Motegi race course Nikko is in Tochigi Prefecture, which covers 6,408 square kilometers (2,474 square miles), is home to about 2 million people and has a population density of 308 people per square kilometer. The landlocked prefecture is in Kanto in the Tokyo area of central Honshu island and has two districts and, 26 municipalities. Located in the center of the prefecture is the largest open plain in the Kanto region. Shirane (2,578 metres (8,458 feet)), Nantai (2,484 metres (8,150 feet)) and Nasudake (1,917 metres (6,289 ft)) mountain are in the northern part of the area. Kinugawa, Nakagawa, and Watarase River originate in this region, which flow across the Kanto plain before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
Utsunomiya (100 kilometers north of Tokyo) is the capital and largest city in Tochigi Prefecture, with about 520,000 people. Previously known as Ikebenogo and Otabashi Station, it was an important stop on the road to northeastern Japan and served as a processing center for the grain and tobacco and later manufacturing area of knit goods, wood products, and paper. Today, Utsunomiya is known for gyoza dumplings, available at many specialty restaurants. Oya-ji Temple northwest of the city center, has a huge statue of the goddess Kannon carved from the area’s distinctive green stone. A former underground quarry is home to the Oya History Museum. Utsunomiya Museum of Art exhibits works by Chagall, Klee and other modernists. The ruins of Utsunomiya Castle may be seen on the south side of the city. Utsunomiya Tram Map: Urban Rail urbanrail.net
Twin Ring Motegi Motor Sports Complex (in Tochigi, 60 miles north of Tokyo) is the world's only combination theme park and race track capable of hosting European-style Formula One road events and American-style oval track Stock Car and Indy car racing event. The facility was built by the Honda Motor company at a cost of $350 million. Website: Mobilityland mobilityland.co.jp
Ashikaga Flower Park contains 52,000-square-meter flower park boasts a spectacular main attraction: over 350 flowering wisteria trees. Beginning in mid-April, they create massive umbrellas of red, purple, yellow, and white blooms. The highlight is the 150-year-old Great Wisteria, looking as though it came straight out of a fairytale with its massive, twisting trunk and branches. This tree is so awe-inspiring that Tochigi Prefecture has designated it as a Natural Monument. The park is illuminated in the evening, so you can stroll under canopies of lush wisteria flowers while breathing in their sweet fragrance. Open yearround, the park showcases eight different floral seasons, so there is always a treat for visiting flower lovers. Location: 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga-shi, Tochigi Website:
See Separate Article NIKKO TEMPLES, HISTORY AND NATIONAL PARK factsanddetails.com
Underground Lake Cruise in Utsunomiya
In the Oya district of Utsunomiya, it is possible to take a boats cruise on an underground lake created in an abandoned stone quarry. Ryuzo Suzuki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “We entered one by one and went down into darkness. After about 150 meters, orange lights suddenly came on. Spread in front of us was an underground lake in a defunct stone quarry in the Oya district of Utsunomiya. I was taking part in a tour called Ohya Underground, which was launched in 2014 to attract visitors to a former quarry and related sites to which access is usually restricted. Wearing helmets and life jackets, 16 people boarded two inflatable boats before sliding them slowly onto the green surface of the lake. [Source: Ryuzo Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 22, 2016]
“The boats cruised along, relying on the pale lights set up on the walls made of what is known as Oya stone. The sound of dripping water echoed through the cold air, while the surrounding walls showed their beautiful surfaces. I felt as if we were in an underground shrine. From 1910, Oya stone was quarried for building materials at this site. After production was shut down in the ’70s, rain and underground water accumulated to create an underground lake, with a depth of more than six meters at some points. There are about 250 defunct stone quarries in and around the Oya district, but it is rare for underground lakes to form in them.
“I guessed the space spreading in front of us measured about seven meters high, 10 meters wide and 50 meters long. “In the old days, stone was quarried by hand,” said guide Tomoji Kamiyama, 39. “To produce a piece of stone measuring 15 centimeters thick, 30 centimeters wide and 90 centimeters long, a craftsman would strike more than 2,000 times with his pickaxe. One worker was able to produce seven or eight such pieces per day.”
