Kusatsu, Gunma: Wikis


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Location of Kusatsu in Gunma
 - Mayor Takashi Nakazawa
 - Total 49.74 km2 (19.2 sq mi)
 - Density 149/km2 (385.9/sq mi)
City Symbols
 - Flower Rhododendron
Website Town of Kusatsu
Phone number 0279-88-0001

28 Ōaza Kusastsu, Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma-ken


Kusatsu (草津町 Kusatsu-machi?) is a small town in Agatsuma District in Gunma Prefecture, Japan. Kusatsu is situated about 1200 meters above sea level. The active volcano Mount Shirane (2160 m high) and the inactive Mount Tengu (1385 m high) and Mount Motoshirane (2171 m high) are located west of Kusatsu.



Due to the altitude Kusatsu's annual average temperature is 7 °C, with a maximum temperature of around 30 °C during summer and a minimum temperature of -14 °C in winter. The main rainy season is from June to September.

Population, economy, and infrastructure

Kusatsu has a population of 7419, which is slowly decreasing. The town's main income is tourism (about 90% of the working population is employed in the tertiary sector), with very little industry and almost no agriculture. Kusatsu's infrastructure is well developed: Besides road 292, there are bus connections from Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station, Shinjuku, Tokyo, and other areas. During the winter season the streets are kept free of snow using Onsen water.


Kusatsu is one of the most popular hot springs resorts in Japan and regularly achieves high rankings in Japan-wide surveys.

There are about 100 Onsen in Kusatsu with a total amount of about 34,000 liters water per minute pouring out of the ground. The water is sulfurous and acid. The hot springs are said to help cure the following ailments: arthralgia, stiff shoulders, paralysis, hardenings, bruises, sprains, chronic indigestion, hemorrhoids, chills, arteriosclerosis, burns, chronic gynecological disorders.

The water from the Onsen is used not only for bathing but also for heating of the city's primary and secondary schools, the municipal welfare center, the streets during winter and many households, as well as for the municipal swimming pool.

Sister cities

Kusatsu has numerous sister cities in Japan and around the world. In Japan these are mostly Onsen towns or seaside resorts such as:

Another sister city is Japan Kusatsu, Shiga.

Outside Japan, Kusatsu has the following sister cities:

  • Austria Neustift, Austria. Winter sports resort town. Contact established through the Austrian national ski team.
  • Australia Snowy River, Australia. This town is located on the same latitude as Kusatsu, only in the southern hemisphere.

Kusatsu is member of the "Romantic road Japan" (日本ロマンチック街道 Nihon romanchikku kaidō?) from Komoro, Nagano to Nikkō, Tochigi. This road is a "partner road" to the German romantic road.



Yayoi period

The legendary origin of Kusatsu goes back to the second century during the Yayoi period. According to the legend, either Yamato Takeru or Yamabushi discovered the hot springs around Kusatsu. There is no historical evidence for either claim, however. But there is evidence that Yamato Takeru named the towns Tsumagoi and Agatsuma after his wife ("tsuma" means "wife" in Japanese). Since both towns are near Kusatsu, we do know that people at least settled near Kusatsu at that time.

Kamakura period

Up to the 12th century there is no specific record of Kusatsu. Local lore recounts that in 1193, Minamoto Yoritomo came to Kusatsu in pursuit of fleeing Taira clan warriors. He then bathed in the Yubatake (湯畑?). The Gozaishi (御座石?, illustrious seat, royal seat) on which Yoritomo sat, and the Yoritomo-gū (頼朝宮?, Yoritomo Palace) in which he is said to have bathed, can be visited to this day, near the Yubatake. The story also says that there was a lot of undergrowth near the Yubatake, which was cut by Yoritomo, suggesting that there wasn't a settlement near today's Kusatsu at that time. Kusatsu's history began in 1200 when Kōsenji (光泉寺?, Light of the hot springs temple) was founded. Records can be found in the annals of Kusatsu.

