I traveled to Nagano once with a friend, we were going to see the snow monkeys. Our plan was to spend the night at a ryokan in the small town of Yamanouchi and head to Nagano-shi the next day. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the hotel we had booked ahead of time was not only in a different town but in a different prefecture entirely! In fact, it was on the other side of Shiga-kogen in the Japanese Alps. Thankfully, all this happened during the summer so driving over the mountains wasn’t too big of a deal, and the whole experience granted us a unique look at a secluded part of Japan. Ladies and gents, I give you KUSATSU!!
Kusatsu, located in Gunma Prefecture, is home to hot springs so well-reputed, shoguns had it shipped to them all the way in Edo. It is said to help heal any number of maladies, which explains its popularity with troubled rulers. The town is a tourist destination year-round. In the summer, guests wander the streets in cotton yukata, visiting different spots offering a good bath and enjoying the general ambience of a town permanently in festival-mode. The autumn is highlighted by walks through mountain trails highlighted by orange, yellow, and red leaves. And the winter…well, you can imagine that a good soak in a hot spring is a thousand times better after an active day skiing or snowboarding. Did I mention that all of this plays out in front of the Japanese Alps? Because they’re pretty crucial to the whole “this town is secluded but active” idea.
My friend and I accessed this jewel by car, which is the easiest way to get there. It also accessible by bus and there is no train station. However, once you get to Kusatsu, there is no need for any mode of transportation except for your own two feet. It is an immensely pedestrian-friendly place and is guaranteed to give you a thorough workout with all of its sweet sidestreets and inclined roads. There are also taxis and buses to take you to parts a bit out of easy walking distance.
So, if you are in the mood for seeing a part of Japan renowned by the Japanese but unknown by most foreigners, I highly recommend giving Kusatsu a shot!