Kusatsu Onsen is located at a high altitude of about 1,200 meters, so the fall foliage season comes earlier than in many parts of the Kantō Region. If you happen to visit Kusatsu Onsen in November, Sainokawara Park (西の河原公園) is one of the top spots to adore the autumn color! In fact, Sainokawara Park is a place you would want to visit any time of the year. Throughout the year, the park is illuminated after sunset. When the weather is chilly, the free foot spas in the park can help keep you warm!
Table of Contents
- Sainokawara Park, and Old Demon Residence
- What to Expect at Sainokawara Park
- Anamori-Inari Shrine (穴守稲荷神社)
- Sainokawara Open-Air Bath (西の河原露天風呂)
- Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum (草津片岡鶴太郎美術館)
Sainokawara Park, An Old Demon Residence
As beautiful as the park is, for a long time, the Sainokawara Park was a spot that the locals feared because the landscape resembled a place where the demons would live. Not only would fish not survive in the acidic water flowing in the park but plants couldn’t be grown around the riverbed either. The rivers were then referred to as the River of Death (Shi no Kawa, 死の川), and the hot spring flowing on the riverbed was referred to as Demon’s Spring (Oni no Sensui, 鬼の泉水). The legend states that you shouldn’t speak out loud in the park as the demon would come out.
Nowadays, whether it is the numerous spots where hot springs are gushing out, or the landscape is dyed green by the onsen, they are all treated as the blessing of nature instead of the horrible work of the demons.
The park is recognized as the perfect place in Kusatsu Onsen to feel the magnificence of nature from the promenade!
The Demons’ Kettle and the Sumo Ring at Sainokawara Park
But the attractions’ names in the park didn’t change. For example, there is an Oni no Chagama (鬼の茶釜碑) monument close to the park’s entrance. The sound from the hot spring flowing out sounds like a boiling tea kettle, where the “Chagama” came from.
Regarding the “Oni (demon, 鬼), the legend has it that the creepy sound coming from the spring source would stop when people get close to it. But once there wasn’t anyone around, the sound resumed, leading the locals to believe it was the demon’s doing.
Proceeding further from Sainokawara Open-Air Bath, there is also a spot called “Oni no Sumoba (鬼の相撲場)”, which means the sumo ring for demons. If you love hiking, a trekking trail was completed in July 2020 for hiking up to Mt. Tengu (天狗山).
Apparently, the insect chirping sound in the Ghibli movie Spirited Away was picked up from around Oni no Sumoba’s pavilion!
What to Expect at Sainokawara Park
In Sainokawara Park’s spacious ground, the hot spring flowing out of the ground totals 1,400 litters per minute! The overflown hot spring then forms a few rivers and numerous hot spring ponds were dyed with beautiful emerald green!
Although you can’t bathe in these ponds, you can still dip your hands into them, as each has a different temperature. You can test all of them out to find your favorite ponds (´▽｀*).
Of course, it would be sad if only your hands got to enjoy the hot spring. There are certainly free foot spas in the park too. In fact, one of them is probably the biggest foot spa you might encounter!
In addition to the free foot spas, in February 2021, there are three Te Arai no Yu (手洗乃湯) set up in Sainokawara Park. It is the most convenient way to experience the hot spring, and the onsen can also disinfect your hands!
Moreover, Sainokawara Park is lit up from sunset to around midnight. While some find the illuminated park scarier due to the colors used, others love the quietness and would enjoy the mysterious vibe.
As you walk towards Sainokawara Open-Air Bath, you might notice two monuments, each with a Caucasian male portrait attached. They are both doctors who contributed greatly to Kusatsu Onsen. You can refer to the Baelz Museum (ベルツ記念館) section in our Kusatsu Onsen article for more information.
☛ Strolling Sainokawara Park without enjoying the foot spas will take around 20 minutes.
☛ Remember to bring a towel to dry your feet after a foot spa session.
☛ Toilet facilities are available close to the entrance of Sainokawara Park.
The Stacked Stones and Jizō Bodhisattva
Walking around Sainokawara Park, you will spot stones stacked up into a tower shape on the ground. The stones were most likely stacked by parents who had lost their children. The Japanese believed that by doing so, their children would suffer less in hell. This is also why there used to be many more Jizō Bodhisattva statues in Sainokawara Park.
