Kusatsu Onsen can be fully enjoyed on a day trip from the Tokyo metropolitan area

2023-08-30

Kusatsu Onsen (Kusatsu Hot Spring) is a famous hot spring that represents Japan. It is also famous as a medicinal bath, and it is said that it is effective for everything except love sickness.

Kusatsu Onsen is located in Gunma Prefecture, but it takes time to get there because it is located in a secluded location, halfway up Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane, at an altitude of 1,200m. However, if you stay overnight there, you will have to spend a lot of money.

This time, I tried a day trip to Kusatsu Onsen from the Tokyo metropolitan area, so I would like to introduce the scale that worked well.

What I was able to do during this Kusatsu Onsen day trip

I was able to do the following during the day trip to Kusatsu Onsen introduced in this article. I think that it is enough content to enjoy Kusatsu Onsen. If you’re planning a day trip similar to this one, you’ll find it useful to read through this article.

  1. Eat lunch “Maitake Tempura Soba (Soba noodle with mushrooms)": 13:30-14:00
  2. Visit Yubatake (large hot spring pace) and soak in Yukemuri-tei (footbath): 14:00-15:00
  3. Watch “Yumomi and Dance" at “Netsunoyu": 15:00-16:00
  4. Visit Kosenji Temple: 16:00-16:30
  5. Visit “Sainokawara" and bathe in “Sainokawara open-air spa": 16:30-18:00
  6. Buy souvenirs at the souvenir shop: 18:00-18:30
  7. Watch the Yubatake light up: 18:30-19:00

We recommend “Limited Express Kusatsu" for the outbound, and “Local train + Shinkansen" for the return

In order to be able to visit Kusatsu Onsen according to the above mentioned schedule, it is necessary to arrive at Kusatsu Onsen by around 13:00 and leave Kusatsu Onsen after 18:30 at least.

Access for the outbound

First of all, I will introduce three options that you can choose as a means of access to Kusatsu Onsen. I used the “Limited Express Kusatsu No. 1" to go there.

The fastest way to arrive at Kusatsu Onsen is the “local train + Shinkansen"

The fastest way to get to Kusatsu Onsen from Tokyo is by “local train + Shinkansen". For example, the Shinkansen “Toki 301" departs Tokyo at 6:08 and arrives at Takasaki at 6:57, then you transfer to the JR Agatsuma Line “local train bound for Naganohara Kusatsuguchi", which leaves Takasaki at 7:26 and arrives at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 8:51. And then you transfer JR Kanto Bus bound for Kusatsu Onsen at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi. The bus departs from Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 8:54 and arrives at Kusatsu Onsen at 9:22 (total fare is 6,300 yen).

If you arrive at Kusatsu Onsen in the morning like this, you will have plenty of time, so you can visit several hot springs for a day trip, or visit popular Soba noodle restaurants such as “Mikuniya" or “Hakukotei", where lines often form. There are many benefits, such as being able to line up early. However, in order to see the must-see “Yubatake Illumination”, you will have to wait until sunset, and it may be quite uncomfortable if you can’t rest in your room.

The cheapest way to go to Kusatsu Onsen is “Highway Bus"

The cheapest way to get from Tokyo to Kusatsu Onsen is to use the express bus. For example, the JR Bus Kanto “Yumeguri" departs from Shinjuku Bus Terminal at 8:05 and arrives at Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal at 12:05, or departs from Shinjuku Bus Terminal at 9:05 and arrives at Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal at 13:10. (Fares range from 3,510 yen to 3,800 yen depending on the season, 3,060 yen for early bird discount).

The advantage of the highway bus is its low fare and the convenience of not having to transfer through to Kusatsu Onsen. However, the riding time of 4 hours is so long even though there is a 20-minute-rest time at the SA on the way. You may be uncomfortable riding long time in a limited bus seat. In addition, there is a risk that you will not be able to arrive on time due to traffic jams on expressways during consecutive holidays.

