Breakfast at the Kiyoshigekan Hotel was standard Japanese fare, but I began my day before that, with a long soak in the outdoor bath. Despite the slight sulfur smell, it was a luxurious way to wake up. Every joint felt refreshed and I kept running my fingers over my skin, since it had a silky feel that I was not used to.
I returned my few belongings to my travel bag and said goodbye to Naoto, who gave me more advice on things to see in the area. I complimented his English and he brushed off the praise, saying that he would keep working on it. I told him I was expecting to hear an improvement when I came back again to Kiyoshigekan, and it was only half in jest. Kusatsu Onsen definitely lives up to its reputation of having fantastic hot spring waters.
Downtown was about 10 minutes away, and I took another look at the impressive waterworks at the yubatake. Then I followed Naoko’s directions down a colorful street lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. I went slowly, browsing through a few that caught my interest. The distance was not far, but I ended up taking quite a while to reach Sainokawara Park.
Sainokawara Park 西の河原 was the strangest park I have ever seen, and all the more so because everything was real. It looked like the set of a fantasy movie, with bubbling, greenish pools radiating heat and clouds of steam. Unusual, twisted rocks dotted the landscape, and trees filled in the areas not flowing with water. I walked among the trails, marveling at the idea of an active volcano beneath my feet heating the water that boiled to the surface here. It was a bit thrilling and a bit terrifying at the same time.
In the center of Sainokawara park was a public hot spring bath fed by this very same water. Though I had soaked before breakfast, I indulged in a visit to this one. I was surprised at the size of the pool. It was single-gender, and yet there was room for about 100 people. I assumed the other was just as large.
I am more used to small, private baths which may have up to 15 people inside, so this one was a bit exposed for my personal taste. But the water was worth the slight embarrassment of being the only foreigner in a very large crowd. As I was leaving, I did notice a few others walk in; I think they were speaking French.
After changing into my street clothes, I left the baths and also Sainokawara Park. It was a beautiful place, but I needed to get back to Tokyo. I had lunch at one of the little cafes on the charming street heading back into town, then headed on to the bus station.
Photo by kc7fys Attribution-ShareAlike License
My stay in Kusatsu Onsen was only one night, but it was so relaxing and pleasant, I felt like I had spent a week at a spa. Someday I do want to return.