Kusatsu Tops Japan’s Onsen Rankings 2017

Hot Spring Steam in Beppu ©Promotion Airport Environment Improvement Foundation

Kusatsu hot spring has once again topped the rankings of Japan’s best onsen (hot springs) in recently announced rankings for last year.

The hot spring town of Kusatsu in Gunma prefecture just north of Tokyo has beaten thousands of other hot springs to claim the top spot in the 31st rankings of the 100 best onsen in Japan. It is the fifteenth year in a row that Kusatsu has seized the top spot, an impressive feat given the sheer number of hot springs in Japan, generally agreed to number 3,000 or more.

For the rankings voters including travel agents, tour operators and online travel agents were asked to select their favourite onsen according to four different criteria that were used to create individual rankings in four different categories: Atmosphere, Water Quality, Attractions and Experiences, and Local Food Culture. (See below for lists of the top ten onsen in each category).
 

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Hot Spring ©Kusatsu Onsen Tourism Association

Kusatsu Onsen’s sulphurous and highly acidic waters are said to be of such high quality that they can cure every sickness except lovesickness! If you fancy testing the theory for yourself, then you will not go short of places to put it to the test - take your pick from the town’s multitude of onsen in ryokan, public bath houses and community bath houses.

Kusatsu’s community bath houses are an experience in themselves. These tiny local bath houses are free for anyone to use and provide the perfect chance to rub shoulders with the locals - it doesn’t get much more authentic than this! They are usually very tiny, with room for only a handful of bathers at a time, and extremely hot water compared to other the types of baths in Kusatsu, so unless you are a local whose skin has been toughened up by years of practice we recommend dipping your toes before you jump in.

Kusatsu Hot Spring ©Kusatsu Onsen Tourism Association

For public baths with a bit more space, try Gozanoyu, a beautiful wooden building housing two baths; Otakinoyu, offering multiple wooden pools of varying temperatures; and Sainokawara Rotemburo, a collection of large rotemburo (outdoor baths) in Sainokawara Park. Alternatively, if you are not quite ready to introduce Japan to your birthday suit just yet then check into one of Kusatsu’s many ryokan with private baths or get your socks off for a feet-only soak at one of the many free ashiyu (foot baths) dotted throughout the town.

Kusatsu has plenty to offer aside from bathing, with a number of onsen-related tourist attractions to keep you amused and entertained once you’ve dried off. Don’t forget to check out the Onsen Museum above the bus terminal and the Yubatake. This is Kusatus’s unique ‘hot water field’, where 5,000 litres of hot water bubbles to the surface every minute. The water, which gushes out at a temperature of around 70C, is cooled down a few degrees by running it through a mind-boggling structure of wooden conduits before being distributed to the town’s bath houses.
 
Kusatsu Hot Spring ©Kusatsu Onsen Tourism Association
 
The daily performances of the Yumomi ceremony at the Netsunoyu bath house next to the Yubatake field are also not be be missed. The ceremony sees a troupe of women in local dress demonstrate the centuries-old method - used to cool Kusatsu’s extremely hot water by fanning it with large wooden paddles - while performing a series of folk songs and dances. If you’re lucky you may even get a chance to try it for yourself after the show!
 
As well as Kusatsu, three other onsen were also ranked in all four categories this year: Yufuin and Beppu Hatto, both in Oita prefecture in Kyushu in the south of Japan, and Noboribetsu in Hokkaido in the north of Japan.
 

Noboribetsu Onsen

Sengen Park ©Hokkaido Tourism Organization

Noboribetsu on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido is arguably Japan’s most famous hot spring resort. A large amount of the water supplying the town’s several types of hot springs surfaces in a volcanic valley above the town that has earned the nickname Jigokudani ("Hell Valley”), for its spectacular active volcanic scenery.

The water and steam spouting up from the valley’s numerous cracks and crevices is so hot that it was rumoured to be inhabited by “oni”, Japanese demons or ogres, as it was believed that only demons could possibly survive the valley’s sweltering temperatures and harsh environment. Find out more about what to do in Noboribetsu here.

Noboribetsu is home to numerous, mostly larger ryokan and hotels with their own hot spring baths, as well as one public bath in the centre of the town (Sagiriyu Public Bath). Many of the ryokan and hotels open their baths to non-staying guests during the daytime for a fee. Try Takimotokan for a choice of baths from seven different hot springs or Noboribetsu Grand Hotel for an outdoor bath overlooking a beautiful garden with a man-made waterfall.

