Kusatsu, in the northwest corner of Gunma Prefecture, is a massive plateau resort surrounded by mountains of the Mikuni Mountain Range which exceed 2,000 meters, including the beautiful Mt. Shirane. Even in the hot Japanese summers, the average temperature is a cool 17.5 °C, making it a popular getaway for those who can’t stand the heat. With convenient access from the greater Tokyo area, it is only around 3 hours by bus or train from Ueno Station. You can even take a highway bus straight from Shinjuku.
The healing properties of Kusatsu Hot Springs are so effective that it is said “Love is the only disease which they cannot cure.” One of Japan’s Three Great Springs, it has the largest natural outflow of hot spring water in the nation. Strolling around the spa town, you can enjoy the sight of steam rising from the Yubatake. Every minute some 4,000 liters of hot spring water burst forth and are cooled with seven mokuhi—wooden open-top pipes similar to rain gutters—which carry the water to the various inns for you to enjoy as hot spring baths. The name Yubatake comes from its appearance as a “field of hot water” (o-yu no hatake), and at night the place is lit up spectacularly.
The environs form a promenade paved with tiles, perfect for a relaxing walk. A little off the path around the Yubatake, you will also find Azumaya, where you can enjoy a nice foot bath. Azumaya is a reconstruction of the Edo-period (1603–1868) communal baths that existed here, allowing you to experience the atmosphere of hot spring baths just as the Japanese of the early modern period did.