The hot spring town of Kusatsu is located in the mountains northwest from Tokyo in the western part of Gunma prefecture. The city is at around 1200 meters above sea level so getting there is already a fun trip with a lot of curvy roads. The easiest way to get to Kusatsu is using the Asama Shirane Shiga Sawayaka Highway, also known as route 292. It starts from the route 145 in Nanogahara and goes all the way to Nakano in Nagano prefecture. And it is this road that is one of the best driving roads in Japan.
The advised route is between Kusatsu and Nakano as there are no other cities in between and it is a pure scenic driving road. And the scenery on this route is amazing! From Kusatsu, there is still a lot of forest but as the road will go up in altitude, the scenery changes into rock dominated landscape with far sights. On the way, there are several volcano’s which again make a different scenery and atmosphere.
The route 292 is also includes the highest point of all the National Highway’s in Japan, reaching up to 2172 meter above sea level. It has a monument with parking and great viewspot from where it is possible to see the top of Mount Fuji on a clear day. Further along the route there are a lot of sightseeing spot and stopping places. As such it is a popular touristic place and throughout the day it can be very crowded which can impact the pleasure of driving. It is advised to drive this route in the early morning (5am – 8am).
The road condition is very good with a good overview of the road ahead. There are a lot of straights which makes it easy to overtake other traffic if needed. The lanes are also spacious so that you can enjoy a relaxed drive. In general the road is closed between November and April due winter season, but keep an eye out of the official closure communication as the closure depends on the weather. After the winter, the route is also famous for its snow walls next to the road.
Since this is an high altitude road, keep in mind that the road and weather conditions can be completely different compared to that down the mountain. And depending on the time of the year, the scenery also is different so it is worth coming different times in the year. The Sawayaka Highway is not too far from other great driving roads like the Nakasendo in Karuizawa or the iconic Mount Haruna.
Google Maps location link:
Asama Shirane Shiga Sawayaka Highway road