Beppu Onsen

 Beppu Hot Spring
 
Meanwhile, Oita in the east of Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu is another of Japan’s most famous hot spring resort areas. The town of Beppu in Oita is home to eight main hot springs, collectively known as Beppu Hatto (‘hatto’ literally means ‘eight waters’), each equipped with public baths and ryokan with bathing facilities.

There is no shortage of bathwater in Beppu - together the town’s eight hot springs produce a higher volume of water than any other onsen resort in Japan. Aside from the sheer abundance of its waters, the other standout feature of Beppu’s hot springs is their variety - as well as more conventional hot water baths, bathers can also reap the benefits of more unusual dips in sand baths, mud baths and steam baths.
 

Yufuin Onsen

Yufuin Hot Springs ©Promotion Airport Environment Improvement Foundation
 
Neighbouring Yufuin, around ten kilometres inland from Beppu, is a pleasant rural town sporting a wealth of boutiques, cafes and small art museums at its centre yet surrounded by traditional scenery of rustic farmhouses and tranquil rice paddies. Bathing and strolling are the two key activities in Yufuin, and many travellers visit Yufuin just to stroll around the town for the day. 
 
Following their example, follow in their footsteps after your bath. Head east out of town along the main walking path, soaking up the pleasant scenes of traditional rural life on either side and the impressive sight of twin-peaked Mt. Yufu looming over the town ahead. At the end of the trail, take a turn around Lake Kirinko at the foot of the mountain and stop off for a quick dip at Shitanyu, the town’s only public bath house. 
 

What are the Onsen Rankings?

Kannawa Steam Bath ©Promotion Airport Environment Improvement Foundation
 
The top onsen rankings are announced every year by Kanko Keizai Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper in the travel and tourism industry, with the aim of inspiring competition and further development among onsen areas around the country as well as discovering the most popular and best-loved onsen among consumers that year.

In addition to industry news relating to hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), local tourism, and special features on topics as varied as tourist sites and hotel equipment, the newspaper also publishes details of relevant survey data, including its lists of Japan’s top 100 onsen and 250 most popular onsen ryokan hotels. It also awards its registered trademark of five star status to inns and hotels in Japan that are selected for its 250 most popular onsen ryokan hotels list a total of five times or more. 

Both rankings are widely recognised by the tourism industry in Japan, and the onsen rankings are supported by eight tourism-related organisations, including the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) of the Japanese government. The top ten onsen in this year's rankings in each of the four categories were as follows.

 

Atmosphere

  1. Kusatsu, Gunma
  2. Dogo, Ehime
  3. Yufuin, Oita
  4. Kurokawa, Kumamoto
  5. Kinosaki, Hyogo
  6. Arima, Hyogo
  7. Beppu Hatto, Oita
  8. Ibusuki, Kagoshima
  9. Wakura, Ishikawa
  10. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Water Quality

  1. Kusatsu, Gunma
  2. Gero, Gifu
  3. Arima, Hyogo
  4. Beppu Hatto, Oita
  5. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido
  6. Ibusuki, Kagoshima
  7. Tsukioka, Niigata
  8. Yufuin, Oita
  9. Takayama, Gifu
  10. Naruko, Miyazaki

Attractions and Experiences

  1. Ibusuki, Kagoshima
  2. Kusatsu, Gunma
  3. Beppu Hatto, Oita
  4. Dogo, Ehime
  5. Yufuin, Oita
  6. Hakone Yumoto, Kanagawa
  7. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido
  8. Kinosaki, Hyogo
  9. Wakura, Ishikawa
  10. Gero, Gifu
     

Local Food Culture

  1. Wakura, Ishikawa
  2. Ibusuki, Kagoshima
  3. Kusatsu, Gunma
  4. Gero, Gifu
  5. Dogo, Ehime
  6. Yufuin, Oita
  7. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido
  8. Beppu Hatto, Oita
  9. Tsukioka, Niigata
  10. Kurokawa, Kumamoto

About Volcanic Activity of Mt. MotoShiranesan

- Released by Kusatsu Town (January 24)

Mt. Motoshiranesan, located in Kusatsu-machi in Gunma, erupted on January 23.

Kusatsu Onsen Town is located 7 kilometers away from the eruption site and no damage has occurred.

Until safety in other areas is confirmed, Kusatsu International Snow & Spa Resort will open its Tenguyama and Onariyama courses only.

- Released by Manza Onsen Tourism Association (January 23)

Manza Onsen Area is outside of the restricted area as it is located 3.2 kilometers away from the Kagamiike Pond area on Mt. Motoshiranesan. At present, there has been no effect from the eruption.

- Released by Tsumagoi Village Tourism Association (January 23)

Though there has been no effect on Manza Onsen (including Manza Highway) at this time, please take caution.

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