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A charming hot spring guesthouse in Kusatsu

Being Japan's most popular hot-spring resort town, Kusatsu has a lot of accommodation options, many of them traditional inns (ryokan in Japanese) with baths on the premises. A few minutes' walk from the town's bus terminal and its touristy centre, Kiyoshigekan is one of them, a charming and affordable place to stay.

I checked in smoothly with the English-speaking proprieter; we had no trouble communicating, but there's a note on the website asking that English enquiries are made by email rather than telephone. Near reception is a cosy little lounge area with comfortable couches, so I rested there for a few moments before leaving my bags and heading out to see the sights.

My room was very cosy, with a tatami floor, a low table and tea-set, a small TV and very small closet, a little seating area by the window and, it being winter, a heater to provide some extra warmth. The inn is tucked away from the main road (not that Kusatsu is a noisy town anyway) so I could get a happy, undisturbed night's sleep on the comfortable futon. In the morning I had a good view over the town to the mountains, where I could see moving black dots that were skiers zipping down the slopes.

There are two communal bathrooms, one for men and one for women, and each of them has an indoor and an outdoor bath; though they're public, it is possible to use them privately from 9:00pm onwards. I enjoyed sitting in the quiet outdoor bath late at night, steam rising off the surface of the hot water into the chilly air, looking up at the clear, starry sky; a truly restful, soothing experience.

For an extra ¥1000 I added breakfast to my booking, and was glad I did. The traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, rice, miso soup and pickles was accompanied by a couple of other side dishes, a block of tofu, sliced ham and a cabbage roll; it left me satisfyingly full and set me up nicely for a morning's sightseeing.

Nearby you'll find a handful of eating and drinking options such as the friendly neighbourhood izakaya called Miyataya, as well as Nettaikan, a dome filled with tropical animals. It's about a ten-minute walk to Yubatake ('Hot water field'), the central focus of the town, where you'll find plenty of shops, restaurants and bath-houses. From there, walking down 'Onsen Street' will take you to the Kataoka Tsurutaro Art Museum, then on a little further to the attractive Sai-no-Kawara Park.

There are three room sizes, with different per-person rates for each quoted on the website, from ¥5500 to ¥9500. There are also surcharges for staying on Saturdays or before national holidays, plus 'bathing tax' of ¥100-¥150 a head, and I found a wide range of rates and what looked like discounts on a popular booking site.

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