“Our boats turned left to cruise deep into the cavern and the ceiling closed in on our heads. We were able to see water droplets on the wall when Kamiyama turned a light on it. “You can see how beautifully and evenly the wall has been pickaxed. This is proof of how skillful the craftsmen were.” Our boats turned to the right and we got off at a landing. Walking on a narrow path for a while, we found natural light coming in from a huge shaft. We got on the boats again and returned to the starting point of the cruise. Kamiyama then guided us to a place where a number of pieces of Oya stone cut to the same size still stood, along with a rest area for craftsmen with helmets and sake bottles on a table...During Oya’s heyday in the 1970s, there were more than 100 quarry operators with nearly 1,700 workers. However, the number of these companies has fallen sharply to just a handful today because they faced the rise of cement and challenges from cheaper imported stone.
The Ohya Underground tour is run by Chiikikachi Project, a limited liability partnership established by four local companies. It runs about 10 times a month, only after confirming safety using an observation system featuring seismometers. A half-day tour costs ¥7,560 per person and a one-day tour is priced at ¥12,960 per person, including lunch. For details, visit https://enishi-travel.jp/tour/ in Japanese Participants in a one-day tour can also enjoy a French-style lunch.
cedars on the road to Nikko
Mashiko (110 kilometers north of Tokyo, 25 miles east of Nikko, one hour by bus from Utsunomiya Station) is the home of the distinctive Mashiko-yaki folk pottery, which is admired for its simplicity and fresh beauty. The late Shoji Hamada (1897-1978) introduced Mashiko ware throughout Japan, and today there are some 150 kilns produced pottery that emulates his style. Some of the kilns offer pottery lessons, where people can use the wheel to make a tea cup or tray.
Mashiko and Kasama (another pottery town 12 miles from Mashiko) have a combined population of 55,000 people, and have prospered because they are near thick beds of pottery-making clay and pine forests that supply lumber to feed the pottery kilns. The wooded hills around the towns are freckled with traditional black- and blue-tile roof houses.
"The pottery," writes Denise Couture in the New York Times, "is characterized by a rustic simplicity: hearty forms, uncomplicated designs and glazes whose colors echo the rural landscape — rich reddish brown, derived from local stone, greens and creams made from rice husk ash and brownish-black resembling freshly turned earth."
Mashiko has about 300 kilns, while Kasama has 170, but Kasama pottery offers a wider range of shapes, colors and materials. Most if the stuff is very expensive. Single tea cups that sell for $50 are not unusual and fine pieces made by well-known potters can go for as much as $40,000. Many of the big kilns welcome guests who want to watch the potters at work.
There is a good display of works by Hamada and local and foreign ceramics as the Mashiko Reference Collection Museum. It is a 10 minute bus ride from Mashiko Station. The Mashiko Pottery Club, a seven minute walk from the museum, offers classes and allows visitors to use the pottery wheels and tools and materials for a fee. Mashiko’s other museum, Ceramic Art Messe Mashio, contains a Japanese “climbing kiln” and works by Hamada and local and Japanese artists.
Jonai-zaka Streets is lined with dozens of pottery shops. Mashiko hosts a pottery fair in early November and early May, when tents selling ceramic are set up all over town. Mashiko is also famous its delicious greenhouse strawberries. Website: Frommers frommers.com
Other Places Near Nikko include Yumoto Onsen, a pleasant hot spring with a number of hiking possibilities; Kinygawa Onsen, a touristy place filled with vacationing Japanese; and Kawaji Onsen; a somewhat quieter hot spring resort with many outdoor bath. There is an interesting hike in Ryuoko Gorge between Kinugawa and Kawaji onsens.
Ibaraki Prefecture covers square kilometers 6,097.06 (2,354 square miles), is home to about 2.9 million people and has a population density of 478 people per square kilometer. It is in Kanto in the Tokyo area of central Honshu island and has 7 districts and 44 municipalities. Amphibious buses that operate the Yunishigawa river in Ibaraki. Ushiku Daibutsu Buddha statue in Ushiku. Is 120-meter tall. Completed in 1993 after a decade of work, it the tallest bronze statue in the world. If you are interested in learning about Japanese space development, the best place to go is Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) ’s facilities. At JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, rockets and man-made satellites can be seen on display.
Mito (north of Tokyo and east of Mashiko) is the capital and largest city, with about 470,000 people. It is the home of Kairakuen Gardens and Art Tower Mito. Among its other attractions are the Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History, Kōdōkan School, Lake Senba, Mito Castle, Mito Municipal Botanical Park, Tokugawa Art Museum and Tokiwa Jinja.
