Onsen cities. These little resort towns cover the countryside extremities of Japan. If you have any interest in coming to Japan, you must spend a night or two soaking in the natural hot springs and eating local food.
Kusatsu is a very well known hot spring town a few hours out of Tokyo in the mountains of Gunma. I've heard that former emperors were particularly fond of the healing waters, and had their staff (slaves?) haul water a few hundred kilometers down from the mountains into Edo. It's good to be the king.
When it comes to onsen towns and food, kaiseki is the norm. The average tourist will stay at a ryokan, Japanese inn, and be provided with a fabulous spread, served in their room. We're talking about 15 course meals of local fish and game, freshly picked mountain vegetables, and seasonal bits of anything delicious.
Ramen in these towns is usually very sub-par.
I wandered into the almost empty Sharaku at about 10pm.
Unbelievable. This was some of the creamiest pork soup I've had. Perfection. Every aspect was great.
The owner and his wife, both 26 years old, haven't just created a great ramen shop, they've made a cool spot to hang out and drink. Gang Starr on the stereo provided the ice breaker I needed, and I ended up drinking with them and some regulars until late.
Solid shoyu as well, though go with the tonkotsu.
This is a sort of minor trend I have noticed lately. Move to the big city, learn ramen, get married, then move back to your sleepy countryside hometown and open your own shop.
Rent is cheap, customers are laid back, and you can soak in the hot springs daily. Not a bad life!
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Gunma-ken, Agatstumagun, Kustatsumachi, Kusatsu 491-1
Closest station: None really, take a bus
Open 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00