recently, I just got back from a trip with my family. This time, it's Japan. As traveling have and always been my passion (or escape) once in a while I would like to blog about it. Today's theme is pretty special, it's about Kusatsu.
Kusatsu is a small city that is famous for it's hot spring water, or known as Onsen. Japan is a country that celebrates onsen, many onsens are spread all over Japan and they are all unique in their own way. As you probably google it down, there are several onsens in and around Tokyo such as Hakone, Nikko and yes, Kusatsu.
I've been to Hakone, it is located near Mt. Fuji. I went there in 2010 during early summer, and as the weather is mild and warm, I'm not really looking for onsens. Now, as I travel in the mid of winter, me and my family are eager to 'taste' the onsen in the best season ever (said by me), haha!
Actually I did tried onsen in Osaka during summer a few years back, and indeed, I like it better during winter, perhaps someday I can try during spring and autumn too.
The first thing need to be done for a trip is like usual, preparation, preparation, preparation. For those who are not really a fan of going with a tour, this post could somewhat helps ( I hope). I do googled a lot about Kusatsu and found out that the onsen is famous for its healing properties as the water contains lots of minerals and one of the highlight is sulfur.
A 3 hours ride using a train (from Ueno St) and then continued with a local bus will take us directly to Kusatsu. There are many hotels, resorts and onsens to choose from. Most hotels and resorts are having their own onsens. There are traditional and well known places to stays that are famously shared as ryokan.
As I was a big fan of TripAdvisor (and one of the contributor too), I choose Kusatsu Hotel (as it was number 1 in their site).
The reviews of Kusatsu Hotel pouring in with praises and complements, the hotel offers a stay with included dinner and breakfast. This is a typical ryokan stay as well as they offer a full set meal during dinner and breakfast.
Aside from TripAdvisor, I'm also a fan of a show called 'Japan Hour' in Channel News Asia. They often share about ryokan stays too, so I pretty much aware of the custom, regulations and norms of these places.
After a simple booking using one of the travel site, I made my plan on visiting by trying to buy the train tickets early.
There are several options, the first one was by JR Limited Express + bus , Shinkansen + bus, and the third one is Bus all the way.
We choose JR Limited Express plus bus as it as almost as fast as using Shinkansen but much cheaper. The cheapest option is using bus which is around 3000 Yen per person, but we thought that our kids will be so bored staying inside the bus for 250 minutes. Inside the train, it was far more convenient and the bus ride only took around 30 minutes.
As the green car is only one (so the rest of the cars are reserved) booking earlier is needed to make sure that all of us (family of 4) can sit comfortably closed to each other. The seats can be turn as well so when 4 people booked together by 2 in front and 2 at the back, they can face each other and be like a compartment. This is not really needed for us as we prefer the table behind the seats in front to be usable.
How to booked or buy a JR Limited Express ticket from Indonesia?
With a help from a friend in Japan that bought the tickets directly at a JR station. So unfortunately, buying it online or purchasing the tickets before going there is not possible, like when purchasing a JR Pass which can be done from abroad.
The tickets we purchase by a help from a friend consist of picking the time table (as the express train only took 2-3 times a day) and linked to the timetable for the bus too. So in total there's 3 tickets (one way) for each person that is for the train itself, express ticket, and bus ticket (local bus) to Kusatsu.
One the way back, there's also 3 tickets per person, 1 for the bus, one for the train, and one for the express.
Both express and train tickets are for the train, show these 1 tickets on each way to the staff. The train ticket also shown the platform, car, and seats. The express ticket only needed to show the staff that you're in the express train that doesn't stop at every stations, and the bus ticket doesn't show any seats number. So it's a free seating.
Ueno station is a big station in Tokyo, there are few major station in Tokyo that was a gateway to many other places in other prefecture. Shinjuku (train and bus), Hamamatsucho (Bus) and a few others such as Ueno.
In Ueno station, there are many places to buy food (including bento to eat inside the train), lockers to put the luggage (perfect for a one night away as there's no need to bring all the luggage) or you might sent the luggage to the next hotel, there's a counter for courier in the station too.
One luggage (around 100x50 cm) will cost about 1400 Yen (Tokyo area) and a day in delivery when the luggage is registered before noon on the previous day.
