Japanese Breakfast at 8:30am; with ham and eggs. Maybe because I am a gaijin. The sake is served because of New Year. Check-out is scheduled for 11am. Plenty of time for onsen. I ask the hotel clerk to give me a little bit of money for my ride to Ueda and charge my credit card. The ATM are still offline. I will take care of all the fees. After a short discussion I get 10.000 yen. The last 400yen in my pocket are not even enough for the train to Ueda.
I also can store my stuff at the counter. That gives me 90 minutes to explore Bessho. At the temple are still running New Year celebrations. The main street is closed. Booths with food and other stuff. Matsuri (festival) feeling.
Next stop is the octagonal pagoda with a Kannon; the Kannon can not be seen. And the rest of the temple is more or less a construction site. Further to the O-yu, a public bath. Don’t expect too much. It is more or less a bath room, not a spa. But it is relaxing. After that I do a brief stop at a cafe. The owner roasts his own coffee blends. A little bit expensive, but for sure unique. At 2pm I pick up my stuff and thank all the people there many times for all the help.
Back in Ueda I have some time to visit the remains of the castle. There is not much to see. They rebuilt a part of the gate, the wall and the corner towers. The old merchant street is not far away. It is a short street with 10 houses. Here is a bakery, that is run by a friend of the coffee shop owner. A good place for a short break.
The shinkansen brings me to Take-something-town where I change into a local. 90 minutes later I arrive in a place called Naganoharakusatsuguchi. The bus to Kusatsu is already waiting. I like Japan. Connections are always working. Cool Snow. The display says 18°F. Then there is a street section with grooves. The tires are playing a song! But I cannot identify it.
The bus arrives in Kusatsu. It is snowing. The streets are white. Perfect. I walk to the hotel. I only now the basic direction. But I am confident. I walk down the street half a mile and ask in a conbini (convenient store). 50yards further I have to turn right. It is that simple. And there is a big sign at the junction too. I check-in; including the standard introduction into the onsen rules.
I walk into city center. A quiet walk thru tiny streets covered with snow. Yubate. The big onsen the town is famous for. 17°F. And it is still snowing. I wear a cap but no gloves. But I am “nordisch” (nordic). The view is impressive (I expected smoething smaller). The smell is too. Waft of mist are floating over the onsen. Brimstone. I take pictures. This is what I wanted. That is what I was looking for. Cold weather, snow, hot springs, remote places at night.
The next stop is a izakaya. My fingers and the autofocus of the camera are frozen stiff. Bulls eye. Good food, good sake and good company. The daughter of the owner was in Germany for a student exchange. She was in Bietigheim-Bissingen. Why there? In this one-horse town? I learn: It is the partner city of Kusatsu. And that there is a long tradition between these two palces.
At 11pm I return to the ryokan. There I enjoy the winter night. Sitting in a rotenburo. THe water is not that hot because of the temperature outside. I have some sake with me. It is snowing. I can explain how great this moment is. Sitting in a onsen, outside the house, while it is snowing. This is a lifestyle I could get used to.