netsunoyu” hot spring, yumomi performances are held several times a day, and you can try it yourself, too.

Performance Schedule:
AM  9:30, 10:00, 10:30
PM  3:30, 4:00, 4:30
(6 times a day)
Admission: 600 yen for adults, 300 yen for grade school children

 

Traditional Kusatsu Dish “Okkirikomi”

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Writer’s Photo

This is Okkirikomi, a local cuisine of Gunma. In this dish handmade wide udon noodle is boiled with vegetables without removing the flour attached to it. Because of this flour, the udon soup becomes characteristically thicker compared to common nikomi udon dishes. It was absolutely delicious as I enjoyed the taste of ingredients soaked in the udon noodle. You can try this Okkirikomi at the inn called “Soan” near the Yubatake.

 

Recommended Also for Day -Trippers!

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Writer’s Photo

It is said there are more than 100 big or small hot springs in Kusatsu. If you visit there you can enjoy various other onsen that I couldn’t introduce here. In addition free public onsen baths are also available, so I strongly recommend taking a day trip there, enjoying onsen here and there. This is one of the top onsen resorts in Japan, and it’s definitely worth a try. The town won’t fail you! Information: Map

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