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10. KARUIZAWA & KUSATSU ONSEN
25 Things To Do In & Around Kusatsu Onsen

25 Things To Do In & Around Kusatsu Onsen

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One of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns, Kusatsu Onsen sits high in the Joshintesu Kogen National Park. Located at an altitude of around 1200 metres, the town is fed a copious amount of volcanic water from nearby Mt. Shirane.

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This is a dramatic yet beautiful landscape. Sitting between Mt. Shirane and Mt. Asama – two of the most active volcanoes on Honshu – a visit to Kusatsu reveals a world and lifestyle found in few other countries.

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Over many generations, the thermal water rising to the surface has been harnessed by local people to bathe in, cook for, and around which, their identity is very much built.

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A region of retro-hot spring towns and readily accessible via Karuizawa Station using the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo, Nagano or Kanazawa, we recommend visiting this unique and striking region.

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Here’s our suggestion of 25 things to do in and around Kusatsu Onsen:

1 / Stay at Kusatsu Onsen / all year round

Situated around 200km to the north-west of Tokyo, Kusatsu Onsen is one of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns. At around 1200 metres above sea level and fed by the volcanic waters of Mt. Shirane.

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The nearby volcanic area of Shirane supplies Kusatsu with the largest volume of thermal water of any onsen town in Japan. The acidic nature of the water kills bacteria and microorganisms and is said to be excellent at treating a range of ailments.

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Kusatsu Onsen has home to many hotels and other accommodation, including ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with in-house hot springs, along with 13 public onsen which can be used free of charge by residents and visitors.

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Some ryokan also open their hot springs for use by day-visitors during daylight hours, charging between JPY500 to JPY1500 for entry. Information regarding accommodation in and around Kusatsu Onsen can be found through our ‘Kusatsu Onsen Hotel’ page.

2 / Kusatsu Onsen’s iconic Yubatake / all year round

While visiting Kusatsu it won’t be hard to find the town’s ‘yubatake’. Translating as ‘hot water field’, the yubatake is an open area of timber troughs over which the town’s thermal water flows. Around 500 litres of water cascade across the yubatake every minute, and in doing so, cools from its natural 70°C to a temperature point that can be used to feed the town’s many baths.

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In that regard, the yubatake serves a very practical purpose however it is the grandiose and unique appearance of it, that makes it the most instantly recognisable features of almost any onsen town in Japan.

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Around the yubatake, many ryokan, shops and restaurants cater to the many tourists who gather to see this impressive sight.

3 / Enjoy a Yumomi Performance / all year round

Taking place in the Netsunoyu building (pictured to the centre-left in the image below), positioned next to the yubatake, the ‘yumomi’ is a daily performance in which large wooden paddles are used to stir and thus cool the water.

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This traditional activity is undertaken by a local troupe in costume and is accompanied with folk songs and dance – a performance in every sense of the word.

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There are typically six daily performances taking around 30 minutes. Admission is JY600.

4 / Visit Sainokawara Park / all year round

Only 10 minutes walk from the yubatake, Sainokawara Park has several thermal water sources, walking trails and a popular large outdoor bath.

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Open from 07:00 to 20:00 (or 09:00 to 20:00 from December to march), Sainokwara is a large facility, with space for around 100 people in each outdoor pool. Segregated by gender, admission is JPY600.

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Walking along the trails is a great way to relax after bathing. When doing so, look-out for water bubbling to the surfaces and streaming down rock faces in several areas.

5 / Hiking at Mount Shirane / spring to autumn

Located in the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Mount Shirane – often referred to as Kusatsu-Shirane – is a series of volcanic peaks, including some of the most active in Japan. At 2160 metres above sea level, Shirane is also one of the highest volcanoes in Japan and is said to hold the world’s most acidic lake in the Yugama crater.

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Reading this you may well ask, why go there? While you should always exercise caution and check advisories before visiting, Mt. Shirane is well-worth visiting for its dramatic yet fertile landscape through which, several excellent hiking trails cross.

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From mid-April to early-November, buses run every hour or two from the Kusatsu Bus Terminal and take approximately 30 minutes / JPY1130 one-way to reach Shirane.

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Mt. Shirane is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Shirane, we recommend checking the following website.

6 / Shiga Kusatsu Kogen Route / spring to autumn

Also called the Shiga Kusatsu Road, this famous alpine route is actually part of National Route 292, connecting Kusatsu Onsen with Shiga Kogen.

