I’ve been spending most of my outdoor photographic time in Saitama in the last few years. The time for overnight trips on my own passed several years ago, and morning outings on Sundays and holidays was all I could manage for a long time. However, a former coworker who accompanied me on some outings in the past had started working in Isesaki City, in Gunma, and when we talked about meeting up and going out somewhere, visiting someplace in Gunma seemed like a refreshing idea. We originally had plans to do a hike up one of the Hyakumeizan in Gunma, but he only got off work at 9am on his one free day that matched my schedule and couldn’t meet me until after 10:00. So I looked to Kusatsu instead.
Kusatsu Onsen Town is home to one of Japan’s three most famous hot springs. But it is not here that we went. We bypassed the town and made Chatsubomi Moss Park (チャツボミ苔公園), just a bit north and down slope of the town, our first stop. The purpose of our visit was to see an area of volcanic rock that is covered in thick, green moss thanks to a hot spring stream.
There was a parking area, visitor centre, rest room, rest house, and unfortunately, a 600 yen entrance fee. If there’s one thing I don’t care much for it’s an overdeveloped natural area. The hike to the moss was about 1.3 km for which the woman in the visitor centre gave a seemingly unrealistic long time to walk. There was a free shuttle bus however. Given the shortness of our day already and the 600 yen entrance fee we paid, we decided to take the bus, which left every few minutes.
From the bus stop above, we walked up a path for a short bit until we reached a boardwalk path that circumnavigated the natural pools of lava rock and the thick coatings of moss. The area was a interesting as I had seen in the photos on the Internet. It was no trouble to photograph abstractions in the scenery, but setting up a tripod on the narrow boardwalk meant frequently having to move it as other visitors approached.
The time we spent there was satisfactory and we soon returned to the car and drove back into town where we stopped for refreshments before driving up to the Kusatsu Shiranesan volcano. My hopes were to see the crater of the volcano with its light turquoise lake as the setting sunlight lit up the crater rim. At the top of the road there was in the past a large visitor area with parking lot, souvenir shop, food services, etc. As we passed one gassy area, my companion recalled that there had been an eruption here in January of 2018, and some skiers had to be rescued; one of them dead.
At the top, we were baffled by the parking lot being roped off and all the buildings boarded up. We found a service road where we parked the car. Soon an announcement played over the loudspeakers. It told us that the mountain was an active volcano at Level 1 (the lowest level of danger) and asked visitors not to go hiking on the mountain and or go to the crater. We went anyway.
The parking lot was cracked and tall weeds grew up. The tiled pedestrian walking path was cracking and the tiles already disintegrating. The buildings appeared derelict for longer than they actually should have been. Had this place remained closed since they shut down at the end of 2017, or had it been shut down longer? The last time I visited was in 2009, if I recall correctly. The whole complex looked like yet another abandoned tourist facility.
The announcement played regularly was we walked on the crater rim and photographed the last of the sunlight. When we returned to the car, the twilight in the sky was reflecting in a perfectly still pond. The mirrored silhouette of a protruding crag across the pond and a cloud in the sky as the last light left the clouds was too good to resist. We must have stayed another 30 to 40 minutes before finally heading back down and back home.
I am very pleased with the photographs from the trip. Please have a look at the few I have posted on Flickr.