If you wonder why hell and not heaven, refer to our article on Mt. Osore. But note that the reason behind it may be uncomfortable to read for some due to different personal beliefs.
Anamori-Inari Shrine (穴守稲荷神社)
As you walk around Sainokawara Park, you might encounter an Inari Shrine. The Anamori-Inari Shrine enshrines a marriage-tie Jizō Bodhisattva. Apparently, pilgrims in the past have benefited from this Jizō Bodhisattva’s blessing and formed great relationships with those they hoped to form with.
Near the Anamori-Inari Shrine, there are three more Jizō Bodhisattva statues whom are known for looking after happy marriages (夫婦円満), child blessings (子宝), and longevity (ぴんころ地蔵).
Kusatsu Onsen’s Anamori-Inari Shrine is a sub-shrine of the Anamori-Inari Shrine in Haneda, Tokyo. The shrine was erected by the owner of Tokyo’s Yamazaki Dyed Good Shop (山崎染物店) in 1907. He was one of the many who benefited from the medical benefits of Kusatsu Onsen.
After fully recovering from the illness, he asked for a part of the spirit of the god of Haneda’s Anamori-Inari Shrine to be ceremonially transferred to Kusatsu as a token of his appreciation.
Close to Anamori-Inari Shrine’s last torii gate, there is a spot where purified sands (招福の砂) are placed. After putting 200 yen in the donation box, feel free to bring a scoop-full of sand back with the envelope provided. Sprinkle the sand around your home’s entrance so your family members are blessed with good health. If you sprinkle the sand around the entrance of your business office, the god will bring prosperity.
One thing to note is that don’t be greedy; only one scoop-full per person. The message from the shrine is that if you don’t follow the rules, the benefits you will get from the ritual will be halved.
How to Get to Sainokawara Park
Sainokawara Park is around a 10-minute walk from Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal and around a 15-minute walk from Yubatake.
Refer to our Kusatsu Onsen article for information about how to get to Kusatsu Onsen/Yubatake.
If you plan to drive, the park has a free car park that you can utilize from 6:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Important: The promenade is slippery when wet.
Sainokawara Open-Air Bath (西の河原露天風呂)
Sainokawara Open-Air Bath is located in Sainokawara Park. If you are interested in bathing in the middle of nature, this is the bath you would want to visit.
Especially during the fall foliage season from late October to early November, Sainokawara Open-Air Bath is particularly popular among visitors. You can avoid the crowd by heading there in the early morning or at night.
For more information, refer to our Guide to the Public Bathhouses in Kusatsu Onsen article!
Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum (草津片岡鶴太郎美術館)
Close to Sainokawara Park, there is an art museum with Tsurutarō Kataoka’s artworks on display. While many of us non-Japanese wouldn’t know who he is, Kataoka is a man with multiple talents. He started his career as an actor/comedian and later became an artist and professional boxer.
The museum also has a cafe attached. So if you want to enjoy an afternoon tea after visiting Sainokawara Park, come to Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum!
The museum has around 100 of his artworks that you can admire. It is also a great spot to visit for those who love Japanese-traditional-style paintings and potteries. While English translation isn’t available for the poetry, his art style is rather simple and easy to understand.
If any of the paintings catch your attention, you might be able to purchase a postcard or miscellaneous goods with the painting printed at the back from the museum shop.
Tsurutarō Kataoka’s artwork is also displayed in the hall where Yumomi is performed at Netsunoyu.
Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm except Thursdays.
- The admission fee is 600 yen.
- If you are a guest at the Kusatsu Hotel, it will be 300 yen for you.
- Kusatsu Tsurutarō Kataoka Museum is a 5 to 10-minute walk from Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal.
Discover Other Attractions in Kusatsu Onsen
In addition to the nature in Sainokawara Park, Kusatsu Onsen has much more to offer. Whether it is soba noodles, traditional sweets or outdoor activities, such as obstacle courses and skiing, you surely won’t be bored at Kusatsu Onsen!
For more information, refer to our article on Kusatsu Onsen (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.