“Limited Express Kusatsu" is the most recommendable

For example, when using “Limited Express Kusatsu No. 1" from Ueno, it will be like this;

“Limited Express Kusatsu No. 1" departs Ueno at 10:00, arrives at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 12:18, then you transfer to JR Bus Kanto bound for “Kusatsu Onsen" leaving Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 12:31, and arrive at Kusatsu Onsen at 12:53 (Total fare: 5,550 yen) ). On weekends and holidays, you can also use the Limited Express Kusatsu 31, which departs from Ueno at 9:00 and arrives at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 11:24.

If you use the Limited Express Kusatsu like above, you will arrive at Kusatsu Onsen at just the right time, neither too early nor too late. You only need to transfer once. The departure time of 10:00am at Ueno seems comfortable because it isn’t too early. The riding time is a little over 2 hours. You don’t have to worry about traffic jams even during consecutive holidays. And the limited express train is a good thing because it has a sense of travel.

Access for the return

The return access must be one that makes you leave Kusatsu Onsen after 18:30 and return to Tokyo on the same day. As for express buses, the JR Bus Kanto “Yumeguri-go" leaves Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal at 16:00, so this condition does not apply. As for the limited express Kusatsu, the last one is the “Limited Express Kusatsu No.4", which departs from Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 15:43, so this does not meet the conditions either. In that case, the only way to get there on your way home is by “Local train + Shinkansen".

How to leave Kusatsu Onsen after 18:30 and return to Tokyo on the same day

For example, JR Bus Kanto bound for Naganohara Kusatsuguchi departs Kusatsu Onsen at 19:50 and arrives at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi station at 20:15, then you transfer to the JR Agatsuma Line, a local train bound for Takasaki, which departs Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 20:33. Then you will arrive at Takasaki at 21:55. Further you transfer to the Shinkansen Asama 632, departing Takasaki at 22:08, and arrive at Tokyo at 23:00 (total fare: 6,300 yen).

If you can leave Kusatsu Onsen at 18:30, it is possible without using the Shinkansen. JR Bus Kanto bound for Naganohara Kusatsuguchi departs Kusatsu Onsen at 18:30 and arrives at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi station at 18:55. You transfer to the JR Agatsuma Line, a local train bound for Shinmaebashi, which departs Naganohara Kusatsuguchi at 19:18. You arrive at Shinmaebashi at 20:31. Then you transfer to the JR Ryomo Line Local Train bound for Atami, departing Shin-Maebashi at 20:34 and arriving in Tokyo at 22:50 (total fare: 3,790 yen).

If you use Shinkansen, it takes about 3 hours. If you don’t use it, it takes about 4 hours. I’m tired on the way back, so I think it’s better to take the Shinkansen, although the fare will be higher. I chose to use the Shinkansen departing Kusatsu Onsen at 19:50. I saw and enjoyed the “Light-up of the Yubatake" and then had dinner near the Yubatake before heading to the bus terminal.

What I noticed during a day trip to Kusatsu Onsen

Below is a brief list of what I noticed during my day trip to Kusatsu Onsen. I would appreciate it if you could refer to it.

About the “Limited Express Kusatsu"

The 651 series cars used for the Limited Express Kusatsu are slightly older vehicles that started operation in 1989. It is not bad to ride them, but there are no modern equipment such as power outlets. If you are concerned, we recommend that you bring a spare battery.

At around 9:40, 20 minutes before departure, the “Limited Express Swallow Asama" arrives at Ueno Station. Immediately after arriving, the display of its head mark is changed to “Kusatsu." There will be plenty of time to take pictures of the train “Limited Express Kusatsu" at Ueno Station.

At Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station, the last stop of the imited express Kusatsu, when I got off the train, its head mark was turned black and disappeared (in some cases, it does not disappear). After this, it will return as “Limited Express Kusatsu No. 2", so if you wait for a while, the head mark of “Kusatsu" should light up, but it is better to go early and line up for the bus to Kusatsu Onsen. I think it’s best not to spend too much time on it. Please be aware that there may often happen long lines of people exiting the ticket gates at Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station.

