by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2007/09/04 - Kusatsu
If you are an onsen fan then you have probably heard of Kusatsu. For those of you who haven't, it's a beautiful hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture. It originally became famous back in the Edo Period when the Confucian poet Hayashi Razan listed it as one of the Three Famous Hot Springs of Japan (the others being Gero Onsen in Gifu Prefecture and Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture), and today it is regularly voted one of the top three Hot Springs in Japan and is noted for it's water quality and town atmosphere.
Although it wasn't my first time to Kusatsu, this was my first reporting trip and the plan was to check out some ryokan and see some of the surround area. First we did some hiking on Mt. Shirane which overlooks Kusatasu. It's an old volcano and has this sulfurous lake at the top that is a milky baby blue color. I don't think you wanna go swimming in it though. A funny thing you'll see there are fashionably dressed girls climbing the trail up the mountain... in high heels. Actually, its only a few hundred meter long paved trail so they're fine.
Anyway, the hiking in Kusatsu is nice, but the best part is the onsen. The town is centered around this big spring that has a series of wooden channels coming from it. It's called the Yubatake and it's purpose is to collect the mineral deposits from the onsen water which is later sold as a powder in the souvenir shops so you can recreate the onsen in your bath at home. We toured one of the nearby ryokan, Naraya, which is one of the oldest and nicest ryokan in the area. It looked great, kind of a modern old style if that makes any sense. Then we headed back to our ryokan for dinner.
The second day of our trip was for onsening. We hit up three different ones including the Saino Kawara Rotenburo (outdoor public bath), the Beltz Center, and Shirohata no Yu (the small public bathhouse next to the Yubatake). I'd been to Saino Kawara Rotenburo before and it remains one of my favorite outdoor baths. It's water is great and the atmosphere is nice since it is outside and practically on a mountain path.
The Beltz Center is meant for therapudic bathing, so I wasn't suprised that it was all older people in the bath. It's a typical bath and was relatively expensive, so I guess you could skip it in favor of the many more traditional bath houses in the area.
One of the neat traditional baths was Shirohata no Yu (free by the way) which is just next to the Yubatake. It's a tiny place with only two baths and feels like its a hundred years old. I loved it. But the water was the hottest I've ever tried and bathing was almost painful. I was only able to get in the cooler of the two baths for just a few minutes, and I stuck one leg in the hotter bath for just a few seconds before deciding that it was just not going to work. I don't think it'll actually hurt you though as one guy was cooking himself in it for a while. He was pretty pink though when he got out.
Anyway, that's it for now.