The Kusatsu is a limited express service operated by JR East that runs between JR Ueno Station in Tokyo and Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station in Gunma Prefecture. This service provides passengers with a quick link between central Tokyo and the three most popular hot spring resorts in Gunma: Ikaho Onsen, Shima Onsen, and Kusatsu Onsen.
At JR Ueno Station the Kusatsu usually departs from platforms 14, 15, and 16. Because this is a JR service it is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
The Kusatsu stops at the following stations.
Ueno > Akabane > Urawa > Omiya > Kumagaya > Takasaki > Shin-Maebashi > Shibukawa > Nakanojo > Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi
The Kusatsu runs along four different rail lines: the Tohoku Main Line between Ueno and Omiya, the Takasaki Line between Omiya and Takasaki, the Joetsu Line between Takasaki and Shibukawa, and the Agatsuma Line between Shibukawa and Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi.
For information on destinations between Ueno and Takasaki, please see our JR Takasaki Line article. The Kusatsu’s other key destinations are listed below with their locations of interest and transfer points. Example travel times and fares (including limited express surcharges) are given from JR Ueno Station.
Transfer here to the JR Ryomo Line.
Train fare: 3,800 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
This is the closest station to the hot spring resort town of Ikaho Onsen. From the station passengers should take a bus for a 20 minute journey to the town of Ikaho. Ikaho is an ancient spa town on the slopes of Mount Haruna. Its natural thermal waters are said to be good for muscle pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, and general well-being. Ikaho’s top attractions are listed below.
- The Ishidan Gai is a 300 meter stretch of 360 stone steps which run through the center of the town. The steps are lined with traditional gift shops, inns, and spas and at the top is Ikaho Jinja Shrine. The shrine, which is said to be over 1,100 years old, is the spiritual center of Ikaho.
- Hoshina Museum of Art displays art nouveau objects and modern paintings by Japanese artists.
- Takehisa Yumeji Museum displays the art of the popular artist and poet, Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), who was a regular visitor to Ikaho. This museum also has a number of working antique music boxes on display.
- Kajika Bridge is a beautifully arched vermilion bridge which is particularly popular with photographers in the autumn foliage season.
- Ikaho Ropeway is an aerial lift that carries cabins up to an observation point at the top of Mount Monokiki.
- Mizusawa Temple is said to be 1,300 years old and is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. Among the buildings on the grounds is an unusual two story hexagonal pagoda which is designated as an Important Cultural Property. Around the temple are many restaurants serving “Mizusawa Udon” noodles. This temple is a ten minute bus ride from Ikaho bus terminal.
- Hara Museum ARC is a contemporary art museum featuring works from Japan and overseas. The museum’s distinctive black wooden buildings were designed by the architect, Arata Isozaki. The Kankai Pavilion is an extension to the museum which displays more traditional East Asian art works. Hara Museum ARC is a ten minute bus ride from Ikaho bus terminal.
- The scenic countryside around Mount Haruna and Lake Haruna are popular hiking, camping, and boating locations. Mount Haruna is a 25 minute bus trip from Ikaho.
Day trippers who do not wish to stay overnight can bathe in one of Ikaho’s many public bath houses. However, the best way to experience Ikaho is to enjoy a relaxing stay at one of the many hot spring spa resort hotels. Popular resort hotels in Ikaho are Oyado Tamaki, Fukuichi, Johinnosato Hibikino, Nagomigokoro-no-Yado Omori, and Chigira Jinsentei.
Train fare: 4,130 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 36 minutes
This is the closest station to the hot spring spa resort town of Shima Onsen. From the station passengers should take a 50 minute bus ride to the resort. However, a taxi will cover the same distance in 25 minutes.
Shima Onsen is located in a green valley surrounded by mountains. This historic town has 40 separate hot spring sources providing healing waters to 36 ryokan inns and numerous public bath houses. “Shima” means “40,000” which represents the number of health problems the mineral waters are supposed to be able to heal.
Among the traditional souvenir shops, and retro games arcades, is the temple of Hinatami Yakushido. Dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing, the temple marks the spot where the first spring was found in 989. The temple hall with its thatched roof dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), and the temple also has a free public foot bath. The Shima River runs through the valley and has many scenic spots, such as Kamigafuchi Gorge, several waterfalls, and Lake Okushima. Shima Onsen is said to be one of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts and is a great location in which to unwind in a center of natural beauty.
Train fare: 4,450 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station is the closest railway station to the hot spring spa town of Kusatsu Onsen. Passengers can take a JR Bus from the station to Kusatsu Onsen in 30 minutes. Because this bus is run by JR it is actually covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Kusatsu Onsen’s boast is that its mineral waters can heal everything except a broken heart. The spring water is heated naturally by the nearby active volcano Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, and is so hot that it needs to be cooled before it is used for bathing. In the center of town is the “Yubatake” which literally means “hot water field” and it is here the spring water is passed through a system of wooden channels until it is cool enough to use. Another local custom is the Yumomi dance, in which local people sing and stir the steaming waters with large wooden paddles until they are cool. This traditional folk performance can be seen at the Netsunoyu Bathhouse which is beside Yubatake.
Other attractions are the large open air bath in Sainokawara Park, the gift shops and antique arcades of Sainokawara Street, and Shirane Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Yamato Takeru, a legendary hero of the 1st century, who is said to have discovered the hot springs at Kusatsu.
Train fare: 5,270 yen
Train time: 2 hours and 18 minutes
At the time of writing the Kusatsu makes two regular return services on weekdays, and three regular return services on weekends and on holidays. However, there are also some irregular extra services on weekends and holidays which are noted below.
(weekends & holidays)
|Kusatsu #83 (irregular service)||11.12||12.50||13.10||13.43|
|Kusatsu #71 (irregular service)||11.14||12.50||13.10||13.43|
|Kusatsu #32 (weekends & holidays)||12.04||12.28||12.48||14.24|
|Kusatsu #72 (irregular service)||14.06||14.35||14.54||16.34|
|Kusatsu #84 (irregular service)||14.06||14.35||14.54||16.36|
As the Kusatsu’s schedule is subject to change we recommend using the online English route finder Hyperdia to plan your trip. Full timetables from Ueno and from Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi can be found on the JR East website, but these are only available in Japanese.
Article by Michael Lambe. Photos by by Michael Lambe, notch510/PIXTA(3), takezo/PIXTA(4), matya1234/PIXTA(5). All rights reserved.