Location of Kusatsu in Gunma Prefecture
|• Mayor||Takashi Nakazawa|
|• Total||49.74 km2 (19.20 sq mi)|
|• Density||149/km2 (390/sq mi)|
|Time zone||Japan Standard Time (UTC+9)|
|Address||28 Kusatsu, Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma-ken
Kusatsu (草津町 Kusatsu-machi?) is a small town in Agatsuma District in Gunma Prefecture, Japan. Kusatsu is situated about 1,200 meters above sea level. The active volcano Kusatsu-Shirane (2,160 m high) and the inactive Mount Tengu (1,385 m high) and Mount Motoshirane (2,171 m high) are located west of Kusatsu.
- 1 Climate
- 2 Population, economy, and infrastructure
- 3 Onsen
- 4 Sister cities
- 5 History
- 6 Sights and events
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Due to the altitude Kusatsu's annual average temperature is 7°C, with a maximum temperature of around 30°C during summer and a minimum temperature of -14°C in winter. The main rainy season is from June to September.
Population, economy, and infrastructure
Kusatsu has a population of 7,419, which is slowly decreasing. The town's main income is tourism (about 90% of the working population is employed in the tertiary sector), with very little industry and almost no agriculture. Kusatsu's infrastructure is well developed: Besides road 292, there are bus connections from Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station, Shinjuku, Tokyo, and other areas. During the winter season the streets are kept free of snow using onsen water.
Kusatsu is one of the most popular hot springs resorts in Japan and regularly achieves high rankings in Japan-wide surveys.
There are about 100 onsen in Kusatsu with a total amount of about 34,000 liters water per minute pouring out of the ground. The water is sulfurous and acid. The hot springs are said to help cure the following ailments: arthralgia, stiff shoulders, paralysis, hardenings, bruises, sprains, chronic indigestion, hemorrhoids, chills, arteriosclerosis, burns, chronic gynecological disorders.
The water from the onsen is used not only for bathing but also for heating of the city's primary and secondary schools, the municipal welfare center, the streets during winter and many households, as well as for the municipal swimming pool.
Kusatsu has numerous sister cities in Japan and around the world. In Japan these are mostly onsen towns or seaside resorts such as:
Outside Japan, Kusatsu has the following sister cities:
- Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany. The town in which Kusatsu's benefactor Erwin Bälz was born. The contacts with this sister town are the most intensive. There is an annual student exchange.
- Neustift, Austria. Winter sports resort town. Contact established through the Austrian national ski team.
- Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad, Carlsbad), Czech Republic. Spa resort town, was compared with Kusatsu by Bälz.
- Snowy River, Australia. This town is located on the same latitude as Kusatsu, only in the southern hemisphere.
The legendary origin of Kusatsu goes back to the second century during the Yayoi period. According to the legend, either Yamato Takeru or Yamabushi discovered the hot springs around Kusatsu. There is no historical evidence for either claim, however. But there is evidence that Yamato Takeru named the towns Tsumagoi and Agatsuma after his wife ("tsuma" means "wife" in Japanese). Since both towns are near Kusatsu, we do know that people at least settled near Kusatsu at that time.
Up to the 12th century there is no specific record of Kusatsu. Local lore recounts that in 1193, Minamoto Yoritomo came to Kusatsu in pursuit of fleeing Taira clan warriors. He then bathed in the Yubatake (湯畑?). The Gozaishi (御座石?, illustrious seat, royal seat) on which Yoritomo sat, and the Yoritomo-gū (頼朝宮?, Yoritomo Palace) in which he is said to have bathed, can be visited to this day, near the Yubatake. The story also says that there was a lot of undergrowth near the Yubatake, which was cut by Yoritomo, suggesting that there was no settlement near today's Kusatsu at that time. Kusatsu's history began in 1200 when Kōsenji (光泉寺?, Light of the hot springs temple) was founded. Records can be found in the annals of Kusatsu.
Almost 400 years later, during the Sengoku period, there is more evidence for the existence of Kusatsu, which, in the meantime, had grown into a hot-springs resort popular with wounded Samurai, who came here to heal their wounds. In the Tokyo University Historiographical Book Of Facsimiles (東大史料編纂所影写本 Tōdai shiryō hensanjo eishabon?) we can find correspondence between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the following issue: in the year 1595 (Bunroku 4) Hideyoshi recommended the Kusatsu hot springs to Ieyasu. The latter was ill, however, and couldn't go to Kusatsu himself, so he advised his servants to fetch some water from Kusatsu and bring it to his residence in Edo (Tokyo).
Some historians have argued that Ieyasu actually feigned illness in order to avoid going to Kusatsu, as the Sanada clan, which was hostile towards him, resided in the vicinity of Kusatsu, in Ueda Castle.
During the Edo period, especially the Bakumatsu, Kusatsu experienced unprecedented economic growth and became one of Japan's best known hot springs. This was partly due to the increasing incidence of venereal diseases like gonorrhoea and syphilis, contracted in Tokyo red light districts like Yoshiwara, for which there was then no known cure besides bathing in a hot spring. The saying: "Kusatsu sengen Edo gamae" (草津千軒江戸構え?) also goes back to this time and means: a thousand stores, just like in (the shopping districts in) Edo.
