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Japanese Sweet Treats in a Hot-Spring Paradise

Stylish café hopping in historic hot-spring resort Kusatsu Onsen
  • Japanese Sweets
  • Wagashi
  • Matcha
  • Japanese Coffee
  • Onsen (Hot Springs)

Relax with Japanese sweets in one of Japan’s original spa resorts!

Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture - Kanto

Chart a course for Kusatsu, a hot-spring resort tucked into the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. Located 1,200 meters above sea level, this high-elevation town, famous for its therapeutic waters, is considered one of Japan’s top three hot-spring resorts. Head downtown to marvel at reams of steam rising from the Yubatake hot-water field, a testament to the incredible geothermal forces that stir beneath the earth’s surface. Then take off on a self-guided tour of the town’s free public hot-spring baths.

Pop into one of the many cafés that dot the town to refuel and rest your feet, weary from walking. Recent years have seen the establishment of a number of new coffee shops and eateries selling sweets, where you’ll find excellent brews and dazzlingly impressive desserts. Try one of the following top-notch spots to unwind while sating both hunger and thirst in style.

Enjoy Elegant Afternoon-Tea Japanese-Style at Naraya Ryokan’s Kissako Café

Naraya Ryokan, established in 1877, is one of the most popular hot-spring inns in Kusatsu. Its location, next to Yubatake, could not be better. Kissako, a café and bar, is located on the first floor and is open to guests not staying at the ryokan from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. If you like your coffee to be fussed over, this is the place to visit, since each siphon-brewed cup is created from the heart.

Vintage siphon coffee makers set the scene for a fantastic cup of coffee.

The coffee beans used, Sulawesi Toraja from Indonesia, produce a delightfully complex brew. At first sip, expect slightly sour notes and a faintly fruity flavor, followed by the perfect degree of bitterness and a deep richness. Savor the coffee’s sophistication in stylish Arita ware, a Japanese porcelain from the town of Arita, or in exquisite golden cloisonné crest cups.

If you prefer your coffee with less acidity, order Kissako’s cold-fermented coffee or cold-brew coffee. Add a shot of flavor to your cup of cold-brew with Gunma Ume Dutch Coffee, where a dash of locally produced umeshu (plum liqueur) is added to your coffee for a very special treat.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with one of Kissako’s incredible dessert creations. Local ingredients come together in stunning fashion in offerings like Matcha To Kuro Goma Purin Parfait, a combination of granola, seasonal fruit, anko (sweet-bean paste), shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), matcha ice cream, black-sesame pudding, jelly-like warabimochi, konnyaku jelly, and candied hanamame (beans).

Incredibly photogenic is Okoicha No Affogato, a cloud-like confection of cotton candy, which melts as koicha (thick matcha) is poured on, revealing a mountain of matcha with vanilla ice cream, hanamame, shiratama, warabimochi, and seasonal fruit.

Delight in these delectable treats while inhaling the comforting aroma of coffee that permeates the café. Once fully sated, head back out for another round of relaxation in Kusatsu’s soothing waters.

Experience Pure Bliss at Yubatake Souan Ashiyu Café, Where Sweet Treats Meet Blissful Feet

Ashiyu are small hot-spring baths designed for soaking your feet and are common in hot-spring areas across Japan. What isn’t common is to find them included as seating in a café—but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Yubatake Souan Ashiyu Café.

The café is located in Yubatake Souan, a long-established inn located next to Yubatake. Reopened in June 2017 after having been renovated, the interior, which retains the original wooden beams and pillars, offers a cozy atmosphere.

Grab a seat in the ashiyu section, and prepare to choose something delectable from the menu, which includes sweet and savory items as well as a wide range of hot and cold beverages.

Keep things local with Hanamame Matcha Soft and enjoy warm candied hanamame with soft-serve vanilla ice cream and matcha syrup.

Taste the flavor of innovation in a newer type of confection that adds an onsen tamago (an egg cooked in the hot spring) to the mix—the Ontama Hachimitsu Soft. Honey and soft-serve ice cream round out the concoction, which melts together in a velvety, sweet creation that is heavenly—and reminiscent of a milk shake.

The water in the ashiyu hovers around thirty-eight degrees Celsius, just the right temperature to allow you to leisurely enjoy your chosen treats before heading out for more soaking and sampling.

Yubatake Souan Ashiyu Café’s noren curtain is even in matcha tea green to match their delectable deserts.

Feast Until You’re Full at Grande Fiume Kusatsu’s All-You-Can-Eat Gelato Extravaganza

It’s a good thing it takes six minutes to reach Grande Fiume from Yubatake, because you’ll want to work up an appetite before partaking of as much soft gelato as you desire.

The shop began life in December 2016 as the Kusatsu Rusk, where patrons could enjoy a variety of flavored rusk biscuits along with unlimited servings of soft gelato. The shop was a hit and was therefore renovated in 2018 to expand the eat-in area and create a more comfortable place to sit back and relax.

Now the focus is more on the gelato, but the rusks are still there as a perfect pairing.

Fill your cup with one (or more) of four flavors of Pernigotti gelato (imported from Italy), add crunchy rusks to your cup for textural contrast, pop on some toppings, eat, and repeat! Rusk flavors run from sweet to savory, so customize away!

Across from the eat-in corner, find a shop selling rusks, which are perfect for souvenirs or nighttime hotel nibbles. Choose from flavors that include maple sugar, caramel almond, basil, and garlic. And get creative—rusks make great croutons and additions to onion gratin soup!

Yubatake hot-water field in the center of town.

Immerse yourself in Kusatsu’s hot, soothing water, and recharge with mouthwatering goodies and divinely delicious coffee. Spend your holiday in town, and discover why the hot-spring resort is a top holiday destination—don’t be surprised if you start planning your second visit before heading home from your first!

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