Relax at Kokuya
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Our journey to Shibu Onsen was perhaps the most complicated yet relaxing of them all. Not too far from Tokyo lies the Japanese Alps and in the Alps the small charming town of Shibu Onsen. Shibu Onsen is a hot spring town in Yamanochi full of ryokans, culture and tradition; Its also just a couple of bus stops away from the snow monkey park making this town the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
Getting here requires a bit more planning as you must take a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano, followed by a train to Yudanaka and a local bus to Shibu Onsen. Despite the travel, I highly recommend this journey. We stayed at the ryokan "Kokuya" and had the best stay of our entire trip! At the entrance of Kokuya you are greeted by a bamboo basket filled with eggs, soaked and cooked in the towns hot spring water and an amazing attentive staff.
Staying at Kokuya can be a bit pricey at around $500 a night for a master suit, but that gets you a traditional Japanese room ( the size of a loft ) with tatami floor mat beds, your own private onsen on the patio over looking a koi pond. Dinner and breakfast ( 8+ courses each ) and the key to all the Onsens in town as you need a special key to enter even the public ones.The town has 9 pubic onsens and you can get a stamp on your towel for each one you visit, the goal is to collect all 9 stamps!
Soaking in an Onsen — an onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As an volcanic active country Japan has thousands of onsen. We loved relaxing in these naturally extremely hot waters sometimes way too hot for our comfort zone! but after 45 min of slowly soaking in, we got the hang of it... To enter an onsen brush up on proper etiquette as onsen bathing is part of Japanese culture and tradition. You must be fully naked, completely scrubbed down and tattoos are not allowed in public onsen. Most public onsen are gender separated.
Visiting the snow monkey park in Jigokudani -- There's nothing like it, I've never seen a more expressive animal than this one, with a simple glance you can tell what they're feeling and what they want. These are wild monkeys that during winter gather at an onsen ( hot spring ) in Jigokudani ( near the onsen town Shibu Onsen ) to relax, warm up and pick out each others flees. Talk about team work! If visiting from Shibu Onsen simply take a local bus from the town and the park is just 10 min away. Once there there's a hike before finding these little guys. As I said before, they're wild monkeys and you're entering their space so be aware of not petting them and giving them room as they can become aggressive if felt threatened.
Things to do in Shibu Onsen :
* Stay at a Ryokan
*Go sake tasting in town -free!
*Take a soba noodle cooking class
*Visit all 9 public baths w/ key
*Visit the Snow Monkey Park
*Visit Kaminari daki ( waterfall )