Sengoku period

Almost 400 years later, during the Sengoku period, there is more evidence for the existence of Kusatsu, which, in the meantime, had grown into a hot-springs resort popular with wounded Samurai, who came here to heal their wounds. In the Tokyo University Historiographical Book Of Facsimiles (東大史料編纂所影写本 Tōdai shiryō hensanjo eishabon?) we can find correspondence between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the following issue: In the year 1595 (Bunroku 4) Hideyoshi recommended the Kusatsu hot springs to Ieyasu. The latter was ill, however, and couldn't go to Kusatsu himself, so he advised his servants to fetch some water from Kusatsu and bring it to his residence in Edo (Tokyo).

Some historians have argued that Ieyasu actually feigned illness in order to avoid going to Kusatsu, as the Sanada clan, which was hostile towards him, resided in the vicinity of Kusatsu, in Ueda Castle.

Edo period

During the Edo period, especially the Bakumatsu, Kusatsu experienced unprecedented economic growth and became one of Japan's best known hot springs. This was partly due to the increasing incidence of venereal diseases like gonorrhoea and syphilis, contracted in Tokyo red light districts like Yoshiwara, for which there was then no known cure besides bathing in a hot spring. The saying: "Kusatsu sengen Edo gamae" (草津千軒江戸構え?) also goes back to this time and means: A thousand stores, just like in (the shopping districts in) Edo.

Yubatake at the beginning of the 20th century

Hearing the praise of the Kusatsu Onsen the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune had hot-spring water drawn from the Yubatake source and transported into his castle for bathing.

Meiji period

In the year 1869 (Meiji 2) Kusatsu burned to the ground. The town was reconstructed within a few years, but the process left many local people in debt, causing the bankruptcy of many small enterprises, especially ryokan, over the next 20 years. At that time many of the inhabitants of Kusatsu abandoned the traditional practice of "Fuyuzumi" (冬住み?), which meant leaving Kusatsu in wintertime and returning to their hometowns, located further down the mountains. Instead, the townspeople sold their old homes to repay their debts and began to live in Kusatsu all year long.
In Meiji 9 (1876) Kusatsu village and Maeguchi village got together to built one ward office and in Meiji 22 (1889) Kusatsu, Maeguchi and 6 other villages got together to form the village of Kusatsu but in Meiji 23 Kusatsu and Maeguchi were again building one unit while the 6 remaining villages formed Kuni-mura village. Since than it remained the same splitting till today.
The infrastructure developed in the Meiji period and also people`s knowledge, therefore many famous people were visiting Kusatsu. Especially foreigners were scientifically interested in this areas an important area for research of effects of hot springs, volcanos etc.
In 1876 (Meiji 9) Dr. Erwin Bälz, a German internist came to Kusatsu for the first time. Dr. Erwin Bälz was one of the fathers of modern western medical science in Japan and court physician to the emperor. He was convinced of the healing power of the hot springs in Kusatsu, and began scientific research into them with a view to convincing the townspeople of the need to teach the correct application of the hot springs to Japanese medical doctors. Furthermore he made Kusatsu well-known in Europe, a fact for which the inhabitants of Kusatsu are grateful even today.

Taishō to Heisei

In 1914 (Taishō 3) the Kusatsu ski club was founded.

In 1926 (Taishō 15) the construction of the Kusakaru railway line (草軽電気鉄道 Kusakaru denki tetsudō?) between Kusatsu and Karuizawa, which had been begun in 1908 (Meiji 41) was finished.

In 1948 (Shōwa 23) a ski lift was erected on Mount Tengu, near Kusatsu. It was the first ski lift in Japan, with Kusatsu going on to become one of the country's first proper ski resorts.

In 1964 (Shōwa 39) rail services to the town ceased after the closure of the nearby sulfur pit and the ensuing loss of freight traffic, which made operation of the line uneconomic.

In 1992 (Heisei 4) and 1994 (Heisei 6) Kenji Ogiwara from Kusatsu won two Olympic gold medals in the Nordic combined team events, as well as three world cup championships (twice individual, once team) in Nordic skiing between 1993 and 1997. His brother Tsugiharu won the world championship with the Japanese team in 1995.

