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 the small charming town of Shibu Onsen in the Alps. Shibu Onsen is a hot spring town in Yamanouchi full of ryokans, culture, and tradition; It's 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 town's hot spring water and excellent attentive staff.
Staying at Kokuya can be a bit pricey at around $500 a night for a master suite, but that gets you a traditional Japanese room (the size of a loft) with tatami floor mat beds, your private onsen on the patio overlooking 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 nine pubic onsens, and you can get a stamp on your towel for each one you visit; the goal is to collect all nine stamps!
Soaking in an Onsen — an onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As a 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, throughly scrubbed down, and tattoos are not allowed in a public onsen. Most public onsens 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; you can tell what they're feeling and what they want with a simple glance. During winter, these are wild monkeys gathered at an onsen ( hot spring ) in Jigokudani (near the onsen town Shibu Onsen) to relax, warm-up and pick out each others flee's. Talk about teamwork! If visiting from Shibu Onsen, take a local bus from the town, and the park is just 10 min away. 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 nine public baths w/ key
*Visit the Snow Monkey Park
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