A Healing Journey in Gunma: Immerse Yourself in Onsen Retreats and Nature

Make the most of Gunma’s abundant hot springs for a relaxing retreat from the stresses of city life.

A Healing Journey in Gunma: Immerse Yourself in Onsen Retreats and Nature

Last updated: May 13, 2024

With abundant natural hot springs, mountains, and forests, Gunma is the ideal retreat to breathe in fresh air, soak in mineral waters, and feel your stress float away. Spend several days trying the different springs in Kusatsu Onsen and Manza Onsen, which have attracted visitors since ancient times to rest and recover. Most onsen waters contain naturally occurring minerals such as sulfur, iron, or chloride ions. The minerals have a soothing effect on the skin, and are said to alleviate joint stiffness and high blood pressure. While the onsen resorts are accessible by public transport, consider renting a car for more convenience outside of the winter season. There are a few rental companies in Kusatsu and a wide range of options around Takasaki Station.

Kusatsu Onsen

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Kusatsu Onsen is one of the world’s most famous onsen resorts. For over a thousand years, warlords, samurai, and weary travelers have come to soak in the natural hot springs. Kusatsu Onsen gained international acclaim in 1904 when Dr. Erwin von Bälz (1849–1913), an advisor physician to the imperial family, heralded the town as a world-class hot spring resort. Today, it has a wide range of modern accommodations with a focus on wellness.

More than 32,300 liters of spring water gush out every minute from the main spring sources of Kusatsu: Yubatake, Sainokawara, Bandai, Shirahata, Jizo, Nikawa, and others. The waters contain sulfur, aluminum sulfate, and chloride, which have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, ideal for soothing skin conditions, neuralgia, and aching muscles. The onsen town is easily accessible by direct bus from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo or by Shinkansen to Karuizawa Station and a bus to Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal. Alternatively, you can take a Shinkansen to Takasaki Station, then transfer to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station on the Agatsuma Line. From there, you can take a bus to Kusatsu Onsen.

Day 1

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Check in to Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Village, a large resort with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, as well as a range of onsen baths that draw their water from different springs. Try the saunas, jacuzzi, hot water jets, and various onsen baths until you feel completely relaxed.

Enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the four onsite restaurants, featuring local, seasonal ingredients. Sink into your comfortable bed and enjoy a restorative night’s sleep.

Day 2

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After a hearty breakfast, take the complimentary hotel shuttle bus to Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal. From the terminal, it’s a 5-minute walk to the iconic Yubatake, a sprawling system of wooden channels designed to direct the abundant natural hot spring water to nearby baths. You can easily spend a day exploring the town and onsen hopping. Try a few of the large public baths (for a fee), including Sainokawara Open-Air Bath with outdoor baths, Otakinoyu with many different water temperatures, and Gozanoyu baths in an elegant bathhouse. Don't miss the Yumomi at Netsunoyu: this rhythmic performance with folk songs is the traditional way to cool the water.

Experience Kusatsu like a local at one of the three free community onsen baths open to visitors: Shirohatanoyu, Jizonoyu, and Chiyonoyu. These baths tend to be small, and quite hot. Stroll around Ura-Kusatsu, a newly developed area near the Jizo Spring with cafes, hot springs, and relaxing outdoor spaces. Don’t miss the free foot baths, face baths, and hand washing stations, which draw water (or steam, in the case of the face bath) from the Jizo spring. Finish the day with a refreshing drink while you soak your feet at the Yubatake Souan Ashiyu Cafe, in front of Yubatake.

Day 3

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Wake up early to join a forest bathing walk with a professional guide at Kusatsu Onsen Hotel Village. The guided walk starts around 7 a.m. and lasts around 60 - 80 minutes. The forest walk is free for guests, but a donation to the Village Forest Conservation Fund is appreciated. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before you check out and travel to Manza Onsen.

How to get to Kusatsu

Manza Onsen

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It takes around 30 minutes to drive the scenic route from Kusatsu Onsen to Manza Onsen, high on the slopes of Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane. By public transport, you can take a bus from Kusatsu Onsen to Karuizawa Station, and then transfer to a free shuttle bus to the Manza Prince Hotel (reservations required).

Manza Onsen is one of the highest onsen resorts in Japan, at an altitude of 1,800 meters. With excellent snow cover in winter, it is a popular destination for snow sports. The milky spring waters of Manza Onsen have a high sulfur content, which is said to be effective for neuralgia, muscle pain, sensitivity to cold, joint pain, and recovery from fatigue. Check in to Manza Prince Hotel to enjoy open-air bathing under the stars, spa treatments, and sweeping views over the mountains and valleys below. You can make an appointment at the onsite foot care salon for reflexology massage treatments to relieve tired feet and heavy legs.

Guests of Manza Prince Hotel can also use the onsen baths at the nearby Manza Kogen Hotel (subject to availability) to try different waters at the indoor and outdoor baths. After a delicious dinner featuring vegetables from the surrounding Tsumagoi area at one of the Manza Prince Hotel’s three restaurants, you will sleep well.

Day 4

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Before you check out, take a refreshing stroll to Ushiike Pond, just five minutes from the hotel. The small lake features waters so clear you can see the bottom. A wooden promenade leads through the nearby marshland, with a forest and alpine plants. If you are driving back towards Kusatsu Onsen, you can visit Yoshigadaira Wetlands, about 15 minutes by car from Manza Onsen. Explore one of the highest wetlands in Japan, protected by the Ramsar Convention. A stone marker along the road indicates that this is the “Highest Point of Japan’s National Routes,” at 2,172 meters above sea level. The views from this spot are spectacular. If using public transportation back to Tokyo, you can take the hotel shuttle to Karuizawa Station, then transfer to a shinkansen, or take a public bus from Manza Bus Terminal to Manza-Kazawaguchi Station for trains to Takasaki Station and on to Tokyo.

How to get to Manza

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