Sights and events


Yubatake at night

The Yubatake, one of the biggest hot springs and the main attraction of the town, is located in the center of Kusatsu. The spring water pours out of the rock and is then conducted through several rows of wooden boxes. In those wooden boxes Yu no hana (湯の花?) one of Kusatsu's specialties is cultivated. The word Yubatake accordingly means "hot water field." Around the Yubatake there are 100 name plates of famous persons that visited Kusatsu. Internationally well-known are: Erwin Bälz (German internist), Julius Scriba (German medical doctor, surgeon), Bruno Taut (German architect), Ernest Satow (British researcher of Japan, diplomat), Kakuei Tanaka (Japanese prime minister 1972 - 1974), Rikidōzan (famous pro wrestler). On the lower part of the Yubatake there is a small cascade and the rock has an emerald shade. This is one of the most popular spots for souvenir pictures.


Netsu no yu

The Netsu no yu (熱の湯 lit. "hot water"?), though located adjacent to the Yubatake, is a hot spring in its own right. The water is about 54 degrees, so, naturally, it is not possible to bathe in it. For that reason there is the ancient tradition of Yumomi (湯もみ?), which means kneading or bashing the water. Using 1.80 meter long wooden boards the hot water is stirred, bashed, kneaded and thus cooled down. The simpler method of pouring in cold water is not practiced as it would dilute the healing power of the water. During the Yumomi ceremony, the Kusatsu song is sung and Japanese traditional dance is performed.

The Bälz museum

The Bälz museum is another of Kusatsu's attractions. Located at the entrance to Kusatsu, visitors can inform themselves about the life and work of Erwin Bälz. There is also a souvenir shop with goods mostly from Germany and the Czech republic.


There are more than 100 Onsen in Kusatsu. The biggest and most popular are:

Ootaki no yu
  • Ōtaki no yu (大滝の湯?, lit. "great waterfall hot spring") is named after spring water forming a waterfall. The building itself is made from wood and there is one basin on the inside and one on the outside (Rotenburo). The service in this Onsen is very extensive: There are massage chairs, footbaths, relaxation rooms and more.
Sai no kawara
  • Sai no kawara (西の河原 lit. "western riverbed"?) is an outside basin of approximately 500 ㎡, which can be used by more than 100 guests at once. There are separate baths for men and women divided by a wooden fence. Located in a valley overflowing with hot springs it is one of the most beautiful Rotenburo of Japan.
  • The Bälz Onsen Center, situated on a plateau near Mount Tengu ski area, offers great scenery with lots of nature all around. It is a popular Après-ski recreation spot.



Another of Kusatsu's attractions are the mountain flowers growing in and around the city. The most famous are:

  • Watasuge (Eriophorum Vaginatum, Hare's tail cotton grass)
  • Zazensō (Simplocarpus foetidus, Skunk cabbage)
  • Azumashakunage (Rhododendron Metternichii var. Japonica, a kind of Rhododendron)
  • Hakusanshakunage (Rhododendron brachycarpum, a kind of Rhododendron)
  • Rengetsutsuji (Rhododendron molle subsp. Japonicum, a kind of Azalea)
  • Yanagiran (Epilobium angustifolium, Rosebay Willowherb)
  • Nanakamado (Sorbus commixta, Japanese Rowan)
  • Ezorindō (Gentiana triflora var. Japonica, blue Gentian)
  • Komakusa (Dicentra peregrina, a kind of Magnolia)

Festivals and events

Himuro no sekku

During the year there are a number of traditional festivals as well as a number of other events happening in Kusatsu.