Art Tower Mito is an ultra-modern performing arts center designed by award-winning Japanese architect Arato Isozaki. Opened in 1990, it features a gravity-defying water-pummeled 20-ton rock and 330-foot twisting titanium-sheathed tower. The multi-art complex consisting of a theatre, a concert hall, and a contemporary art museum. Each of the three major facilities has an active programming to promote its respective field. The museum is widely known for its exhibitions with subject matter unconventional to the white cube environment, such as graffiti/street art, fashion, and young upand-coming artists from Asia. Location: 1-6-8 Goken-cho, Mito-shi, Ibaraki 310-0063, Tel: +81-29-227-8111.
Sudohonke Sake Brewery is the first sake brewery in the world to offer non-pasteurized sake and has won many awards at the prestigious International Wine Competition. Reserve your tour and take in the sheer beauty of the property, with its towering ancient trees and immaculately preserved traditional storehouses. Learn the inside story on how sake is made. Then comes the fun part – enjoying some fine sake – with the choice of a simple tasting set or a full course complete with food pairings. . Location: Obara, Kasama-shi, Ibaraki Website:
Kairakuen Gardens (in Mito) has been ranked as one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens along with and Korakuen in Okayama and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. Formerly owned by Nariaka Tokugawa, the ninth Lord of Mito, a feudal lord with a passion for plum blossoms, Kairakuen boasts 3,000 chiseled plum trees in an opulent traditional setting. The peak plum blossom season is in March. Mito Kairakuen is a strolling garden laid out in 1842. It is noted for its Japanese apricot trees which bloom in late February to mid-March The view from Kobun-tei, which extends across the garden, adjoining Lake Senba, Mt. Tsukuba, Sakuragawa River and the ridges of Mt. Maruyama, is said to be an imitation of Sai-ko Lake in China.
Location Tokiwacho, Mito, Ibaraki Hours Open: Park 7:00am-6:00pm, Kobuntei 9:00am-16:30 (October 1–February 19) ; Park 6:00am-19:00, Kobuntei 9:00am-5:00pm (February 20–September 30) Admission: Free (Park), ¥190 (Kobuntei). Getting There: 20 minutes by bus from Mito Station on Joban Line to Kairakuen Bus Stop. Websites: koen.pref.ibaraki.jp ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Photos Reggie.net
Kirin Beer Factory Tour and Tasting
Kirin Beer factories are located in nine places (Chitose, Sendai, Toride, Yokohama, Nagoya, Shiga, Kobe, Okayama, and Fukuoka) . Each factory offers free a tour that last around 80 minutes. The Kirin Brewery Company is one of Japan's four leading beer breweries. It was founded in Yokohama, a city that played a major role in Japan's adopting beer from the West and spreading it the rest of Japan. [Source: yokohamajapan.com]
The brewery tours pass through a gallery with displays regarding the history of beer and Kirin and winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer go shooting through factory machines at incredibly high speeds! According to the guide, 2000 cans of beer are filled and packed each and every minute. Near the end of the tour, a series of panels of Kirin’s history are on display. Tours are usually conducted in Japanese, but an English guide may also be available.
Beer Production involves boiling down barley to make mash and removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer comes from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again. The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Top quality beer are often made using only the first press of the wort. Fermenting takes place inside 129 huge tanks for a period of one or two months. Visitors can try the first and second press of the wort for comparisons as well as up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks.
As the tour nears completion you arrive at the “tasting bar”. Here, you receive tickets that you exchange for three glasses of fresh beer—your choice. The selections on tap are “Ichiban-shibori”, “Lager”, and “Stout” (black beer). Location: 188-1 Kuwabara, Toride-shi, Ibaraki-ken Tour Hours: 10:00am, 10:30am11:00am, 11:30am,1:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm. Closed Every Monday (open if Monday is a public holiday), , year-end-New Year’s holidays, equipment inspection days, etc. If Monday is a public holiday, the facility will be closed on the following weekday. Getting There: 20 minutes’ walk or 5 minutes by taxi from the West Exit of Toride Station on the Joban Line and Joso Line. Toride Station on the JR Joban Line is as little as 40 minutes from Ueno Station or as little as 12 minutes from Kashiwa Station! Website: kirin.co.jp/entertainment/factory
Ibaraki Asahi Brewery
Asahi Beer Factory (two kilometers southwest of Shin-Moriya Staion) offers free tours that last around 90 minutes. The Asahi Brewery Company is one of Japan's four leading beer breweries. The brewery tours pass through a gallery with displays regarding the history of beer and Asahi and winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer go shooting through factory machines at incredibly high speeds!
