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3-Day Model Trip Day1

Joshinetsu

3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Joshinetsu / Takasaki - Ikaho - Kusatsu

Takasaki, where the trip starts, has long been an important commercial distribution center and transportation hub. At the mention of the name of Takasaki, most Japanese think of papier-mache dolls representing Daruma, or Bodhidharma, who introduced Zen Buddhism into China. The dolls are popular as good-luck talismans. Familiar souvenirs of Takasaki, they are sold at the Buddhist temple Shorinzan Daruma-ji, in the western suburb of the city. The Gunma Prefectural Products Center in the JR Takasaki Station Building is the best place to buy "daruma" dolls and other Takasaki souvenirs.

The 42-meter statue of the White-robed Kannon standing on a small hill southeast of the city (15 minutes by bus from Takasaki Station) is a major Takasaki landmark. A staircase inside leads to the level of the statue's shoulders. Small windows open on panoramic views of the city.

Leaving Takasaki, take the Joetsu Line to Shibukawa Station. Then, change to a bus for Ikaho, which, like Kusatsu, is one of the most famous of the many hot springs ("onsen") in Gunma Prefecture. A 10-minute walk from the Ikaho Onsen Bus Terminal takes you to a stone staircase of 360 steps leading through the spa district. An old-fashion atmosphere pervades the inns, souvenir shops, and eating and drinking establishments lining the stone steps. Tourists, clad in cotton kimonos called "yukata," stroll through town, intensifying the traditional look.

If you have the time, take a side trip to Mizusawa to savor celebrated Mizusawa "udon," or wheat noodles. Everybody loves the translucent gleam and firm texture of Mizusawa udon. To reach Mizusawa take about a 10-minute bus ride from Ikaho Onsen Bus Terminal and get off at the Mizusawa Stop.

If you still have free time, visit the Ikaho Green Ranch, a 10-minute ride on the bus from Ikaho to Shibukawa. At the ranch, in addition to watching milking and butter-making, you can observe a duck race and a sheep dog show. A variety of milk products are on sale. The Hara Museum Ark, located in one corner of the ranch and designed by famous architect Arata Isozaki, offers you a chance to sample the appeal of contemporary art. After returning to Shibukawa Station, board the JR Agatsuma Line for Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station.

After a bus trip from Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station to the Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal, a 10-minute walk takes you to the center of the Kusatsu spa and Yubatake, the town symbol. Yubatake is a field where sulfur from the hot springs water is allowed to deposit and is then collected. The smell of sulfur and white steam rise above Yubatake, into which 4,400 liters of hot water gush every minute.

Every day except in winter (December to March) the Yumomi Show takes place at Netsunoyu, adjacent to Yubatake. "Yumomi" is actually the process of churning the spa waters with long, thin planks to lower the temperature for bathing comfort. At Netsunoyu it is performed as a show for spectators, who may participate if they like. Participants receive mementos and certificates. You're sure to enjoy joining in.

All around Yubatake, souvenir shops offer locally produced sulfur bath salts and sweet steamed buns called "onsen-manju." A leisurely walk-shopping as you go-brings you to spacious Sainokawara Park, where a mist of vapors rises from hot springs everywhere. Tourists flock to the big (500 square meters) Sainokawara Outdoor Bath at the end of the park walkway.

If you can spend another night at Kusatsu, try hiking to the Yugama caldera lake on volcanic Mount Shirane. Buses from the Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal to Shirane Volcano run at intervals of about one an hour in the summer months. They do not operate in the winter (November to April). Be sure to check the schedule. The buses stop early.

An active volcano, Mount Shirane (2,000 meters high) is the source of the Kusatsu hot springs. Make sure you have suitable clothing and footwear. After a 35-minute bus ride, get off at the Shirane Kazan Bus Stop. A 15-minute walk through a bleak landscape brings you to the breathtaking emerald-green Yugama lake (about 300 meters in diameter, about 30 meters deep, and water temperature of 18 degrees centigrade). Its waters are the most acidic of any lake in the world.

About a 50-minute walk takes you the Sancho Cable Car Station. Travel by cable car to the Sanroku Station, where you board a bus that will take you to Kusatsu Onsen (total time 20 minutes).