If you happen to sending the luggage to the next hotel, do write in the name of the hotel, the name that made the booking and the date of checking in. If you want to play safe, do contact the hotel before doing so, making sure that the hotel can accept the luggage on your behalf.
We also thought of sending some of the luggage to the airport where we can pick them up right before departure, but since we leave first thing in the morning, we are afraid that we wont have much time to spare.
As we board the train to Kusatsu in the morning, we are happy that we're not late. The train is said to leave at 10.05 am and it was open for boarding around 20 minutes before departure and leaves the station at exactly 10.05. So when traveling in Japan, always be early as punctual is definitely not enough. Ueno Station is pretty big and there's a lot of platform, I do google up with all the details needed before departure but rest assure, on stations as big as Ueno, you'll find tourists centers and staff that speaks English to ask for. Japan is getting ready for 2020, focusing on Tokyo, you'll see many tourists center nowadays on busy areas.
But I do feel that there's a change of attitude, their service is no longer spotless, perhaps it's a different generation.
Boarding the train is easy peasy, so does finding our seats. But putting our luggage could be an issue. We have 4 huge luggage and 3 of them are already heading to our next hotel (after a night in Kusatsu) using a luggage courier (Ta-Q-Bin) from our previous hotel. So now, just one big luggage and it still create a bit of a problem, our car doesn't have a place to put the luggage, hence we have to put them on the next car. Those who are traveling with young kids like us, carrying stroller, could be an issue too.
After solving the issue with luggage by putting them on the car next to us and put the rest on the top or each seats, we are set to to. During winter, the trains has heater and it's really warm inside, we need to open all our jackets to feel comfortable.
Every now and then, inside the train, there's a lady going back and forth with a snack cart. She doesn't really sell full meal, but most of it are snacks and drinks. Kids love this cart as there are chocolates and sweets too.
The farther we went from Tokyo, the scenery changed even more, from city area where buildings are rising, to suburban and then it gets colder and colder where the snow falls. We are getting closer to our dream soaking in an onsen during winter.
After several stops (where we didn't alight), we are finally in Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi and reaching the final station. 5 minutes before the stop, we are getting ready as some trains doesn't stop for long. At around 2-3 minutes before departure, the train announced everyone who wants to alight to get ready. There's announcement in English too. Everyone was ready at the door to get off the train, including us.
After alighting, we follow the crowds as we figure that everyone going to the same direction. A short 2-3 minutes walk and we are at the bus port. So it was a connected station between the train and the bus. Seems like a lot of bus have been waiting for the passengers from the train, so there are many buses with the exact same number, we can take just about any bus, they'll take is to Kusatsu Onsen. The lines we are using (from the train and bus) are all by JR.
Taking the luggage and stroller into the bus is far more easier than in the train, there's a big compartment below and we can just put anything there. The bus ride took around 20 minutes and I love the view as we are going up. The mountains area are superb. The temperature are getting lower and lower and it was around -4 degree Celsius when we arrived.
The snow fall was pretty thick that day.
Arriving at the bus station in Kusatsu Onsen, we are heading to the lower level of bus terminal that consist of 2 stories building. There's Tourist Center and everyone there can speaks English really well and really nice to all of us (the tourists). One of the staff helps us to call the hotel (Kusatsu Hotel) and within 10 minutes, someone from the hotel picks us up.
He help loading the luggage and everything we brought into the minivan, as our young one fell asleep in the bus, she continue to sleep in the minivan.
After a short 5 minutes ride, we arrived at the hotel. Kusatsu Hotel is near Yubatake and the bus terminal but since the snow falls that day and we have so many things, walking is not an option. And we glad we didn't as the road is like hiking, this is a mountain area after all.
With a thick snow like that, snow boots is needed. Normal shoes are much too slippery and easily get wet. Soaking your feet in the cold for too long could lead to many problems, do use snow boots only not just for the sake of comfort, but safety too.
Regarding clothing, start by putting on inner cloth that promote heat or help trapped heat on the skin. Tight fitting clothes that are comfortable and allows movement is advisable. I'm using products from Uniqlo, start from their Heattech. They are having extra warm and ultra warm collection too now for a more thin (layers) and warmth possible.
Usually, around 6 layers is needed, from long john, sweater, sweats, jacket and coat. Using Heattech takes one off, making the whole attribute lighter and much more comfortable, so we don't have to look like snowman.