Hearing the praise of the Kusatsu Onsen the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune had hot-spring water drawn from the Yubatake source and transported into his castle for bathing.
In 1869, Kusatsu burned to the ground. The town was reconstructed within a few years, but the process left many local people in debt, causing the bankruptcy of many small enterprises, especially ryokan, over the next 20 years. At that time many of the inhabitants of Kusatsu abandoned the traditional practice of "Fuyuzumi" (冬住み?), which meant leaving Kusatsu in wintertime and returning to their hometowns, located further down the mountains. Instead, the townspeople sold their old homes to repay their debts and began to live in Kusatsu all year long.
In 1876, Kusatsu village and Maeguchi village got together to build one ward office and in 1889 Kusatsu, Maeguchi and six other villages merged to form the village of Kusatsu, but in 1890, Kusatsu and Maeguchi again formed one town, while the six remaining villages formed Kuni-mura village.
The infrastructure developed in the Meiji period and also people`s knowledge, therefore many famous people were visiting Kusatsu. Especially foreigners were scientifically interested in this area, which became an important area for research of effects of hot springs, volcanoes etc.
In 1876, Erwin Bälz, a German internist came to Kusatsu for the first time. Bälz was one of the fathers of modern western medical science in Japan and court physician to the emperor. He was convinced of the healing power of the hot springs in Kusatsu, and began scientific research into them with a view to convincing the townspeople of the need to teach the correct application of the hot springs to Japanese medical doctors.
Taishō to Heisei
In 1914, the Kusatsu ski club was founded.
In 1948, a ski lift was erected on Mount Tengu, near Kusatsu. It was the first ski lift in Japan, with Kusatsu going on to become one of the country's first proper ski resorts.
In 1964, rail services to the town ceased after the closure of the nearby sulfur pit and the ensuing loss of freight traffic, which made operation of the line uneconomic.
In 1992 and 1994, Kenji Ogiwara from Kusatsu won two Olympic gold medals in the Nordic combined team events, as well as three world cup championships (twice individual, once team) in Nordic skiing between 1993 and 1997. His brother Tsugiharu won the world championship with the Japanese team in 1995.
Sights and events
The Yubatake, one of the biggest hot springs and the main attraction of the town, is located in the center of Kusatsu. The spring water pours out of the rock and is then conducted through several rows of wooden boxes. In these wooden boxes Yu no hana (湯の花?) one of Kusatsu's specialties is cultivated. The word Yubatake accordingly means "hot water field". Around the Yubatake there are 100 name plates of famous persons that visited Kusatsu. Internationally well-known are: Erwin Bälz (German internist), Julius Scriba (German surgeon), Bruno Taut (German architect), Ernest Satow (British researcher of Japan and diplomat), Kakuei Tanaka (Japanese prime minister 1972 - 1974), Rikidōzan (famous pro wrestler). On the lower part of the Yubatake there is a small cascade and the rock has an emerald shade. This is one of the most popular spots for souvenir pictures.
Netsu no yu
The Netsu no yu (熱の湯 lit. "hot water"?), though located adjacent to the Yubatake, is a hot spring in its own right. The water is about 54 degrees Celsius, so it is not possible to bathe in it. For that reason there is the ancient tradition of Yumomi (湯もみ?), which means kneading or bashing the water. Using 1.80 meter long wooden boards the hot water is stirred, bashed, kneaded and thus cooled down. The simpler method of pouring in cold water is not practiced as it would dilute the healing power of the water. During the Yumomi ceremony, the Kusatsu song is sung and Japanese traditional dance is performed.
The Bälz Museum
The Bälz Museum is another of Kusatsu's attractions. Located at the entrance to Kusatsu, visitors can inform themselves about the life and work of Erwin Bälz. There is also a souvenir shop with goods mostly from Germany and the Czech republic.
There are more than 100 onsen in Kusatsu. The biggest and most popular are:
- Ōtaki no yu (大滝の湯?, lit. "great waterfall hot spring") is named after spring water forming a waterfall. The building itself is made from wood and there is one basin on the inside and one on the outside (Rotenburo). The service in this onsen is very extensive: There are massage chairs, footbaths, relaxation rooms and more.
- Sai no kawara (西の河原 lit. "western riverbed"?) is an outside basin of approximately 500 ㎡, which can be used by more than 100 guests at once. There are separate baths for men and women divided by a wooden fence. Located in a valley overflowing with hot springs it is one of the most beautiful rotenburo of Japan.
- The Bälz Onsen Center, situated on a plateau near Mount Tengu ski area, offers great scenery with lots of nature all around. It is a popular Après-ski recreation spot.