Beer Production involves boiling down barley to make mash and removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer comes from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again. The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Top quality beer are often made using only the first press of the wort. Fermenting takes place inside huge tanks for a period of one or two months. Visitors can try the first and second press of the wort for comparisons as well as up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks.
Guides give a tour of the facility, with an easy-to-understand explanation of the manufacturing processes that employ the latest technology based on rigorous quality control. After the tour, visitors are served freshly-brewed draft beer for 20 minutes, and unlimited refills are offered. Soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages are provided for minors and those who drove to the site. Language Support: Written displays are in English, Korean, and Chinese.
Tour: Reservations required. The tour takes about 90 minutes, including the beer tasting at the end of the tour. Location: 1-1-1 Midori, Moriya, Ibaraki; Tour Hours 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Closed Year end and New Year’s Day, plus designated holidays; Reservations and inquiries: +81-297-45-7335; Phone hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please reserve by phone to book tours with an English-speaking guide. Website: asahibeer.co.jp/brewery
Tsukuba Space Center
Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba (Arakawaoki station, JR Joban Line) is run by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and has rockets, satellites, test models and mockups of satellites and rockets on display and exhibitions on things like the history and mechanisms of rockets. The Tsukuba Space Center opened in 1972 and has special openings of the Kibo Flight Control Room and the Astronaut Training Facility every year. If you are interested in learning about Japanese space development this is one of the best places to do so
The Tsukuba Space Center is JAXA’s core facility for Japan’s space development. It covers 530,000 square meters and features areas such as the Astronaut Training Facility. The Space Dome, which opened in 2010, comprehensively introduces how satellites and rockets work. The 13 meter Space Chamber is where satellites and rockets are disassembled, and their parts and systems are tested to ensure their endurance in a vacuum and in the thermal environment of space. In the Large Scale Vibration Test Facility satellites or launch vehicles undergo vibration tests by separating them into each unit or system. The Radio Wave Test Facility facility is used to evaluate the conduct radiowave performance of spacecraft, properties tests of antennas and radiowave sensors, and measure their radiowave characteristics.
Yusuke Sano wrote in in the Japan News: “First, take a look at Rocket Square outside the dome, where an H-2 rocket is displayed. The H-2, the country’s first fully domestically produced rocket, carried the geostationary meteorological satellite Himawari-5 and other objects into space. The rocket, 50 meters long and four meters in diameter, is not a replica-it was assembled using a test body used when the rocket was developed, and other parts. Even adults will delight in seeing it. The square is also the best spot for a picture. [Source: Yusuke Sanom Japan News, April 18, 2017]
“A one-millionth scale model of the Earth welcomes visitors to the Space Dome. In the middle of the dome there is a full-size replica of the Japanese experiment module Kibo, part of the International Space Station. Kibo’s on-board experiment facility is cylindrical, at 11.2 meters long and 4.4 meters in diameter. The voice of Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata communicating with the Tsukuba Space Center fills the module, making visitors feel as though they have been launched into space.
“Devices and equipment covering the walls, such as a robotic arm, are arranged just as they are in the actual module. Along with the replica module in the dome, the test model of the H-2 Transfer Vehicle Kounotori, which carries supplies to the ISS, is visually appealing, and the one-twentieth scale models of Japanese rockets ranging from the currently active H-2A to the H-3 rocket now under development are spectacular. A shop in a separate building sells ice cream that is not cold. It was made the same way as meals served aboard the ISS, allowing visitors to enjoy a “taste of space.”
The Space Dome is a popular facility visited by about 300,000 people a year. Location: 2-1-1 Sengen, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki 305-8505, Tel: +81-29-868-5000; Hours Open: 9:30am-5:45pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday, national holidays. Admission is free. Advanced bookings only. Visitors without bookings cannot enter the site. The site includes the Space Dome, Planet Cube (the souvenir shop) and the Rocket Square. Visitors up to 50 people per 30 minutes time slot can make the reservation. Getting There: Get off the train at Arakawaoki" station (JR Joban Line). Take a Kantetsu Bus for Tsukuba University Chuo, then get off the bus at the Busshitsukenkyujo Mae bus stop. It is 1-minute walk from the bus stop. Or you can use a taxi from Arakawaoki" station. It takes about 15 minutes. Website: 5.revn.jp/tksc-kengaku In Japanese, use Google translate
Gunma Prefecture covers 6,362 square kilometers (2,456 square miles), is home to about 2 million people and has a population density of 310 people per square kilometer.Maebashi is the capital and largest city, with about 335,000 people. It is in Kanto in the Tokyo area of central Honshu island and has seven districts and 35 municipalities.
