Monday, January 17, 2011

草津 一月 (Kusatsu in January)

During the second week of our winter break, we headed north to Gunma prefecture (群馬)。We wanted to experience a traditional Japanese hotel and onsen so we found the perfect little place called 草津 (Kusatsu). Only after I booked our stay did I realize that I had, by sheer luck, chosen one of the most famous and popular onsen locations in all of Japan. Win!

The reason Kusatsu is so popular is because of the of the onsen. I suppose I should explain what onsen is. 温泉(onsen) is a natural hot spring in which people bathe.  The minerals in the water are supposed to cure illnesses, making onsen bathing a rejuvenating and relaxing experience.

Kusatsu is in the mountains of Gunma. It took us about three hours to get there on the train.  There is a large hot spring source in Kusatsu that exists due to an active volcano right next to the town.  The primary onsen source comes up right in the center of town. It is called ゆばたけ(yubatake).

ゆばたけ 温泉 (yubatake onsen)
This source feeds all of the public and private onsen facilities throughout Kusatsu.  There are even little foot baths around town for you to stick your feet in and warm up! So much fun.

This onsen town has been extremely popular for decades. There is a traditional way of cooling the water because it is much too hot to bathe in as it comes from the ground.  Long wooden paddles are used to stir the water to cool it.

The ladies sing a special song to the rhythm of their stirring.

There are a couple of very famous onsen facilities in Kusatsu. We checked out a couple. If you are shy, you just have to get over that.  Because everyone is naked. Genders are, of course, separate.  We mostly stuck to the private onsens in our Ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel). They were gorgeous.

If ever you come to Japan...this is an absolute must.
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  1. This looks incredible, Kate! I just sent your blog post to my sister and brother-in-law who visited Japan sometime last year. If I ever make it to Japan, you bet I'm going to try get here! :)

  2. I knew Finnish folk were of oriental descent!!

    Just kidding. I suppose communal bathing is from many cultures. Looks like you are experiencing quite a lot!!