My coat is from Zara Basic. It has some faux fur and goose feather inside to keep me warm. It is also water resistant, it is not totally waterproof, but helps to stand against snow. Caring for this coat is easy, just toss it inside a washing machine and let it dry. The cotton and feather inside the down jacket will become funny at first, but they'll dries up to a nice fluffy-self again.
My suggestion is when buying a coat, make sure that you know your size, so when trying them, use ALL the clothes you know you'll be using, so normally, I'm using size M, since I know, I'll be using some inner clothe and sweater inside, I'm buying my coat in size L. It gives me much more space and feels better as well. I still want to move around freely.
And one more things, pockets are important, having pockets here and there can replace a bag. Backpack and other bag might sounds practical, but having those jacket and coat means it wont be as easy as when using less than 2 or 3 layers of clothing.
When we arrived at Kusatsu Hotel (the image above is the front yard), the place was exactly like described in TripAdvisor. It was serene, calm, quite, like a true place to relax and unwind. We were told to open all our shoes and they keep it, we are told to only use their slippers as long as we are inside their premises.
The checking in process was brief and even thou the front staff English is a bit tight, she seems very determine in helping the guess. We were tired since one of our kid was having a fever for the last few days and we've been moving here and there going places, hence when we arrived, we just want a quick nap and sleep as much as possible.
We did get what we want. After one of the staff gave us a grand tour of the hotel, where it has no elevator nor lifts, just stairs here and there, we are glad that our luggage was helped by the staff. Several Yukatas are prepared for us. One for my husband, one for me, and each for my daughters and everything comes in our own sizes. There's outerwear provided in the room, since it was really cold, even inside the hotel, those outerwear (that matches our yukata) is needed.
After the process of checking in, we went to our room and amazed.
There's a window with trees that blanketed with snows, and even with several heater (two is centered from the main building) and another one is added using a remote control, it's still rather cold. The remote control is a bit odd (for me), in Jakarta the remote shows temperature, this one only show + or - signs. If we want the temperature to be warmer, just keep adding into maximum +5.
Another unique feature of this hotel is the room number. See the signboard below, they don't use any numbering, well, not in a language I know, but in these kanji. I took a picture of the room sign so I know which one is mine :D
We booked a room enough for 3 adults and 1 child, so it's in the private family section. Spacious, clean, and everything in order. We love the tatami and traditional designs. Everything is like a Japanese home back in the good ol' days. Like my favorite comic book where they always portray old homes big family stays together.
Since both of my kids are asleep, yes, the young one is still dozing off, perhaps since it is winter and she is like a teddy bear during hibernation, I went outside and took some images, I always love winter. It is cold but it was so much fun. The air feels fine and very much comfortable. It is always better when the snow already fall then the climate before. Before snow fall usually the wind become so much stronger, but when the snow are falling, somehow, it become milder. Or perhaps because I love snow.
I'm using 3 layers on the image below. A heattech, an ultra warm heattech, and a sweater that pulls up like a turtle neck. These materials are perfect for winter, I don't have to use too many layers yet they are warm enough, since I'm taking images in front of the hotel and doesn't go far, I didn't use my down jacket.
Looking at everyone in the premises are using yukata, me and my family changed into one. I also booked a private bath. The Hotel owns 6 onsens. 2 for women, 2 for men, 2 are privates. The ones for men and women are changed every 10 pm, this is a custom so everyone can get to try different onsen everyday. The source of the hot spring is the same, it's just the ambiance and decor that are slightly different. Their outdoor onsen is beautiful, I couldn't take any picture there since it is not allowed. We did try the women's bath but since my 2 years old can't stay still, I think it is best for her on the private bath, so I can scold here freely when she is running around. It is not allowed to run around in the bath area. The Japanese holds their behavior in front of public sternly, so when they see foreigner, they wish everyone to respect their custom too.
Here are some rules and regulation regarding public bath (onsen) in the hotel:
1. Bring your own stuff such as clothing and towel from the room.
2. Put your personal belongings on the locker provided.
3. Open your shows / slippers at the entrance. Take off all your clothes including under garments on the empty basket provided, put them in neatly. Don't make a mess.