About JR Bus Kanto from Naganohara Kusatsuguchi to Kusatsu Onsen

There are direct buses that do not stop at bus stops along the way, and regular buses that can stop at all bus stops. Only local people get on and off at the bus stops along the way, so in reality, even regular buses will pass through most of the bus stops, and as is the case with the timetable, there is only a few minutes difference from the direct bus. It’s best to take a direct bus, but even if it’s a regular bus, it’s a good idea to choose the bus that leaves first.

The fare is the same 710 yen for both buses. You can pay with a transportation IC card (like Suica or PASMO). The bus which connects to the limited express Kusatsu will be crowded, so we recommend that you go to the bus stop early and wait in line in advance.

About Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal

In addition to regular buses from Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station, express buses from Tokyo also arrive into this terminal. It is convenient because it is a 5-minute walk from Yubatake. There are a tourist information center and restaurants on the 1st floor of the terminal building, a souvenir shop, a bus ticket office, a waiting room and bus stops on the 2nd floor, and a hot spring library on the 3rd floor.  However, after 18:00, everything except the waiting room on the second floor and the bus stops are closed, so you can’t expect to eat something or do shopping here on your way home.

For shopping, exit the terminal building and use Lawson on the opposite side. However, there are few Kusatsu souvenirs. There is a small “footbath" in front of the entrance of the terminal building. If you have to wait for a bus, it might be a good idea to take a footbath here.

About “Yumomi and Dance”

There are performances of 6 times a day at “Netsunoyu" in front of Yubatake. In the afternoon, there are 3 performances starting at 15:30, 16:00, and 16:30. Tickets (700 yen) will be on sale 30 minutes before the start of each performance.

After purchasing a ticket, there is 30 minutes until the performance starts, so it is possible to enter after killing time, but a seat with a good view will be taken immediately, and in the worst case, there is a possibility that you will have to stand. It is recommended that you purchase your ticket and enter as soon as possible to secure your seat.

About Day spa

Kusatsu Onsen has a number of day spas with different spring quality such as “Sainokawara Rotenburo", “Otakinoyu" and “Gozanoyu". I think it’s fun to go Onsen-hopping.

“Sainokawara Open-air Spa" is located in “Sainokawara Park", where you can enjoy the unique scenery of hot springs flowing as a river with steam.

Sainokawara open-air spa is a very spacious hot spring surrounded by nature. It seems that you can relax even if it is a little crowded. However, please note that there is no washing area and you can only soak in the hot spring (600 yen bathing fee, extra charge for towels).

About dinner

If you take the 18:30 bus from Kusatsu Onsen on your way back, you won’t have time to go to a restaurant for dinner, so you will have to eat your lunch on the train on your way home. However, you should be aware that you can only buy takeout food at Lawson across the street from Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal. The shops around Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station are also closed at this time, so you can’t even buy takeout food at the station.

If you take the 19:50 bus from Kusatsu Onsen on your way back, you will have plenty of time to have dinner at any restaurant around Kusatsu Onsen. In this case, it would be better to have a dinner around Yubatake. Be careful not to go to the bus terminal before having a dinner as you can find few shops open around the bus terminal.

Conclusion

It is quite possible to enjoy Kusatsu Onsen on a day trip from the Tokyo metropolitan area. By using the “Limited Express Kusatsu" for the outbound, and the “local train + Shinkansen" for the return, you can enjoy Yubatake and “Yumomi and Odori", bathing in a spa, gourmet of Kusatsu and buying souvenirs. Finally, at the end of the tour, you can see the “Yubatake Illumination” and enjoy sightseeing in general.

If you feel tired, how about taking a day off and relaxing in the famous hot springs that are effective against everything except love sickness?

Have a nice trip!