onsen tagged posts

Kusatsu: a classic Japanese hot springs town

Kusatsu is Japan's number one hot springs town

With more than 100 hot springs producing 36,000 liters of hot water per minute, Kusatsu has the highest volume of naturally discharged hot water in Japan. Its Hot Water Field is almost a national onsen shrine.  In fact, Kusatsu onsen has been chosen by the Japan’s top travel agents as the country’s number one hot spring for 10 consecutive years in the 100 Best Hot Springs in Japan. Here is my guide on how to enjoy both the indoor and outdoor onsen is this classic hot springs town.

Bathing evokes an almost religious fervor in Japan. Since it is very active geothermally, more than 28,000 onsen hot springs dot the length of the country, the styles varying from a water hole on the side of a river to complete onsen theme parks. While many hotel and ryokan hot springs deliver a five-star experience, municipal bath houses and foot baths offer everyone the opportunity to take the waters...

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Photo Friday: Japanese snow monkeys

Photo Friday: Japanese snow monkey

I shot this photo in winter when this Japanese snow monkey and his friends were enjoying their hot springs baths in snow-covered Jigokudani Yaenkoen park, not far from Nagano on the island of Honshu.

These snow monkeys are Japanese macaque, a monkey species native to northern Japan and the most northern-living non-human primate surviving winter temperatures below -15 degrees centigrade.

To see the monkeys in their natural environment you walk up alongside the Yokoyu River, which is nicknamed Hell’s Valley because of its steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the ground. It is fun to watch them going about their business…playing, eating, running around and soaking in the onsen. There is a lot of social activity to enjoy with mothers and babies and alpha males. And it is remarkable how their faces and hands and all their emotions are so like our own.

If you would like to try soaking in an onsen yourself, check out my post on Kusatsu, which is much more human friendly!

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Japanese s...
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Great Overnight Getaway from Tokyo: Karuizawa

The onsen in Karuizawa, an hour out of Tokyo

The mountain retreat of Karuizawa, just an hour by bullet train from Tokyo, offers a delightful overnight getaway from the frenetic metropolis. In winter, it has skiing, snow shoeing, and steaming onsen baths. In summer it offers a wonderful respite from Tokyo’s heat. And year-round it has great shopping, walking, restaurants and other adventures.

Karuizawa,  has long welcomed travellers. From the early 17th century, when Japan was ruled by the Edo (Tokyo)-based shogun, Karuizawa was a post town along the busy Nakasendo highway between Tokyo and Kyoto.

You can still explore the long narrow post-town street once lined with wooden restaurants and inns catering to samurai lords and merchants. These days the offerings lean more towards trinket-filled Japanese souvenir outlets, bakeries and sweets shops.

What distinguishes Karuizawa from other post towns is…surprisingly…how it became a getaway for Westerners in the late 19th century.  After first coming in 1886, Canadian-born missionary Alexander Croft Shaw recommended what he called Happy Valley to fellow missionaries and other foreigners as a wonderful place to escape Tokyo’s summer heat. Soon an entire community of western-style houses was built among the larch and fir trees.

A ret...

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