The town of Kusatsu is one of Japan’s most famous onsen resorts, a popular destination for those looking to relax and bathe in geothermal hot springs. Located in Gunma prefecture outside of Nagano, the small onsen town of 7000 people attracts 3 million annual visitors who come for the relaxing hot springs. However, in the Netsu No Yu bathhouse, the water is far too hot to just slip into the water for a soothing bath. So, to cool the water, a traditional performance of song, dance, and beating the water with wooden paddles is performed, known as yumomi.
With water temperatures of 51°C to 94°C (123°F to 201°F), the bath would be scalding hot to bathe in. The yumomi method cools the bath without having to add cold water, which would dilute out the natural minerals of the hot spring water.
The Yumomi Performance
The performance is open to the public to watch, and is typically performed by up to 10 female performers. The process begins with traditional folk music and dancing, as each performer enters one by one, bowing. They circle around the bath, taking their place in front of a wooden paddle, 5 on each side.
The paddles are 30cm and 180cm long (12 inches by 70 inches), and are dipped into the water in time with the music. The paddles are turned over to mix the water. Using the edges of the bath as supports, the paddles are used as levers to create huge splashes and cool the water in the air. While the yumomi is usually performed by women, there are now some shows with men called yumomi-kun, who are dressed in shorts and happi coats.
All in all, the performance lasts about half an hour. There are two levels to watch the show, from the ground lever, or on the first floor balcony. During the performance, audience members are sometimes allowed to try the yumomi technique for themselves!
Yubatake Hot Water Field
Just across from the Netsu No Yu bathhouse is the Yubatake, which translates to ‘hot water field.’ It is the centrepiece of the town of Kusatsu, a large central hot water pool that is the source of the water for the onsens. Producing 5000 litres (1320 gallons) of hot water every minute, it is Japan’s onsen with the largest water output. Taking its place in the middle of a central town square, long wooden channels pour the 70℃ (158℉) water to a blue pool at the bottom. These wooden channels, called mokuhi, help cool the water which goes to the onsens. There are wooden walkways around the circumference of the Yubatake to take pictures, and enjoy the mild sulphur smell that comes from the water. While you can’t bathe in this water, there is a nearby foot onsen which is free to use.
Bathing In Kusatsu Onsen
People can’t bathe in the Netsu No Yu bathhouse, as it is reserved just for display purposes. However, those wanting to bathe in Kusatsu are spoiled for choice. There are three major onsens to visit. Gozanoyu is just next to the Yubatake, and is known for its large wooden bathtubs, relaxing environment and traditional feel. Sainokawara Rotemburo has a large open-air bath with beautiful views of pine forests, and Otakinoyu has large indoor pools with windows that look out over the hillsides. Besides those three main onsens, there are many more smaller ones to visit as well, which have smaller capacity and are usually free.
Yumomi Manhole Covers In Kusatsu
Japan has some of the best manhole covers in the world. Every city and town in Japan has customised, colourful manhole covers that reflect the culture, history, traditions and industry of that place. In Kusatsu, the manhole covers depict a kawaii yukata-dressed woman performing yumomi. It’s a great little secret to discover on the streets of Kusatsu!
As one of Japan’s best onsen escape destinations, visiting Kusatsu is a must for anyone hoping for a relaxing holiday in Japan. Seeing the yumomi performance is a wonderful way to experience a little bit of local onsen customs, an old art that is kept alive today for us to admire.
Netsu No Yu is located at 414 Kusatsu, Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma. It is just 10 minutes walk from Kusatsu Onsen bus terminal, and right next to the Yubatake. Performances take place at 9:30am, 10:00am, 10:30am, 3:30pm, 4:00pm, and 4:30pm.