Kusatsu, in Gunma prefecture, one of Japan’s “three great hot springs areas”, is a town known throughout the country and even among hot springs fans from the rest of the world. The area has accommodations of all kinds, from day spas to facilities with different types of baths, making it a great destination to experience onsen culture in all its glory.
The place in Japan where more liters of hot springs flow
Kusatsu, on a plateau 1,200 meters high, boasts the most prolific flow of natural hot springs in Japan. In addition to six main publicly managed hot springs, the site has another 100 smaller springs. Known for centuries as one of the most popular hot springs destinations, this town in Gunma Prefecture is one of Japan’s “Big Three Hot Spring Areas”, adjacent to Arima in Hyōgo Prefecture, near Kobe and Osaka, and Gero in Gifu prefecture, a short distance from Nagoya. Ever since it was introduced to the West by the German physician Erwin Bälz in the Meiji era (1868-1912), Kusatsu has been known for the healing power of its waters and as an onsen resort.
Yubatake, the largest hot spring in Kusatsu, is located right in the middle of the city. 5,800 liters of warm hot springs flow into it every minute through cracks in a series of natural rock platforms. The water, yellow because of the sulfur it contains, runs through a series of wooden channels that reduce its temperature. After mineral sediments called yu no hana are removed, the water is distributed to each ryokan in the area. The main source has come to be called yu-batake (warm water field) since the yu no hana (warm water flowers) are drawn from it.
The Netsu-no-yu resort facilities in front of Yubatake offer the “Yumomi and a dance show” six times a day. This show reproduces the jikan-yu (temporary bath), one of the most characteristic bathing customs of Kusatsu. In the jikan-yu, bathers pour several buckets of hot water on themselves after vigorously stirring the water with wooden planks to reduce the temperature, and then soak up to their necks in the water for three minutes. The yumomi, “to stir the hot water”, was formerly a kind of heating before entering these warm and pure waters. During this ceremony, the “Kusatsu-bushi” is sung, a traditional song related to the bath that highlights the benefits of the place and its waters with which the participants are encouraged to stir the bath at the same rate.
Another pleasure that Kusatsu offers is to stroll from Yubatake along Sai-no-kawara-dōri, a charming street lined with souvenir shops and restaurants, to Sai-no-kawara Park. In the park the visitor finds the Oni-no-chagama (the demon’s kettle) and other points where the hot springs flow. At the bottom of the park is a spacious open-air stone bath that features different types of hot springs. The visitor can choose their favorite bath and forget about their problems while relaxing in these baths.