4. Those who have tattoos may not use the onsen, same goes with those who are ill, have skin problem and other health issues. Onsen are warm, sometime hot water. Those with health problems may need to ask their physician before soaking in. Remember that if this is your first time, limit yourself for 15 minutes. You might faint when soaking too long.
5. Always clean yourself before soaking in. Wash your hair, clean the body thoroughly, shampoo, rinse (conditioner), and body soap is provided.
6. Never stare at other people.
7. Use indoor voice when speaking, some people might not even like it when some talk too much.
8. After finish soaking, you may rinse again and dry yourself using your own towel. Skincare are provided as well, but it was a common one. All the toiletries are for public use, if you happen to have personal skincare issues, bring your own to be used there.
9. Hair dryer, disposable hair brush is provided. Use everything with conscience, basic courtesy is always appreciated. Don't hog a place for too long or use the hair dryer for too long if you see people are waiting, so be kind.
10. Clean after yourself. Leave no trash or anything behind. Some even clean after their own suds by rinsing their seats or place where they shampoo and soaps.
Last but not least, use onsen around 1-2 hours after or before meals. So don't bathe with empty stomach and not immediately after eating too.
Similar regulation on the private onsen too, cleans up and remembering that other people will use the bath after you is important. So don't make a mess and put everything back on it's own place. Remember your time slot as there might be others that are queuing.
Bring back the key to the receptionist or front desk where you picked them up on the first place.
We love our private onsen, it was enough. The smell of sulfuric is in this town, and it was because of the waters. So when we came in, we know that ours will smell the same. We cleans up and then start washing ourselves with warm water. We use the buckets to pour the hot water onto our body slowly. It was too hot at first but after getting used to it (around 5 minutes of pouring the water), we are all feeling very comfortable and go inside the onsen. Even my two years old enjoys the bath very much. And thanks to the steam (and the touch of God for sure) my first one is heal. She is no longer having the flu, no more fever, and she is like never sick.
After taking a rest, it is time for our dinner. We choose 6.30 pm as they are 6:00 pm time slot. The dinner is provided in the dining area on the second floor.
The name use for booking is written on the table, there's children cutlery too for my 2 years old and one thing that we all love aside from the food, is the grandma that helps with the serving. She speaks only Japanese but she is so thorough, she made sure everyone eats, what do we need and is there anything she can do to make sure everyone is happy. My tod got her rice and Japanese seasonings (sprinkles). In the end she just eats the rice plain but she ate. The grandma is happy looking at her finally eats.
As for the rest of us, we eat happily.
The sashimi are fresh, the beef are succulent, the veggies are local and taste so good, the broth and soups are warm and comforting, let's just say we are very happy that night.
After the meal, we went back to our room and everyone fell asleep almost instantly. Around 11 pm, my husband and I woke up, the air feels really dry inside the room. So I wash some of our clothe and dry it near the heater, they are all dry in the morning.
Since inside the room the hot and cold water is provided, alongside with the green teas, we can enjoy a nice family time. When we arrived, 4 onsen manjus are provided too. Inside the manjus are red bean. My husband love them so much. Manju is a traditional Japanese soft cake where usually available in onsen area. Some are known for using the onsen water, hence famous as onsen manju. There are several fillings such as green tea and other beans.
In the morning, breakfast was also served in the dining area. We choose 8.30 am. After taking a bath in the early morning, we are getting ready as we will head back to Tokyo that day. The check out time is 10 am at the hotel. The image above is the breakfast set for 1 person, for me, the dinner is much better. This kind of set is definitely fulfilling but for those that doesn't really like the food would have no other option.
If you happen to be a picky eater, do booked the hotel without the meals set, our room for one night (3 adults) including dinner and breakfast cost around Rp. 6 millions.
Since checking out time is at 10 am, we ask the hotel to keep our luggage and they happily accepted our request. There are boots as well to be borrowed, the sizes are S, M, L. There are children boots, women and men. Since my youngest already have her snow boots, only the rest of us are borrowing those boots and it was definitely helpful to get around town.
Our train is scheduled on 3 pm, we opt for those timing since we want to see other things in the town. It's more than a 3 hours journey, it would be a waste to go back earlier.
So, with our boots and down jacket, plus the weather is so nice that day, the snow has fallen early in the morning, around 10 am, the weather is fine, everything is clear and crisp. So clean and comfortable.
