Like the neighboring Snow Monkey Park, walking the streets of Shibu Onsen is like taking a step into a different world.
About Shibu Onsen:
Located in Nagano Prefecture, Shibu Onsen is a hot spring town with a deep history that goes as far back as 1300 years.
The cobblestone streets and traditional Japanese architecture leaves visitors with the sense that they have entered into Old World Japan. Men and women walk the streets in their yukatas and geta (wooden shoes), and shops sell trinkets and unique Japanese snacks. Monkeys also occasionally make appearances in the town when they are feeling particularly brave or hungry.
In the winter, snow capped mountains stand tall in the horizon, and billows of steam rise from each of the nine bath houses. In the spring, summer, and fall months, the town is just as magical, and the mountains are full with green and golden hues.
Our Visit to Shibu Onsen:
There were many ryokans (traditional Japanese hotels) to choose from, but we chose to stay at the Senshinkan Matsuya Ryokan. Other than choosing to visit the monkey park, staying at this ryokan was probably the best decision we made during our entire trip.
When we arrived at Yudanaka Station, we weren’t sure how we were going to get to the ryokan. However, there was a shuttle that took us straight to the hotel from the station, and ran every few minutes. We were dropped right outside, and we were able to check in right away.
We were welcomed with special welcome tea, and then were given two keys: our room key, and an onsen key.
After putting our backpacks in our room, we headed out to do some onsen hopping.
Shibu Onsen has nine different onsen baths to choose from, each having a different source and medical benefit. For example, one bath was said to help “female issues” (still unsure what that means exactly), and others aided those with digestive issues and acne.
Kyu-to meguri, the tour of the nine bath houses for purification, is said to give visitors good fortune and protection from evil. It is also said that if you visit all nine baths, you will have perpetual youth and longevity.
Our ryokan provided us with yukatas and geta sandals to walk the streets with, and I felt extra Japanese as I hopped from bath to bath.
Your Visit to Shibu Onsen:
You cannot visit Shibu Onsen and not go onsen hopping! Whether or not the idea of onsen appeals to you, there is something about walking down the cobblestone street and stepping into the baths that elevates you to the next level of trip enjoyment. You can check out my post on surviving onsen here.
DON’T BE A TOURIST:
As we walked through the town, we saw a lot of people just sight-seeing on their way to the monkey park, but be sure to book at least one night in one of the many ryokans available! The onsens are open until 10 p.m. each night, which gives you more than enough time to enjoy the baths and the cute souvenir shops during your stay. I promise you won’t regret it.
EAT AT YOUR RYOKAN:
When we booked our stay, we casually picked the dinner and breakfast options because we didn’t want to have to worry about finding something in town. In smaller Japanese towns, it’s often hard to know exactly what types of restaurants there are because everything is in Japanese – signs & menus included. That being said, we are so thankful that we chose to eat at the Senshinkan Matsuya.
I will probably dream about the dinner that we ate for years to come. Our set included shabu shabu, duck, mushroom soup served in a teapot, peppered salmon, white asparagus, tempura, and the most delicious plum brandy. Everything was perfectly cooked, and my only regret is that I didn’t document each dish better.
Check out this video to see footage of this epic meal, and our overall onsen experience:
Shibu Onsen Visiting Information:
Shibu Onsen is about a five minute drive from the Yudanaka Station (a 30 minute walk, weather permitting). If you book a stay at one of the local ryokans, shuttle services are available.
While there is no set “closing time” for the streets of Shibu Onsen, the baths close at 10 p.m., and most of the shops shut down by 7 p.m.
It is very close to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, and 30 minutes away from the Shiga Highlands, which is at the center of Joshinetsu National Park.