Having spent a day in the great outdoors, it is time to relax in one of Kusatsu’s natural hot spring baths, commonly known as onsen.
Bathing has been a major part of Japanese culture since antiquity, and Kusatsu Onsen’s baths are a fantastic chance to dip your toe (and more!) into this essentially Japanese cultural experience. Do not just take our word for it either—Japan’s major travel agents have voted Kusatsu Onsen the number-one onsen in Japan for over sixteen years in a row.
The bountiful waters drawn directly from the Yubatake hot spring fields naturally contain acid, sulfur-containing aluminum sulphate, and chloride, with pH values between 1.7 and 2.1, and temperatures varying between 51 and 94 degrees Celsius. An iron nail placed in the hot spring would be reduced to rust in just nine days. But do not worry, the centuries-old yumomi method of cooling the water makes it perfectly safe for everyone to enjoy, and the accompanying ceremony is now a local attraction, with regular demonstrations enlivened by folk songs.
The rich mineral content of Kusatsu’s waters have become known for their metabolism-boosting effects and as a natural way to promote more beautiful skin. The hot springs are also said to be beneficial for a variety of conditions, including muscle pain, bruises and sprains, fatigue recovery and more. Said to cure basically everything except lovesickness, you are bathing in good company—even the leaders of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period (1603–1867) ordered barrels of hot spring water to be delivered to Edo Castle.
For a taste of what Kusatsu was like in centuries past, head to Gozanoyu, a beautifully reconstructed bath facility that combines both Edo- and Meiji-period styles. This expansive facility boasts elegant Japanese architecture and views of the softly steaming Yubatake onsen fields in the town below.
Located in the center of Kusatsu Onsen overlooking the iconic Yubatake hot spring fields, Gozanoyu has been loved and enjoyed by bathers looking to relax in its natural waters for over 1,000 years.
The main building was re-created in April 2013, using Japanese turn-of-the-century architecture with Japanese cedar wood totonbuki roofs and wall plaster characteristic of the early Meiji period (1868–1912). Back then the whole township would relocate to the warmth of the onsen during the harsh wintertime. Built with traditional techniques and harmonious natural materials, a visit to Gozanoyu is like stepping back in time.
Inside the onsen itself there are two stone and wooden baths, both constantly filled from two springs: the Yubatake spring with acidic sulfur and Bandai spring with acidic chloride sulphate, the latter said to be beneficial for neuralgia, joint pain, and burns among other conditions. Visitors can try both types of hot spring water, as the baths are available for men and women on alternating days.
Also inside the building are two Japanese-style halls for bathers to unwind and rest after soaking in the waters. The great hall is over 100 meters square with good views of the Yubatake hot water fields and is free for all visitors to Gozanoyu to use. The middle hall is available for rent at 2,000 yen per hour, for those who want a more private onsen experience with friends and family.
Be sure not to miss out on Gozanoyu’s exclusive “Yukata de Sanpo” course, where both men and women can dress in a stylish light cotton kimono, for an authentic Japanese onsen adventure. The three-hour experience includes the full set-up with robes, sandals, and a handy bag, with a free dressing service on hand to make sure you look your best. Photo opportunities and a suggested walking course around the Kusatsu area help you to make the most of your visit.
Available all year round, take the opportunity to don traditional Japanese clothing and enjoy the atmosphere of Kusatsu town and Gozanoyu in the time-honored fashion. The course costs 2,500 yen and includes entry to Gozanoyu.
Opening hours: 7:00 am–9:00 pm (entry closes at 8:30 pm) * may change according to season
Prices: Adults 600 Yen, Children 300 Yen (ages 3–12)
Inquiries: Oazakusatsu 421, Kusatsu Town, Agatsuma County, Gunma Prefecture 377-1711
Torrents of milky blue waters descend from the volcanic peaks of Mount Shirane and burst into Kusatsu Onsen’s Yubatake onsen fields, creating clouds of steam that cover the town in a misty haze. This boiling water is then tamed by a centuries-old system of stirring the waters using paddles, in a ceremony called yumomi; cooling it just enough for visitors to take a dip and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the hot springs.
Considered to be one of Japan’s three most important onsen resorts, Kusatsu boasts so many bathing facilities you’ll be spoiled for choice.
The hot spring’s curative effects are also the stuff of legend. It is said that the waters at Kusatsu Onsen are able to cure any illness but lovesickness. The town’s hot springs are also unrivaled in quantity, boasting the largest output of natural hot spring waters in Japan. With over 32,000 liters gushing out per minute, the waters do not need to be diluted or reheated. High in acidity, bacteria and fungi cannot survive in these piping hot waters, giving it an antibacterial effect that has furthered the belief in the hot springs’ therapeutic effects over the centuries.
As one of Japan’s three most famous hot spring resorts, Kusatsu boasts a vibrant traditional onsen town atmosphere so you can experience centuries of Japanese tradition and culture intertwined with the hot springs.
Between baths, stroll down the town’s main street basking in the retro romance as you browse shops laden with local souvenirs, glassware crafts, and more. Drop by one of the many charming confectionary shops to sample tasty wagashi sweets that have been steamed in the therapeutic waters. Enjoy these warm, sweet buns as you stroll the narrow streets around the town, taking in the historic buildings swathed by swirling steam, a sight all the more remarkable when illuminated at night.
To make your visit even more authentic, rent a yukata at Gozanoyu and don it for your outing. A dressing service is available and you do not need to prepare anything yourself! Circle Yubatake and be enveloped in steam as you take in the view of milky blue waters gushing forth through the old pinewood tubs. Free footbaths let you to rest your feet while you enjoy the scenery.
To discover more of the wonders that await you at Kusatsu Onsen, be sure to explore the rest of this website. Here, you’ll find countless tips on where to eat, drink, and stay to find the perfect spots for your visit to Japan’s original resort town. There are also sightseeing suggestions for areas around the town to make the most of your stay here, and examples of popular souvenirs for that special someone at home. If you want to know more about Japanese bathing customs, there is a step-by-step guide available on the website, as well as plenty of information upon arrival to guarantee you turn into an onsen pro.more
Attention of the bathing
To make sure you enjoy the baths safely, although the baths have therapeutic effects, it is important to note that your body will sweat more while enjoying them, perhaps more than you may realize. Drink plenty of water between baths to stay hydrated—which you can do with Kusatsu’s own natural mineral waters for an extra dose of well-being. Also, the acidity of some of the waters at Kusatsu Onsen is strong enough to cause silver to develop an instant patina, so be sure to remove all your jewelry before you bathe.
Finally, for guests from overseas, rest assured that the vast majority of Kusatsu Onsen inns and bath facilities are welcoming to those with non-gang-related body art. Travelers with tattoos can enjoy the healing hot waters here without any worries, and join the approximately three million annual visitors to this world-class hot spring resort.
We welcome you to Kusatsu Onsen,
and we are sure you will be back time and time again!