We walk towards Yubatake, this is the center of this town, writing about this town making me crave for their manju. They are free samples on the way to Yubatake, the streets are filled with food, from juicy grilled chicken skewers to crackers. And above, there's onsen eggs too, soft boiled to our perfection. The soy sauce is rather clear and the hint of saltiness is just right.
As the temperature is around -6 it is cold but we did have a great time strolling in the narrow streets. Do be careful since the streets are only fit a car, and there's many car going around, from the hotels minivans to delivery service too.
Aside from that, do enjoy the scenery and many local shops. Apparently, they are some specialty shops that are well known here, from glass jewelry to ramen. Since we are still full thanks to the breakfast and all those manjus, we didn't manage to try the ramen.
Me and my daughter are buying some glass jewelry, I put mine at my camera and she got a necklace. Each cost around 2000 yen. The price are varies depends on the materials to hold the glass and the designs. We thought it would be a nice souvenirs, so we can always remember Kusatsu.
Around 30 minutes of walking (since we kept on stopping here and there), finally we arrived at Yubatake. The steams are like the images seen on google where other travelers share. It is a town worth visiting. There are many onsens here, from outdoor, to privates, foot bath, hand bath, to pet bath too, yes, there are onsens for pets. It is located near Yubatake, just look around, it is close to 7-eleven, there's images of dog and it is said 'pet onsen'.
The water here is very hot, from Yubatake, the water are distributed to the onsens, including Kusatsu Hotel.
I wish we go there by night, the view could be breathtaking. With the steams and the flows of the water, they'll definitely look amazing on pictures too.
Here, we can see that there are many tourist, local and international. Getting basic amenities is easy since there's convenient shops like 7-eleven. Those who opt for a stay without food could have nice meals in this area too, but take notes that some local restaurants has different closing dates and times. Some only open a few days in a week, while some only open on certain hours.
Kusatsu Onsen is pretty much a quiet town that offers onsen. They are number one in the country, known for many healing benefits and the water does feels good on the skin too. If you happen to have very sensitive skin, the water can sting a bit, same goes if you perhaps have a bit of scars. Open wounded is not allowed to soak in the onsen thou'.
I love all the white sprinkles thanks to the snow, it was a wonderful experience for the kids too. Do wear some gloves if you want to play with the snow, after all, it is ice, and it's very cold. Your hands can feel so much pain after being exposed for too long. And yes, always remember that snow is made out of water, and it does make the clothes wet after a while.
After strolling around the town we went back up to our hotel, we see that there's another path going up. So we follow the trails and we found out there's another recommended place to see up there.
There's a shrine and another outdoor onsen out in the open.
It cost a few hundred yen, but since we already take our bath today and we thought about our time that kept on ticking, we need to get back to the hotel and get our stuffs so we can head back to Tokyo.
It cost a few hundred yen, but since we already take our bath today and we thought about our time that kept on ticking, we need to get back to the hotel and get our stuffs so we can head back to Tokyo.
We only manage to view the shrine, actually we can travel till up there, but my husband is too tired to went all the way, my two year old sometime ask him to carry him. It does need walking and a bit of hiking. As for me, I did enjoy this kinds of walking, the scenery is beautiful and the sound of water is just irresistible.
There are some water we could drink near the shrine, it tasted a bit sour, I know because I took a sip, it felt so minerals (is it a word?!).
We see a lot of couples here, I guess it is pretty romantic. Imagine having your honeymoon at this cozy little town that offers private onsen, quietness and just the two of you. Being in the winter alone is surreal, moreover being with your loved one.
After around 3 hours of walking and clearly my nose shown how cold it is here (it was red like Rudolph). We head back to our hotel. Inside Kusatsu Hotel, there's a nice coffee area with a nice coffee machine (free), and plenty of books. There's a nice instrumental music plays at the
At exactly 2 o'clock the staff took us to the bus terminal, we have our late lunch there before taking off to the train station. Everything went on smoothly and time seems like going on so fast when we were there.
Don't forget, google up about the place, there are many information regarding Kusatsu, pamphlet are given freely at the Tourist Center and inside our hotel.
Our trip to Kusatsu has ended, see you again on my next post about different part of Japan that we visited. See you soon!!!!