Zenshoji Temple (in Gumna prefecture northwest of Tokyo) features a six-foot-tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy with a putter and ball in one hand and 13 golf clubs radiating out from her head. Golfers flock to temple to pray for long, straight drives and sure putts. This is from a 1994 Sports Illustrated article and statue could be gone.
Canyoning is done on the Tone River in Gunma Prefecture’s Minakami Town. The tours are conducted by the New-Zealander-owned Canyoning Company, which has more than a quarter-century of experience. The company is the original canyoning pioneer of Japan, offering a wide range of tours since 1998. Their activities include snow canyoning and whitewater rafting in the Tone River’s torrents from April to October, especially spring, when water levels peak. Location: 27 45 Yubiso, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma; Getting There: 30-minute bus ride from Jomo-Kogen Station and just 70 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo. Website: canyons.jp
Tobu Treasure Garden (Tatebayashi City in eastern Gunma Prefecture) is a paradise of flowers located in. At the Shibazakura (moss phlox) Garden area in the park of about 80,000 square meters, 200,000 Shibazakura flowers start blooming in red, white and pink in early April while Nemophira and 800,000 flowers in blueish colors blossom in profusion at Ao no Garden (blue garden) . The Rose Garden Area, where splendid roses and perennial flowers show off their beauty, provides seven stories of seven roses to bring some comfort to your heart. The entire park gives you a lineup of the attractive colors of many flowers throughout the year.
Tomioka Silk Mill: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Tomioka Silk Mill(Tomioka town, Joshi-Tomioka station, private Jōshin Line, 100 kilometers northwest of Tokyo) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. The Tomioka Silk Mill was built in 1872 as a government-run factory that served as a model for other mills in Japan, which eventually came to play a leading role in the global silk industry.
The related sites are the Tajima Yahei sericulture farmhouse in the city of Isesaki, the Takayama-sha sericulture school in the city of Fujioka and the Arafune cold storage for silkworm eggs in the town of Shimonita.
According to UNESCO: “This property is a historic sericulture and silk mill complex established in 1872 in the Gunma prefecture north-west of Tokyo. Built by the Japanese Government with machinery imported from France, it consists of four sites that attest to the different stages in the production of raw silk: production of cocoons in an experimental farm; a cold-storage facility for silkworm eggs; reeling of cocoons and spinning of raw silk in a mill; and a school for the dissemination of sericulture knowledge. It illustrates Japan’s desire to rapidly adopt the best mass production techniques, and became a decisive element in the renewal of sericulture and the Japanese silk industry in the last quarter of the 19th century. It marked Japan’s entry into the modern, industrialized era, and propelled it to become the world’s leading exporter of raw silk, notably to France and Italy.
“The Tomioka Silk Mill dates from the early Meiji period. With its related sites including two sericulture schools and an egg storage site, it illustrates the desire of Japan, a traditional silk producer, to rapidly access the best mass production techniques. The Japanese government imported French machinery and industrial expertise to create an integrated system in Gunma Prefecture. It included egg production, silkworm farming and the construction of a large mechanised raw silk reeling and spinning plant. In turn, the Tomioka model complex and its related sites became a decisive component in the renewal of sericulture and the Japanese silk industry, in the last quarter of the 19th century, and a key element in Japan’s entry into the modern industrialised world.
“The Tomioka mill illustrates the early and entirely successful transfer of French industrial sericultural techniques to Japan. This technological transfer took place in the context of a long regional tradition of silkworm farming, which it profoundly renewed. In turn, Tomioka became a centre for technical improvements and a model that enshrined Japan’s role in the global raw silk market at the beginning of the 20th century, and which bears witness to the early advent of a shared international culture of sericulture.
“Tomioka and its related sites form an outstanding example of an integrated ensemble for the mass production of raw silk. The extent of the plant, from its initial design, and the deliberate adoption of the best Western techniques illustrate a decisive period for the spread of industrial methods to Japan and the Far East. Its large, late 19th century buildings provide an eminent example of the emergence of a style of industrial architecture specific to Japan, combining foreign and local elements.
