A prelude to the hot spring monkeys.
Stay at this local hot spring during your trip to see Jigokudani Monkey Park. Shibu Onsen is a hot spring town popular for its traditional atmosphere that’s lasted over 1,300 years.
While roaming around this small town in Nagano Prefecture, you’ll walk along well-preserved cobblestone paths surrounded by old traditional ryokan (Japanese inns). Tucked away along the Yokoyugawa River, some of the inns are more than 400 years old. It is also common to see many tourists wearing yukata and strolling around the narrow streets and soaking up the Japanese countryside. The best part is that the monkey park — where you can see the famous snow monkeys bathing in natural hot springs — is within walking distance, though during the winter it can get pretty snowy.
Shibu Onsen is secluded but despite this, the area nearby is a prime winter sports destination with the massive Shiga Kogen resort complex.
With nine baths around the town plus accommodations catering to various budgets, Shibu Onsen is great for anyone looking to dip their toes into Japan’s bathing culture.
The nine bathhouses are open to guests already staying at the ryokan, but it is possible for short-term visitors to enjoy a dip in the town’s largest bath, Oyu, without checking into an inn. The bath itself is quite hot and simple. However, for the full experience, it is recommended to book a room ahead of time.
Those who attempt the full tour of Shibu’s nine baths can keep a tally of their visits by collecting stamps — not essential, but a great favorite with Japanese tourists. The waters of the baths are said to have healing properties with various minerals found in onsen (hot spring) water: sulphur counters high blood pressure and eases the pain of ailments like arthritis, bicarbonate improves skin tone and helps heal skin conditions and iron confers benefits associated with higher iron content in the bloodstream. The medicinal function of hot spring water remains an important part of onsen culture.
Choosing your lodging
There are a number of attractive options for lodgings with the upscale Kanaguya being a mainstay of the town’s ryokan culture. The historic building’s facade, often shown lit up at night, is featured in most promotional photos of Shibu Onsen. Luxury facilities include kashikiri baths which may be reserved and used privately by groups. The similarly priced Kokuya offers comparable services in roughly the same price range.
There are also many more modestly priced accommodations for frugal travelers, so it’s easy to economize. The most basic packages still grant you access to Shibu’s many baths, while paying extra for a special package might include a private bath in your room—even possibly on a sheltered veranda.
If you do choose to stay, you can tick three boxes on your list of essential Japan experiences: a ryokan stay, an onsen trip and the famous hot spring monkeys!