In Kusatsu—an isolated onsen village tucked into the mountains of Gunma—the pace of everyday life might be subdued, but it is by no means static.
Abundant with charm and hot springs, the town is located a short trip away from Tokyo, making it the ideal spot for a relaxing weekend getaway and escape from the hectic everyday rush of Tokyo life. With one of the hottest recorded onsen water temperatures in Japan, Kusatsu’s range of both indoor spas and outdoor open-air baths beckon to bathers, far and wide.
Getting there by train is stress-free and seamless; just purchase a Limited Express ticket from Ueno Station to Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station. The train runs 2-3 times a day and ends at the base of Kustasu. From there, simply board a bus and ride deeper into the mountains to uncover the beauty of Kusatsu.
One of the most picturesque spots in Kusatsu, nestled in the center of town, is the Yubatake--the steaming field of hot water powered by volcanic activity from nearby Mt. Shirane. Visitors, dressed in yukata and bundled beneath jackets, soak up the scenery before taking a dip in one of the town's many onsen and foot baths.
Kusatsu is also a vibrant culinary scene. The area surrounding the Yubatake is rich with snack options, such as Senbei crackers, sticky dango, onsen-steamed pudding, and eggs boiled in the volcanic water bubbling directly from the ground. But there are other main dishes as well that shouldn't escape notice, including places that specialize in wide udon noodles, rich broth, and lightly-fried regional mushrooms.
A must-see performance, held in a restored building near the Yubatake, is the Yumomi, which features a troupe of athletic obachan who sing and dance the heat out of the scalding hot spring water. This tradition has been maintained by the town for generations, and continues on now not as a practical method of cooling the water, but as.a showcase of Kusatu's rich culture.
Taking the weekend to explore a place outside of Tokyo, where time seems to stop and relief is a sensation you can experience from tip-to-toe, is not a luxury—it is a necessity. And Kusatsu proves itself as one of the most ideal destinations where visitors can seep up local culture and soak away their stress.