Upon arriving in Kusatsu Onsen, it is easy to feel bamboozled at the many options of public hot springs to bathe in. The triple hot spring pass (called Choina Pass) is an easy option to get you started on your Kusatsu Onsen experience. Available for 1600 yen (or 700 yen for children aged 3-12), it not only steers you in the right direction for 3 very different onsen experiences, but also provides great value with a 500 yen saving of the regular price. There is also a little surprise that awaits you upon completion of the 3 onsen!
Although you can visit the 3 onsen in any order, the first stop on your onsen visit will most likely be Gozanoyu as it is located right in the centre of the town overlooking the renowned Yubatake or “hot spring field”. The building recreates the feeling of the Edo and Meiji period style architecture recapturing the elegance of the times with wood based construction including the wood shingle roofing using planks of cedar.
There are 2 types of water sources, Yubatake Springs (acidic sulfur pH 2.08) and Bandai Springs (acidic chloride sulfate spring pH 1.5). Both types of water are highly acidic and provide strong curative effects for neuralgia, joint pain, bruising, burns, digestive complaints, gynaecological disorders or skin beautification.
Stone and wooden surfaced baths are alternated for women and men each day and both have a totally different feel. On the day of my visit the women had the wooden baths which I enjoyed very much, however you need to be very careful as the wooden surface can become very slippery.
After your bath, there are a couple of large tatami rest rooms upstairs where you can grab a couple of zabuton (square cushions) and sit or lie down to recuperate after bathing, whilst also enjoying a view over the Yubatake.
Situated about 700 metres along the quaint little back streets from the Yubatake, Ohtakinoyu is the biggest of the 3 baths and includes cafes and restaurants. It appears to be popular with locals and tourists alike and has a large indoor bath, rotenburo and “partition baths” which was to be a new point of bathing learning for me.
The partition baths are 4 baths which are set in a row which cascading water flowing from the top bath which is 46 degrees celcius down to the lower bath which has a temperature of 38 degrees. This allows you to try the practice of awase-yu whereby you gradually get used to bathing at different temperatures of water. The 46 degrees bath is particularly challenging, and should only be tried for very short periods – I managed about 30 seconds!
3. Sainokawara Rotenburo
Located in Sainokawara Park which is about a 12 minute walk from the central town area, this is a very large outdoor bath area surrounded by nature. On the approach to Sainokawara Rotenburo you will wander through a stone paved area and literally see lava and vapour rising from a stream of hot spring water. It is quite amazing to feel you are so close to an active volcano with mother nature spouting and gently gurgling small bursts of hot steamy water.
Speaking of mother nature, both bathing areas at Sainokawara Rotenburo, are partitioned off between male and female, however the male bathing area is actually visible from the walking path. Male bathers seemed pretty non fussed, however walkers along the path weren’t sure whether to take a look and admire, snap a photo, or perhaps pretend they didn’t really see what they had!
There are no showering facilities at Sainokawara Rotenburo and it can get a little crowded within the changing areas, however the bath is a large expanse of water with plenty of space to enjoy the surrounding nature. As cameras are not allowed, unfortunately I can only share pictures of the entrance. There is an image of the actual bath on the right hand side of the triple pass image above.
My first Onsen “Qualification”!
Upon purchasing the triple onsen pass, you will receive a card to have stamped at each onsen. After visiting all 3 locations, you will also receive a certificate officially certifying your onsen visits and congratulating you for immersing your mind and body into learning about Kusatsu Onsen and the unique bathing processes, encouraging you to continue your love and connection to Kusatsu Onsen in the future. I was defintely chuffed to receive my first “official” onsen qulification and as per the message on the certificate, my love for Kusatsu Onsen will continue and I will be back!