Kusatsu, Japan’s number one hot spring destination is a place hot spring fans shouldn’t miss. Surrounding the heart of Kusatsu’s famous Yubatake lies Kirishimaya Ryokan, a Japanese style inn owned by Nakazawa-san. However you can call Nakazawa-san by his nickname Gary. Gary Nakazawa is a local of Kusatsu and you will be surprised by his knowledge of medicinal effects of the water, of the Yumomi ritual and Jikan no Yu. The staff members here are Gary Nakazawa and his wife; and although it is a ryokan, at times it felt like I was at a homestay as Gary was more than happy to ask me what I did that day, telling me all the people he had met, recommending nearby attractions and sharing me his knowledge of Kusatsu’s waters. I’ve also found the place to be very welcoming towards overseas tourists as there is a large gallery filled with old and new photos of Gary with past guests, books filled with heart-warming comments from Americans, Australians and many people from other nations. And you can also see old galleries of Gary Nakazawa performing Yumomi and Jikan no Yu in his twenties.
A major draw card for Kirishimaya Ryokan is the fact that it is so conveniently located within walking distance of Kusatsu’s attractions. If you are after the communal baths in town, then getting to Jizo no Yu, Chiyo no Yu, and Shirohata no Yu will be too easy. And if you’re after a more special bath, then with an entrance fee, Sai no Kawara Open-Air bath and Daitaki no Yu will leave you feeling refreshed and pampered. Let’s not forget that Kirishimaya Ryokan is also a short stroll away from Kusatsu’s iconic Yubatake, a large cypress structure where the nationally renowned waters flow through. Around this area you can indulge yourself with the many surrounding restaurants and manju stores and be entertained by the Kusatsu’s Yumomi show.
As a break from all the baths, you can also immerse yourself in the natural attractions of the area: hiking Mt Shirane, riding Mt Shirane Ropeway, strolling through Sai no Kawara Park and visiting the sacred Shirane Shrine. And for those who love skiing, Kirishimaya will not disappoint as its ideal location near the mountains and the fact they can lend you skis, snowboards and ski wear are definite bonus points.
Kirishimaya Ryokan provides a captivating view of the gate to Shirane Shrine from most of their rooms. Each of their 12 rooms all have tatami flooring large enough to fit 3 to 4 futon beds, a cozy living room area by the window and their own toilet and fridge. They also provide you with toothbrush, toothpaste, the Japanese style bathrobe (yukata), and rooms equipped with heating, television, a telephone and a safe. Plus, available for rent are skis, snowboards, ski wear, tennis goods, mah-jong, and shogi and for extra charge you can also receive a massage. Accommodation starts from 9,000 yen per person each night.
At Kirishimaya Ryokan you can immerse yourself in the warmth and luxury in their cozy open-air hot spring baths and their indoor baths. The waters at Kusatsu are highly acidic with a PH of 2.1 and therefore medical professionals recommend that you should only bath for up to three minutes; but considering how relaxing and comfortable the baths are at Kirshimaya Ryokan, I’ve been finding three minutes way too short! The baths there are around 41-44 degrees Celsius which is just right. For those up to the challenge, there is also a 46 degrees Celsius foot spa good for your health if you dip your feet for 30 seconds. On an additional note, at Kusatsu you won’t need to wash yourself with soap, which is very unusual when going to the hot springs. This is because the water will react with the thin layer of soap on your skin and leave a slimy residue all over you, which isn’t very comfortable. Also soap isn’t needed here because the water alone can wash away all the dirt from your skin in a matter of 10 seconds. So you should just rinse yourself with hot water and jump straight in.
To get to Kirishimaya Ryokan, you will need to catch the train to Nagano Kusatsuguchi Station and from there catch the bus to Kusatsu Bus Terminal. The Japanese style inn is only about a 10-15 minute walk from there. Otherwise you can get there by taxi within five minutes. Check in is from 12pm and check out is before 10am.