The winter is finally coming to an end- honestly, I’m really not a big fan of cold weather. Ironically, you can take the most breathtaking photo during the winter. For instance, a cloudless blue sky with a clear view of Mount Fuji or even what you see on the top of this page, mountain road covered in pretty white snow. That picture was actually taken from the window of a car during a drive up the mountain in Gunma Prefecture.
In this article, I want to share with you my trip to Kusatsu, Shiga. To visit one of the 3 biggest hot spring town on high grounds in Japan. By the way, you might want to refer to hot springs as “ONSEN” when you are asking for directions here in Japan.
Take-away tips! You can find a lot of “BIG 3” in Japan, basically meaning top 3 spots in Japan. And they are of a really huge genre ranging from hot springs to natural sights. The BIG 3 hot springs are:
- Kusatsu Onsen – Gunma Prefecture
- Arima Onsen – Hyogo Prefecture
- Gero Onsen – Gifu Prefecture
The first thing that really left the deepest impression in me was that strong pungent smell of sulphur the moment I reached the onsen town. Kusatsu is one of the most remarkable onsens in Japan and indeed, every here and there I can find smoke coming from the ground itself. In the village, there is this magnificent architecture that is meant to carry streams of the hot spring onsen to.. wherever they are meant to be I suppose?!
Photo Spot #1 – Yubatake. Main symbol of Kusatsu Onsen Town. Magnificent architecture of 7 streams carrying the hot springs to hotels. The purpose was to reduce the temperature of the water.
Kusatsu has its history dated all the way back before the Edo Period. The town is strategically located at the foot of the active volcano- Shirane Volcano. It was later discovered that the hotsprings might have healing effect for high blood pressure and even asthma and rheumatism. In the early 1950s, a hospital was built which utilised the magnificent effects of the hot springs for its treatment. Such treatments are unfortunately not available these days anymore. Now the town only exists to preserve its history.
Located not far from the town was yet another of my favourite spots – Yugama (湯釜). It is a 30 mins bus ride or a 30 mins drive away from the town. To my utmost dismay, I had to climb yet another 20 mins to reach the top – but no worries, the road are very well maintained and an easy climb. Yugama is a beautiful -almost magical-blue lake located on top of a live volcano known as Shirane Volcano.
Photo Spot #2 – Yugama
By the way, if you drive further down, you can actually see monkeys enjoying onsen! This is apparently one super popular tourist spot but unfortunately that day, the road was full of melting snow, it was really hard for us to continue driving through the narrow mountain road. And so, with courtesy from a free image website, I present to you… (drum row)…
Photo Spot #3- Jigokutani Yaen Kouen (地獄谷野猿公園）
Be sure to be there to get some really great shots yourself!
I managed to catch a performance and even got a first-hand experience with the oldest “tradition” in the onsen town. It is called Yumomi (湯もみ体験). A ritual to express gratitude to nature which blessed the town with good hot springs, but really the main purpose was to reduce the temperature of the water so that it is suitable for a person to actually get into the water.
Photo Spot #4 – Yumomi Experience
Aha! Delicious part of the trip. On the left you will find the Onsen Manjyu – traditional Japanese sweets filled with read bean paste – enjoy this small treat while taking a foot-only onsen! The image on the right is called Konnayaku, some says that it is a good diet food, rich in vitamins yet low calorie. It is actually made from Japanese potato.