Our plan for the day was to walk around Mt.Shirane Yugama, a crater lake above Kusatsu. On arrival, we find this is not possible, as the area is still closed after the sudden eruption of last January.
Consequently, we decide to drive around and approach from the other side via route 292. We take the toll road (Manza highway) to Manza onsen where we pick up R.292 again and drive to the highest point on a national road – 2,172 meters. This is, of course, pointless but the views are magnificent.
On this route, the toll road bit, I was surprised to see two serow; presumably a mother and her fawn? I thought, at first, they were wild pigs but no, definitely serow.
The road through to Yugama was, of course, closed from this side as well, but the panorama here is not to be missed. After lunch, enjoying the view, we drive down to Manza onsen.
＊R.292 is closed between Tenguyama gate to Shibutoge gate in winter time(mid-Nov.~Apr)
Manza Onsen, Nisshinkan
It is a beautiful day of clear skies and a temperature up to 28 degrees, even at this altitude. We haven’t walked but, a bath is a must. Nisshinkan onsen is our choice. This is one of the individual hot springs in the Manza onsen area. It is pricy at 1000 yen, but you get a little towel thrown in.
The onsen is white sulfur water and very good. Not flashy and not so traditional that you don’t understand what you are supposed to do. Neither was it crowded, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was, however, the middle of a hot afternoon and a bus tour was in the process of leaving.
Tsumagoi Panorama Line
From Manza, retracing our steps, we have to take a toll road again but, to avoid a second toll, we take the long route via Tsumagoi Panorama Line to Karuizawa. And very glad we did, for this road is a must drive. We were astounded by the scale of the panorama – magnificent. There were a lot of cabbage fields too – it is Gumma.
We stop at Aisai no Oka, a manufactured tourist attraction but, forget the tacky metal work, enjoy the view. Here, we can see that the clouds, that have been slowly building all day, are finally getting serious; boiling over Mt. Asama in an impressive display. We travel on towards Karuizawa.
Karuizawa or Kita Karuizawa appears to be semi-derelict, with many abandoned houses and cafes but, the centre is busy with traffic. We escape, via Route 18 through Usui Toge.
This is the second time to take this road, out of Karuizawa, on this trip. It is notable for glimpses of a red brick railway viaduct and for its 182 curves before you emerge onto more restful road.
Myogi michi no eki
Pushing on past the Chinese sumi-e style mountains, we arrive at michi no eki Myogi. This is not a great place to stay but a useful staging post for Tokyo tomorrow. The last few kilometres we drive in light rain but the standing water tells us we missed a cloudburst. The michi no eki(road station) is steamy hot. A difficult night ahead.
＊michi no eki Myogi elevation ; 430m
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.