vol04/歴史から紐解く湯の多様性 Revealing the Complex Meanings of Japanese Hot Springs
温泉文化史の面白さを探る Exploring History of Hot Spring Cultures!

2. 薬としての温泉—草津温泉—(ケース・スタディ1)
Hot Springs as Healing Water: Kusatsu Onsen (Case Study 1)

1)草津温泉ってどんな温泉?What Kind of Hot Spring Is Kusatsu Onsen?


Before going back to Kusatsu's main spring source, I will provide some basic information about the hot spring.

ビデオ2(草津温泉の簡単な紹介 Brief Introduction of Kusatsu Onsen)

ビデオ使用音楽 Music Used:
◉Pleasant place

2)草津ビデオ Videoシーン2:手洗之湯てあらいのゆって知ってる?
Kusatsu Video Scene 2: A Hand-washing Spot with Hot Spring Water!?


Mr. Itō and I went back to the spring source in Kusatsu and found something there.

ビデオ3(草津のお湯で手を洗おう!Washing Hands with the Hot Spring!)

What Do you Really Mean by "Drinking Hot Spring?" Why Did It Go Out of Fashion?


Mr. Itō, I was surprised to hear that hot spring was drunk in Kusatsu in the past. When on earth was that? I want to know more details!

 そうですよね、ちょっと驚きますよね。でも、少なくとも400年前ごろには、そういうことがあったようですよ。功甫玄勲こうほげんくんという16世紀の僧が、草津と春木郷はるきごう美濃国みののくに)に湧く温泉を比べて、この二つの地から湧き出る湯の香りや味が似ていると記してるんです。(『梅北集ばいほくしゅう』, 1521)

Yes, it is a bit surprising, isn't it? Well, the culture of drinking hot spring water existed in Kusatsu, at least around 400 years ago. KŌHO Genkun, a 16th-century Buddhist monk, compared the hot springs in Kusatsu and Haruki Township (Mino Province, today's Gifu Prefecture). In his work (Baihoku-shū, 1521), he recorded that the aroma and taste of the hot springs from these two places are similar.


Wow. I'm sorry for repeating myself, but I'm intrigued with such information that Kusatsu spring used to be drunk, especially during the late medieval period!


Yes, there is a possibility that it was already drunk in medieval times. And more details are recorded in historical materials of the Edo period. For example, in his work (Onsen kikōki [The Record of Miraculous Hot Springs], 1672), FUJIWARA no Nagaharu instructs this: Before entering the Taki-no-yu (Cascading Bath) in Kusatsu, you should soak the hot spring well into your body, by drinking the hot spring first and washing your face with it. Then you can actually enter the Taki-no-yu.


Oh, how come?


I think that by "drinking the hot spring first and washing your face with it," the bathers could relieve the shock from suddenly taking the hot cascading bath.


I see…. The Kusatsu spring is very hot, so I can totally imagine that if we dive into it suddenly, we could get shocked with the high temperature and become sick. Then in this case, the reason to "drink the hot spring" was to get used to the spring carefully and slowly, rather than to cure a disease.


Maybe. Additionally, we know that it was also used as a laxative. Onsen kikōki says that if you have severe constipation, it will be cured if you drink gensen (the hot spring directly coming from the source) at Kusatsu.


Oh, good for constipation!


Yes, but Onsen kikōki warns that when drinking the Kusatsu gensen, you should be careful not to let it touch your teeth.


Ha! It makes sense. Kusatsu spring is highly acidic, so I believe that it's pretty bad for your teeth.


10 years later (1681), FUJIWARA no Toshichika wrote Onsen kikōki tsuika (Additional Notes to the Record of Miraculous Hot Springs) and promoted drinking of spring water. This states that some people even drank as much as 1 shō a day, and as a result, the worms living inside their bodies were expelled.


Seriously? 1 shō is approximately 1.8 liters. I wonder if it was all right to drink such a large amount of pungent liquid like the hot spring at Kusatsu….


This is based on hearsay information, so the actual situation is unknown, but if this kind of drinking had really taken place, I think it was quite reckless.


What a drastic treatment! If they really drank such strong hot water, they might have suffered a terrible stomachache.


It must have been even worse. I think there were cases that caused various troubles due to the damages of gastric mucosa.


It's scary. If that was really the case, it is understandable that the culture of drinking spring water has become obsolete.


Yes, after the 18th century, as suggested by the phrase—"Don't drink hot spring water"— in Yōjōkun (1713) by KAIBARA Ekiken, there was a growing tendency to prohibit the act of drinking hot springs, which people had been doing in various regions.

 そうか、なるほど… そういう事情があったのか。

That explains the situation… yes, that makes sense.


Although this is little known, that happened in history.


I see…. To Japanese people, hot spring culture appears to be very familiar, but there are many things that we don't know, including its long history. One such element is the culture of drinking hot spring water practiced in Kusatsu. We learned that the treatment through drinking the spring there became obsolete due to reckless drinking methods. It's a very interesting history. I would like to know more about Japanese hot spring cultures and their historical backgrounds that do not usually appear in textbooks.


Come to think of it, although it is also not well known, there is a hot spring place even today, where the culture of drinking spring water has been continuing since long ago.


Oh, really? Where is it?


Actually, there is more than one, but I believe that the Yuya Hot Spring (Yuya Onsen) in Osaka Town of Gero City, Gifu Prefecture, is significant. This place is important to understand hot spring history in general, and in particular, to think about the history of hot spring recuperation.


Hmm, the Yuya Hot Spring. I wonder what kind of place it is….


You know, you should visit there because visiting the actual site is very important for enhancing our understanding of its culture and history (and histories of Japanese hot spring cultures as a whole).


Do you think so?


Yes, certainly. And if you visit the Yuya Hot Spring, there are three things that I would like you to do. Are you ready to take notes?


Oh, yes.


First, you should visit Mr. OKUDA Shōji who lives in the Yuya Hot Spring Town. Then, ask him to let you see an old scroll called Hishū Osaka Ōbora Ideyuki (The Record of Osaka Ōbora Hot Spring in Hida Province) that has been handed down in his family for generations.


Scrolls? Wow, I'm getting excited!


Then, drink the Yuya hot spring.

 え〜、どんな味だろう。でも、お風呂の… 飲んで大丈夫ですか^^;

Hmm, what does it taste like? But is it okay to drink ... from the bath? ^ ^;


Oh no, you don't drink from the bath tub, of course. You can find a drinking fountain there. Well, no matter how much I explain, hearsay cannot be as convincing as actual experience of yourself. So, you should see the color of spring, taste it, and feel it with your own five senses.


Yes, you are exactly right!


Another thing to remember is to go to Yakushidō in the town, the Buddhist hall where the Healing Buddha has been worshipped. This place is very important for understanding the history of recuperation with the use of hot springs.


Okay, the Healing Buddha Hall. I'll do my best. Mr. Itō, I really appreciate all the advice you gave me.


My pleasure. Wishing you the best!


Thank you so much. I will go to the Yuya Hot Spring and try hard to gather information💪 Then I will report it, so I can introduce to a wider audience the depth and charm of the history of Japanese hot spring cultures in Japan.

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