Another of Kusatsu's attractions are the mountain flowers growing in and around the city. The most famous are:
- Watasuge (Eriophorum Vaginatum, Hare's tail cotton grass)
- Zazensō (Simplocarpus foetidus, Skunk cabbage)
- Azumashakunage (Rhododendron Metternichii var. Japonica, a kind of Rhododendron)
- Hakusanshakunage (Rhododendron brachycarpum, a kind of Rhododendron)
- Rengetsutsuji (Rhododendron molle subsp. Japonicum, a kind of Azalea)
- Yanagiran (Epilobium angustifolium, Rosebay Willowherb)
- Nanakamado (Sorbus commixta, Japanese Rowan)
- Ezorindō (Gentiana triflora var. Japonica, blue Gentian)
- Komakusa (Dicentra peregrina, a kind of Magnolia)
Festivals and events
During the year there are a number of traditional festivals as well as a number of other events happening in Kusatsu.
One of the most important festivals is the summer Music Academy, which attracts famous musicians from all over Japan and even from abroad. The Japanese empress also visits the Music academy every year.
The Kōsenji flower festival (光泉寺花祭り Kōsenji hanamatsuri?) on 7-8 May is a much more traditional festival. The children of the Kindergarten near Kōsenji pull an elephant made of paper around the Yubatake in celebration of Buddha's birthday.
The Ice-cave festival (氷室の節句 Himuro no Sekku?) happens on the first of June. Ice is brought from a cave in Mt.Shirane, which was formed by an eruption of the volcano, and then is used to make tea. According to the legend, anyone who drinks this special tea will not get ill in the following year.
During the first three days of August the Onsen gratitude festival (温泉感謝祭り Onsen kansha matsuri?) takes place. This traditional festival has its origins in the Ushiyu matsuri (丑湯祭り?), which in accordance with the Chinese calendar is celebrated during the hottest time of the year on the day of the ox. According to the lore, those that bathe in an Onsen in the hour of the ox (one to three AM) will not get ill for one year. In contrast, today's ceremony is totally different: The goddess of Onsen descends the stairs at Kōsenji symbolizing the descent from heaven. She then gathers water from seven big hot springs in Kusatsu and distributes the water to the baths in Kusatsu. On the third day she ascends the stairs to Kōsenji, representing the ascent to heaven. Through this ceremony the blessing of the gods is granted, which will make sure that the springs won't run dry.
In late August, the Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy & Festival takes place. (since 1980)
The following events also take place in Kusatsu: Tour de Kusatsu (amateur bicycle race), Yuki no kairō walking (雪の回廊ウォーキング?), (hiking through a valley of snow walls several meters high), soccer and skiing events. Thespa Kusatsu football club, although formed in and representing Kusatsu in the Japanese football league system, actually plays in Maebashi.
- Yu no hana ("hot water flower") is extracted from the hot water at the Yubatake and consists of mineral sediment (mostly sulfur), which, dried, is sold as powder by the town. Using Yu no hana, guests can experience onsen at home.
- Amanattō (甘納豆?) is a kind of sweet made of a special sort of highland beans, which does not bear fruit below 700 meters above sea level. First the beans are dried, then put into water and finally they are cooked in sugar. The details of the making process are a company secret.
- Manjū is a well-known sweet in Japan, consisting of a pastry crust made of flour, rice flour and buckwheat and a filling made of Azuki bean paste. In onsen resorts, manjū were often steamed using the steam rising from the hot springs.
Lakes and waterfalls
There are a number of waterfalls and crater lakes. The most famous ones are: Yugama (湯釜?) located 2,100 meters above sea level is the crater lake of Mount Shirane. It boasts a very high acidity and an emerald-green surface. The Yumiike (弓池?, lit. "bow lake"), 2,000 meters above sea level is located between Mount Shirane and Mount Motoshirane. Its water is crystal clear. The Ōsen no taki (嫗仙の滝?) and the Jōfu no taki (常布の滝?) are waterfalls near Kusatsu.
The Kusatsu international ski area (草津国際スキー場 Kusatsu kokusai sukijō?) on Mount Tengu and Mount Shirane is over 90 years old and besides the onsen one of the main attractions of Kusatsu. The ski area extends from 2,100 meters above sea level down to 1,300 meters above sea level. The snow quality is very good and there are ten different routes for all difficulty levels as well as twelve lifts. The longest route is eight kilometers long.
- Kawaai Yūtarō, Onsenshiwa, 1966, Gunma-ken, Agatsuma-Gun, Kusatsu-Machi, 3-7-2 Shigehara
- Kusatsu Kyōikuiinkai, Kusatsuonsen no Bunkazai, 1998, Asahiinsatsukōgyō Kabushikigaisha
- Erwin von Bälz Museum, director Okitsu Hiroyoshi, Toki No Utsuroi (not published)
- Kazumine Daiji, Manga Kusatsumachishi, 2000, Kusatsumachi
- Kusatsu Ryokankyōkai, Meiyukusatsu Onsen Hyakka
- Kusatsu Kankō Kyōkai, Kusatsu Style, 2007
- Kusatsu municipal business division, Kusatsu – The Kusatsu Guide 2002 (edited 2007)
- Kusatsu municipal tourism division, Kusatsu – Kusatsu tourism index
- Kusatsu town hall, special project division, Yubatake VIPs – 100 famous people that visited Kusatsu, 1999
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- Official website (Japanese)