Hot Springs and Dance! The Challenge of Team att.JAPAN Vol.1
Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture is one of the most famous hot-spring resorts in Japan with its amount of natural hot spring water being the most in Japan. It is known for its high efficacy that it is said to cure just about anything other than lovesickness. There are various onsen facilities and you can enjoy onsen tours. It takes about 2.5 to 3 hours by train from Tokyo.
At Kusatsu Onsen, “the 5th Hot Water Yumomi Dance Championship in Kusatsu Onsen” was held on May 11 and 12, 2019, and we, the members of att. JAPAN, also participated to get to know more about the charms of Japanese hot springs and to let the world know, too!
What is “the Hot Water Yumomi Dance Championship in Kusatsu Onsen”?Launched in 2015 to promote the Kusatsu Onsen tradition of “Yumomi,” the dance contest is open to groups of five or more people. People can dance in any category such as hip-hop, pop music, or traditional dance. They compete with their original “Yumomi Dance” that incorporates the movements of “Yumomi.”
In the final, they perform a dance in front of a real hot spring at “Netsunoyu,” a famous spot in Kusatsu Onsen. The venue is filled with hot steam and excitement of the dance!
*Entry apply on 2019 is already closed?
What is “Yumomi”?The source of the Kusatsu Onsen is very hot, up to 50 degrees Celsius, so you can’t take a bath directly. However, the effects of the hot springs would lessen if the water was cooled by adding cold water. Here, “Yumomi” was devised. A long wooden board is put in the hot springs and the water is “massaged” until its temperature is lowered to a certain temperature in which people can take a bath. It is a Kusatsu tradition that began in the Edo Period (the 17th century to the mid-19th century).
It is also characterized by “Yumomi-uta,” which is sung when people get in sync with each other and stir and knead the hot water together, and the song and dance of Yumomi are performed at “Netsunoyu.”
The att. JAPAN group consisted of 14 foreigners that go to schools in Tokyo to study Japanese language, culture, and business. None had ever been in an onsen, so they were very interested in Kusatsu Onsen and Yumomi. They come from different countries such as Nepal, Mongolia, China and Vietnam, and go to different schools. Until the day of the contest, they only practiced by themselves at their schools or individually.
On May 11, the entire team met for the first time and took a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Karuizawa and then a bus to Kusatsu. Some members rode on a Shinkansen for the first time!
Opening of the Contest
On the day of the preliminary round, the 14 players practiced together for the first time. They checked their dance carefully. With the same att. JAPAN T-shirt and a bath towel wrapped around their necks, their costumes well suited the atmosphere of an onsen.
They danced so well together that it was hard to believe that it was the first time they had all gathered!
After practice, the preliminaries finally started at 13: 00. The venue was the Kusatsu Concert Hall in Kusatsu Town. The members looked relaxed while waiting for their turn in front of a large audience.
Ten unique teams entered for the contest of 2019, including energetic children and dancers with sharp performances. There were teams from not only Japan but also Mongolia and Brazil, so it turned out to be an international event.
The “Mongolian Team” performed the traditional Mongolian dance.
The dance team “EMK Kid’z” was so aggressive and cool that they didn’t look like elementary school students.
The team “Black Swan” fascinated the audience by their graceful movements of classical ballet.
Finally, Team att. JAPAN’s turn came! First, each of them made a greeting in their own language, and they talked about their enthusiasm to tell the world about the charms of Kusatsu. Then they started dancing.
The audience was excited by the world-famous Queen’s music medley. Its choreography was like a Yumomi dance. They included the gestures of washing their body in a bath or pouring hot water.
They spread out a banner and finished!
In the talk with the MC after the performance, there was a scene where they talked about their first Kusatsu Onsen experience and made the audience laugh.
The Result of the Preliminary Round
With the performances of all 10 teams over, the result of the preliminary round was announced. Seven out of 10 teams advance to the final the next day.
The result of team att.JAPAN…
Sadly, they lost in the preliminary round…! Judges said that all the teams danced so enthusiastically and it was difficult to decide the winners. They looked disappointed but the next day there would be a comeback match for the losers before the finals, where they could advance to the finals if they won.
All the members went out to the onsen town of Kusatsu for refreshment and to prepare for the losers’ comeback battle.
Enjoying Kusatsu Onsen
First of all, we went to the popular Italian gelato store, “Grande Fiume Kusatsu,” and the team soothed their spirits and tired bodies with all-you-can-eat gelato and rusk (500 yen).
Next we visited “Yubatake,” the landmark of Kusatsu Onsen! About 4,000 liters of hot spring water gushes out every minute, and its steam constantly rises. The system is used to adjust the temperature of the onsen by channeling the hot spring water into a series of wooden tubs, and to extract the yunohana, which is an essential component of the hot spring water.
It was just dusk and the color of the onsen water was shining emerald green. Having never seen such a beautiful sight, Team att.JAPAN couldn’t stop taking pictures!
They members bought souvenirs at the shops in the neighborhood, soaked their feet in a foot bath for the first time, and they all had some time of their own.
In Kusatsu Onsen town, there are public baths and casual foot baths besides historical and traditional inns with hot springs. There are many people who enjoy the outdoor bath tour in yukata.
At night, the yubatake is lit up and you can see and enjoy a mysterious view different from daytime. This day, an event called Yubatake Candle “The Light of Dreams” was also held, and the stone steps of Kosen-ji Temple were decorated with candles and the Kusatsu Onsen Tourist Ambassador “Yumomi-chan” showed up. Everyone enjoyed the fantastic view of the hot steam rising and the candles….
The team enjoyed the luxurious meal of their traditional onsen inn and tried their first hot spring bath. They experienced Japanese onsen culture, such as various hot springs with different temperatures and open-air baths. After their skin became shiny due to the effect of the hot-spring water, they continued with their practice to improve their dance for the next day’s losers’ comeback match.
Will Team att.JAPAN break through the comeback of the losers…!? Stay tuned for the second half.
*The information herein is as of May 2019.