Tomioka Silk Mill Tourism and Tours
Tomioka Silk Mill Tours became quite popular after it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Masanao Umezaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The Tomioka Silk Mill is currently the most popular modernization heritage site and is flooded with visitors every day. According to the Tomioka city government, the number of visitors has soared since April, when it became certain the site would be added to the World Heritage list. The registration was officially announced in June, and 110,000 people visited in that month alone. [Source: Masanao Umezaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 14, 2014]
1) “Hankyu Travel International Co. offers a day trip starting from the Tokyo metropolitan area that visits the Tomioka mill and a railroad bridge called the “megane” bridge (eyeglass-shaped bridge) in the Usui Pass on the border between Gunma and Nagano prefectures. 2) Hato Bus Co. offers a trip to Kiryu in Gunma Prefecture, a town known for textile production, and to the Tomioka mill. The tour costs ¥11,500 to ¥13,500 per person. 3) JTB offers a plan for a trip from Nagoya that includes a visit to the Tomioka mill and the Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Pregecture. The three-day, two-night excursion costs ¥38,800 to ¥41,800 per person. 4) Yomiuri Travel Service Co. will offer a two-day, one-night tour originating from the Tohoku region with stops including the Tomioka mill and the Takayama-sha sericulture school in Gunma Prefecture at a cost of ¥24,800 to ¥27,800.
Location: 1-1 Tomioka, Gunma 370-2316, Tel: 0274-67-0075; Admission: (paid to enter the mill): Adult: 1000 yen; High school and university students (with student ID): 250 yen; Elementary and junior high school students: 150 yen Hours Open: From 9:00am to 5:00pm (last admission 16:30). Closed December 29 to 31st. Getting There: From Tokyo to Tomioka City by train: Tokyo Station (Joetsu, Hokuriku Shinkansen) - Takasaki Station (transfer Joshin Electric Railway) - Joshu-Tomioka Station (about 95 minutes)
Kusatsu Onsen (3 hours by train and bus from Tokyo, in Gunma Prefecture) is one of Japan’s premier hot spring resorts and is famous for its abundant supply of piping hot sulfurous water. The town’s central plaza is dominated by the Yubatake, a bizarre-looking aggregate of pools, fountains, waterfalls, chutes and wooden ducts filled with hot, steaming water. More than 37,000 liters of water gushes out the spring ever minute (54 million gallons a day), an amount that far exceeds any other hot spring in Japan. The whole area reeks of sulfurous water but that doesn’t seem to bother the 3 million visitors that flock to the onsen every year.
The water varies in temperature between 55̊ and 95̊C and has a pH of 1.5, almost equal to gastric acid. The waters contain enough natural chemicals to dissolve a ¥1 coin in a week and produce encrustation of sulfuric geyesite that are collected and sold as souvenirs. For Japanese this also means that water kills bacteria and virus and thus has potent healing powers. There are plans to use electricity-generating turbines to harness steam from the hot springs to generate power for 1,800 households.
The water flows into dozens of hotels and 18 free public baths. Twelve different kinds of baths are offered: 1) water-striking bath; 2) steam bath; 3) drinking bath; 4) eye-washing bath; 5) shallow bath; 6) deep bath; 7) lukewarm bath; 8) hot bath; 9) cold-and-hot bath; 10) timed bath. The latter is used as a treatment for heart problems, sexually transmitted diseases and other ailments. Bathers must stand for three minutes in very hot 48̊C water and pour water over their head 30 times under the direction of a stern instructor. Before the bath, bathers ritually stir the white, cloudy water while praying and singing special songs. The treatment has reportedly helped paralyzed people walk again.
For people that want to stay overnight there are cheap inns, Western-style hotels and Japanese-style hotels with long histories. The rates range from $40 to $400 a night. In addition to the baths, there are lots of shops and restaurants. Folklore shows are held four times a day at the Netsuno-yu entertainment hall. Kusatsu Nettaiken is a domed garden, with tropical plants and animals, heated by waters from the spring.
Websites:Kusatsu Onsen site kusatsu-onsen.ne.jp Map: hotelboun.com Hotel Websites: Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There : Kusatsu Onsen is accessible by bus and train from Tokyo.
Image Sources: 1) 2) 8) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 3) 5) Nikko City 6) 7) Japan National Parks 9) Honda 10) 11) Kusatsu onsen site
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, UNESCO, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020