I can still remember clearly my first onsen (hot spring bath) experience. I was 16 years old and was visiting Japan for the first time on a family vacation. Looking for a new experience and a chance to take advantage of he nice hotel’s amenities, I headed down to the open bath. Little did I know what it actually means to visit an onsen here– I was certainly in for a surprise. As I opened the sliding door to the women’s side, I was met with the shocking sight of naked old women. Flushed, I immediately turned around, shut the door behind me, and ran back to the room. It would take another three years before I could step into an onsen again.
In reality, I am not opposed to the idea of sharing a naked bath. The human body is beautiful, and being raised in a culture that appreciates the body is a natural and wonderful thing. I feel like I would’ve been much less insecure about my own body when I was younger if I knew what real ones looked like– not the flawless airbrushed ones one media. Anyway, this was just the little introduction I felt was necessary to how how much my comfort level has changed. Now, I’m giddy at the IDE of a relaxing bath, especially outdoors and surrounded by snowy mountains.
Which leads me to the main point of this post: my weekend excursion to Gunma prefecture’s Kusatsu Onsen.
Kusatsu Onsen area is recognized for its incredible natural hot springs and also has great ski resorts. In the center of town, visitors can see the hot water rushing down canals, distributed to the various bathhouses of the city. A nearby stage hosts the water cooking traditional dance that is performed to demonstrate the process of fanning the water before it is sent out. A beautiful sight this weekend was the hillside temple with its stairs lit in candlelight all the way up. Even the searing cold on my bare skin where my socks and leggings didn’t meet was no incentive to run back to the hotel.
Both Saturday and Sunday, we enjoyed half day snowboarding sessions. Despite ten years since the first (and only) time I tried it, it wasn’t as bad as I remember. In fact, even in Sunday’s terrible blizzards weather, I had a great time.
The chance to visit Kusatsu was thanks to a Meet Up group and our excellent host Kimio-san, who delivered first class service on the bus as well.
If you’ve got time for a short weekend break, nip up to Gunma for ski and relaxation. Buses leave from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro so there are no real excuses not to. Happy skiing!