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Due to heavy snow in winter, the road is only open between May and mid to late-November but in that time, offers drivers a beautiful drive on well-maintained roads.

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Driving the route is a great way to move to and from Kusatsu Onsen but make sure to check advisories as the road can close from time-to-time as a precaution, when activity is detected or expected at Mt. Shirane.

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Mt. Shirane is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Shirane, we recommend checking the following website.

7 / Snow Corridor of the Shiga Kusatsu Kogen Route / spring to autumn

Not to be mistaken with the famous Snow Walls of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, upon opening in April, the Shiga Kusatsu Kogen Route is also blessed with large snow walls formed by the sides of the road – up to 7 metres at time of opening.

While the snow corridor of the Shiga Kusatsu Kogen Route doesn’t reach the massive heights of Tateyama – up to 20 metres – you won’t have to share these walls with masses of visitors, making it a great experience for anyone crossing the route.

8 / Shiga Kogen Ski Resorts / winter

Located a short distance from the Jigokdani Monkey Park, Shiga Kogen can lay claim to being Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Spread between five mountain peaks, Shiga offers visitors an unparalleled expanse of interconnected terrain with free shuttle buses running around the resort to the few areas that are not connected.

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The resort is comprised of 18 ski areas – some large, some small – spread over more than 600 hectares of terrain and offering more than 80km of ski runs. Shiga Kogen’s higher altitude means it receives snow earlier than nearby resorts and keeps it for longer, blessing the resort with the longest season and best spring skiing in Nagano.

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Ideally suited to skiers, Shiga offers plenty to snowboarders with winter activities including snowmobiling, snowshoeing and more. As one of the host venues of the 1998 Winter Olympics, several areas of Shiga were used to host events including the first inclusion of snowboarding as an Olympic sport.

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The nearest large resort to Kusatsu Onsen and also the nearest large resort to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, heading to Shiga is a bit of a no-brainer when visiting the region in winter.

9 / Hiking in Shiga Kogen / spring to autumn

Most famous for its winter, Shiga Kogen is quickly becoming popular as an all-year-round destination. Nestled in the Joshinestu Kogen National Park, Shiga actually sits within the same geographic territory as Kusatsu and Mt. Shrinane, along with Manza Onsen, Shima Onsen and Mt. Asama (as described below).

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As the snow melts through spring, the valleys and mountains of Shiga Kogen open-up and offer great hiking and mountaineering. Declared a UNESCO Biopshere Reserve in 1981, Shiga is home to important alpine flora and fauna, typified by an extensive ecosystem of alpine ponds, lakes and marshes.

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In autumn, Shiga Kogen is one of the best areas to enjoy the region’s stunning autumn leaves.

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Shiga Kogen and nearby Kita-Shiga Kogen are located in the broader area of Yamanouchi. Also including the Jigokudani Monkey Park and multiple hot spring towns, Yamanouchi has lots to offer!

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For further information, please see our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.

10 / Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resorts & Olympic Resorts of Nagano / winter

Immediately accessible from the town centre, Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort is actually one of the highest resorts in Japan. It is also a small one meaning that it won’t keep anyone other than newbies entertained for long. From Kusatsu, you are within easy reach of the resorts of Nagano. As host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano is proud of its Olympic heritage. Events were spread across different resorts across the region and at several venues in Nagano City.

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Nagano is home to around 80 resorts however only a few were lucky enough to host events including Hakuba Happo One. Several events took place in and around Happo One, establishing Hakuba’s global profile. To this day, the resorts of Hakuba can lay claim to being Nagano’s most international and popular. Plenty to keep you entertained on your winter adventure!

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The Nagano Winter Olympics were the first to include snowboarding as a medaled sport, with all snowboarding events taking place in Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Boasting Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow conditions – given its higher altitude and prevailing weather conditions – Shiga is another resort quickly coming to the attention of international visitors. Offering over 600 hectares of interconnected terrain, Shiga is likely to become much more poplar over the coming years so get there now while it’s still relatively quiet.

Less than an hours drive from Shiga, Nozawa Onsen is one of Nagano’s most popular resorts – offering skiers and boarders around 300 hectares of train between 565 and 1650 metres.

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Also known for its great powder and setup for snowboarders, Nozawa is a lively resort serviced by a large village full of accommodation, restaurants and bars and ‘onsen’ (hot springs), Nozawa’s reputation is as much based on what happens off the mountain.

