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The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

  • There are few truly magical places left within easy reach of a bus or train (or an intercontinental flight and a bus ride or a train ride). Japan has preserved scenic locations better than most countries, but even in this country, one can find themselves at a well-known shrine or a destination restaurant, disappointed that photographs of the place have managed to erase, say, a row of hostess bars or the crowds of gawping tourists lined up to take the same Instagram shot. That’s all the more reason to venture to a onsen resort like Kusatsu—and to stay the night.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    Kusatsu at night lives up to the pictures. The lights on the Yubatake and the surrounding area come on after dusk, and the place is transformed. The sound of water gurgling in the pinewood channels of the Yubatake seem louder when night falls. On a clear night up in the mountains, the stars are just visible through the steam. This is a pat reference and not the first time it has been applied to Kusatsu but it is accurate: the steam and lamplight of Kusatsu after dusk call to mind Ghibli films.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    Sai no Kawara’s outdoor pool (a short walk from Yubatake) closes earlier in the evening but some of the private onsen around Kusatsu are open as late as 11pm or midnight. After a soak in those pools, there is still time for a snack or a quick meal, and maybe even a slug of shochu with hot water, before one heads out on a stroll around Kusatsu.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    Beside the Yubatake, one of several ashiyu foot baths in Kusatsu welcomes those that want to soak their feet for a while as they watch the glowing steam rise over Kusatsu. The ashiyu are free to use and are a good way to mingle with your fellow onsen visitors.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    On Saturdays and Sundays from May to November, if the snow hasn’t come early, the stairs up to Kousenji Temple are lit with hundreds of candles. Even if one arrives too late in the year to catch the candle display, the temple itself and its courtyard are lit year-round. The temple’s perch above the Yubatake also provides the best views of Kusatsu at night.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    Kusatsu is fairly sedate in the evening but the bar in the lobby of Daitokan is a gathering place for night owls. Like many resort towns, Kusatsu saw development through the economic boom of the 1980s, and the Daitokan is a perfect example of the era’s contributions to vacation infrastructure. The atmosphere is convivial, the service affable, and there’s a good selection of sake and shochu. After a few drinks, wander over to the charmingly rundown game center, take some purikura and belt out your favorites in the miniature karaoke booths.

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    The Quintessential Onsen Experience: Kusatsu by Night

    Walking back to the center of Kusatsu after an afternoon spent in the outdoor pool at Sai no Kawara to get one last dip in the private baths before climbing the steps of Kousenji Temple, then dipping one’s feet in the ashiyu while taking a discreet sip from a can of chuhai, watching the steam drift through the lamplight, and finally retreating to a musty hotel lobby bar… Wandering Kusatsu by night is the quintessential onsen experience.

    Yukemuritei
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunkusatsumachi Kusatsu
    Phone
    0279880800
    Sainokawara Open-Air Bath
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunkusatsumachi Kusatsu 521-3
    Phone
    0279886167
    Kosenji Temple
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunkusatsumachi Kusatsu Instep 446
    Phone
    0279882224
  • 草津温泉 日新館
    Address
    368 Kusatsuonsen, Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma-gun Gunma
    Phone
    0279-88-2611
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