Kusatsu Onsen Area (Part 1)

This Monday was a bank holiday in Japan, which meant that Logan and I could spend three whole days together without having to worry about Logan going into work. Since we were already in Gunma prefecture, we decided to spend our three days' holiday visiting some of the region's famous onsen (hot springs). We booked two different places to stay: the first was a large resort-style hotel village with western-style rooms and a decidedly family feel; the second was a slightly more upmarket but equally enormous resort hotel in which we tried out a Japanese style room including traditional evening meal and breakfast (gulp!).

The area we went to is called Kusatsu, and it is home to some of the largest onsen in Japan. In the centre of town in Kusatsu is the 2nd largest hot spring in Japan, "Yukatabe", pumping out 4600 litres of mineral-rich water every minute, at a cool 60°C. The whole area is filled with bath houses of varying sizes, often as part of a small B&B style traditional Japanese inn or "ryokan". By lucky coincidence, the weekend that we stayed there a festival was taking place in Kusatsu, for the spirit of the Shirane Shrine, which overlooks the town. After settling into out hotel, we wandered down to Yukatabe and arrived just in time to see the beginning of the parade, in which portable shrines are carried around the town centre on rather heavy looking wooden planks to a soundtrack of clapping and cheering and chanting. The days are shorter here in summer, so by 7pm we were already watching this procession in the dark, illuminated by the lights of the cafes and restaurants which line the streets, as well as by the lights surrounding the onsen at the centre. It was certainly a magical spectacle to see, and we were especially lucky to stumble upon it by accident.
After a spell of wandering around and soaking up the sights and sounds, we found a cosy little ramen restaurant and enjoyed a simple, delicious tea of noodles, roasted pork and vegetables. The rest of the evening was passed very pleasantly strolling around the town.


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