11 / Jigokudani Monkey Park / all year round

Located at the base of Shiga Kogen, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Central Japan’s most well-known destinations. At its most popular through the snow of winter, the park is in fact open all year round.

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The monkeys – known for their hot spring-bathing antics – come to the park all year round with each season offering its own reasons to visit.

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Known fondly as ‘snow monkeys’, they are in fact there all year round with spring, summer and autumn each providing their own reasons to visit to the park.

12 / Yudanaka & Shibu Onsen / all year round

Located in the Yamanouchi area and nearby the monkey park, Shibu Onsen is a quaint hot spring town boasting a 1300-year history. Home to numerous ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own in-house onsen, Shibu is famous for its nine ‘public’ onsen spread through the town.

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Although called public, all but one of the hot springs is for the exclusive use of guests staying at any of the towns guesthouses.

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Upon check-in, all guests are given a key which unlock each bathhouse, each said to treat different ailments.

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Trying all nine onsen – an effort known as the ‘kyu-to-meguri’ is a fun activity, especially in the cold and snow of winter. While there, look-out for the separate troop of monkeys which likes to regularly visit the town.

Yudanaka Seifuso Hotel

For further information, please see our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.

13 / Manza Onsen / all year round

Located nearby Kusatsu Onsen, Manza Onsen is another unique – but notably smaller – hot spring village known for its distinctive volcanic water. With a slightly lower altitude of around 1800 metres, Manza is set in a dramatic yet beautiful alpine landscape blessed with abundant thermal water.

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Much like Kusatsu, Manza’s water Is known for its highly acidic and curative properties. A range of hotels and ryokan provide a good amount of accommodation options in the area.

14 / Karuizawa Station / all year round

A convenient stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Karuizawa Station is the nearest shinkansen station to Kusatsu Onsen.

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Public buses run from the station to Kusatsu from outside the station’s North Exit. Six daily services take around 80 minutes and costs JPY2240 one-way.

15 / Prince Shopping Plaza & Hotel, Karuizawa / all year round

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, located right next to the station. Wildly popular with both domestic and international visitors, the expansive area is spread over 26 hectares and divided into six areas. More than 200 stores – including many international fashion brands – along with restaurants and landscape outdoor areas, make the plaza an enjoyable destination for avid shoppers.

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The Karuizawa Prince Hotel West and East are also immediately accessible from the shopping plaza – a comfortable and convenient base from which to enjoy everything Karuizawa has to offer. Information regarding accommodation in and around Karuizawa can be found at our hotels page.

16 / Mt Asama & Onioshidashi Volcanic Park / best: spring to autumn

Said to be the most active volcano on Honshu – Japan’s main island – Mt. Asama is one of the few mountains in the country that people are not allowed to climb. At 2568 metres above sea level, Asama broods at the southern end of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park – a constant presence looming over the popular resort town of Karuizawa.

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While this may again seem all a little off-putting, Mt. Asama is a striking destination best experienced at Onioshidashi Volcanic Park. Located nearby the volcano, the natural ‘park’ – made-up of huge boulders spread across a vast area – was created when Asama experienced its last cataclysmic eruption in 1783.

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Walking trails now meander between the boulders making-up both short and long walking circuits. Thriving within and on those boulders, countless varieties of rare and unique alpine plants grow in an other-worldly landscape.

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Open daily from 08:00 to 17:00, entry to the park is JPY650. Public buses from Karuizawa Station take around 20 minutes / JPY460 to reach Onioshidashi.

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Mt. Asama is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Asama/Onioshidashi Park, we recommend checking the following website.

17 / Shiraito Falls / all year round

Also accessible by bus from Karuizawa Station, Shiraito Falls can be visited anytime of year.

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Translating as the ‘White Threads’ waterfall, Shiraito is especially beautiful in autumn when the changing leaves transform the surrounding landscape a stunning variety of red, amber and yellow.

18 / Minakami Onsen / all year round

Along with Kusatsu Onsen, Ikaho Onsen and Shima Onsen (described below), Minakami Onsen is considered one of Gunma’s four best hot spring towns. Accommodation ranges from large hotels to family-run ryokan, catering to all tastes and needs. Most accommodation reserve their hot springs for the exclusive use of guests however, much like Kusatsu, some do allow use by day-visitors for between JPY500 to JPY1500.