  • One of the most important festivals is the summer Music Academy, which attracts famous musicians from all over Japan and even from abroad. The Japanese empress also visits the Music academy every year.
  • The Kōsenji flower festival (光泉寺花祭り Kōsenji hanamatsuri?) on the 7th and 8th of May is a much more traditional festival. The children of the Kindergarten near Kōsenji pull an elephant made of paper around the Yubatake in celebration of Buddha's birthday.
  • The Ice-cave festival (氷室の節句 Himuro no Sekku?) happens on the first of June. Ice is brought from a cave in Mt.Shirane, which was formed by an eruption of the volcano, and then is used to make tea. According to the legend, anyone who drinks this special tea will not get ill in the following year.
Himuro no sekku tea ceremony
Yuki no kairō
  • During the first three days of August the Onsen gratitude festival (温泉感謝祭り Onsen kansha matsuri?) takes place. This traditional festival has its origins in the Ushiyu matsuri (丑湯祭り?), which in accordance with the Chinese calendar is celebrated during the hottest time of the year on the day of the ox. According to the lore, those that bathe in an Onsen in the hour of the ox (one to three AM) will not get ill for one year. In contrast, today's ceremony is totally different: The goddess of Onsen descends the stairs at Kōsenji symbolizing the descent from heaven. She then gathers water from seven big hot springs in Kusatsu and distributes the water to the baths in Kusatsu. On the third day she ascends the stairs to Kōsenji, representing the ascent to heaven. Through this ceremony the blessing of the gods is granted, which will make sure that the springs won't run dry.
  • In last half of August the KUSATSU INTERNATIONAL SUMMER MUSIC ACADEMY & FESTIVAL takes place. This is one of most traditional music festival in Japan.(since 1980)
  • In addition, the following events take place in Kusatsu: Tour de Kusatsu (amateur bicycle race), Yuki no kairō walking (雪の回廊ウォーキング?), hiking through a valley of snow walls several meters high}}), soccer and skiing events.

Thespa Kusatsu football club, although formed in and representing Kusatsu in the Japanese football league system, actually plays in Maebashi.


Yu no hana
  • Yu no hana, which means "hot water flower," is extracted from the hot water at the Yubatake and consists of mineral sediment (mostly sulfur), which, dried, is sold as powder by the town. Using Yu no hana, guests can experience Onsen at home.
  • Amanattō (甘納豆?) is a kind of sweet made of a special sort of highland beans, which doesn't bear any fruit below 700 meters above sea level. First the beans are dried, then put into water and finally they are cooked in sugar. The details of the making process are a company secret.
  • Manjū is a well-known sweet in Japan, consisting of a pastry crust made of flour, rice flour and buckwheat and a filling made of Azuki bean paste. In Onsen resorts manjū were often steamed using the steam rising from the hot springs.

Lakes and waterfalls


There are a number of impressive waterfalls and beautiful crater lakes. The most famous ones are: Yugama (湯釜?) located 2100 meters above sea level is the crater lake of Mount Shirane. It boasts a very high acidity and an emerald-green surface. The Yumiike (弓池?, lit. "bow lake"), 2000 meters above sea level is located between Mount Shirane and Mount Motoshirane. Its water is crystal clear. The Ōsen no taki (嫗仙の滝?) and the Jōfu no taki (常布の滝?) are waterfalls near Kusatsu.

Tenguyama skiing area

The ski area

The Kusatsu international ski area (草津国際スキー場 Kusatsu kokusai sukijō?) on Mount Tengu and Mount Shirane is over 90 years old and besides the Onsen one of the main attractions of Kusatsu. The ski area extends from 2100 meters above sea level down to 1300 meters above sea level. The snow quality is very good and there are ten different routes for all difficulty levels as well as twelve lifts. The longest route is eight kilometers long.

See also

External links


  • Kawaai Yūtarō, Onsenshiwa, 1966, Gunma-ken, Agatsuma-Gun, Kusatsu-Machi, 3-7-2 Shigehara
  • Kusatsu Kyōikuiinkai, Kusatsuonsen no Bunkazai, 1998, Asahiinsatsukōgyō Kabushikigaisha
  • Erwin von Bälz Museum, director Okitsu Hiroyoshi, Toki No Utsuroi (not published)
  • Kazumine Daiji, Manga Kusatsumachishi, 2000, Kusatsumachi
  • Kusatsu Ryokankyōkai, Meiyukusatsu Onsen Hyakka
  • Kusatsu Kankō Kyōkai, Kusatsu Style, 2007
  • Kusatsu municipal business division, Kusatsu – The Kusatsu Guide 2002 (edited 2007)
  • Kusatsu municipal tourism division, Kusatsu – Kusatsu tourism index
  • Kusatsu town hall, special project division, Yubatake VIPs – 100 famous people that visited Kusatsu, 1999


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