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Another quaint town set amongst a beautiful natural setting, visitors to Minakami will quickly feel refreshed and relieved to be away the hustle and hassle of daily life.

19 / Ikaho Onsen / all year round

Another great hot spring town, Ikaho Onsen is located on Mt. Haruna and is known for its iron-rich waters.

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Home to many guesthouses and onsen, Ikaho is known for its 300-metre long stone path leading through the town.

20 / Shima Onsen / all year round

Believed to be one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan, Shima Onsen is blessed with more than forty water courses and is home to many excellent ryokan.

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Nestled in a beautiful valley, visitors can enjoy a tranquil getaway in this quaint, traditional town.

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Spread along the Shima River Valley, it’s a pleasant town to explore on-foot before retiring to your guesthouse for dinner and evening hot spring.

21 / Tomioka Silk Mill / all year round

Inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2014, Tomioka Silk Mill is Japan’s oldest modern silk reeling factory. Established by the Meiji government in 1872, the mill embodies the push to modernize Japan and compete with developed Western economies.

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Today the mill remains almost as it was built, in excellent condition and as such, was afforded World Heritage status.

22 / Zenko-ji Temple / all year round

Located in Nagano City, Zenko-ji Temple is the spiritual heart of Nagano itself. With a near-1400 year history, Zenko-ji’s story is entwined with that of Nagano and to this day, the temple retains its central importance to life in the region. One of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan, Zenko-ji is also the third largest and home to the first known Buddhist statue ever brought to Japan.

Zenko-ji temple in Nagano city

Open all year round, the temple performs a morning ceremony every day of the year. Taking place just after sunrise, the time of the ceremony varies throughout the year and is too early to attend when staying in Kusatsu. But it is worth-noting as it underlines Zenko-ji’s reputation as one of the most open and welcoming temples in the country. While there, visitors are welcome to experience traditional practices including guided meditation, goma prayer and calligraphy.

For visitors wanting to experience these activities or simply learn more about the temple, doing so on a private tour is a great way to discover more about the importance of Zenko-ji and role of Buddhism in Japan. We can arrange transport to and from your accommodation in Kusatsu and combine a visit to the temple with many other nearby destinations and experiences – whatever works best for you!

23 / Discover Togakushi / spring to autumn

Sitting in the forests just outside of Nagano City, Togakushi is home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines, the birthplace of a school of ninja, and producer of some of the best ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles) in the country. It is also home to Togakushi Ski Resort, a little known but great little resort that can be accessed using a local bus from Nagano Station.

All of that makes Togaksuhi an all year round destination which is now coming to the attention of international visitors. The shrines of Togakushi are spread through the forest, connected by walking tracks of which the avenue leading to the ‘Okusha’ (Upper Shrine) is the most famous. Lined by huge cedars, this is spectacular and otherworldly environment – one that captures the imagination and lives on for many as one of the highlights of Japan.

Numerous soba restaurants serve Togakushi’s signature noodle dishes while bamboo craft stores sell all manner of the highest quality wares. Home to the Togakure School of Ninja, Togakushi’s Ninjga Museum and Ninja Kids Village make for great entertainment from spring to autumn, before the snow returns and Togakushi Ski Resorts draws mostly local skiers who know just how good the ski runs are. Togakushi is waiting for you to discover it!

24 / The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route / spring to autumn

Often referred to as the ‘Roof of Japan’, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is one of Japan’s most iconic landscapes. Open each year from mid-April to late-November, Tateyama-Kurobe can be access on the Nagano-side of the mountain range via Ogizawa Station. At its most popular from opening in April until June, Japanese and international visitors flock to the Tateyama to see the fabled ‘Snow Walls’ – a truly stunning and unique sight.

Through summer, once the snow has gone, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route offers some of Japan’s best hiking while the autumn transitions to a stunning array of colours. We highly recommend making the journey to the Roof of Japan.

25 / Organise a private tour or charter to any of these destinations / all year round

As the suggestions above show, there is a lot to do around Kusatsu Onsen. Based in Nagano City and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1 rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including group tours, private tours and charters.

We can arrange transport including a private vehicle and driver, along with an English-speaking guide to, from and between any of these destinations and more! Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.

We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!

Why choose us?


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Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.

Got a question about arranging a charter or tour from Kusatsu Onsen? Feel free to contact us at snowmonkeyresorts@machinovate.com and let’s get planning together!