Activities in Yudanaka Onsen & Shibu Onsen
Located nearby the monkey park, the historic hot spring towns of Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen are home to many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) and blessed with numerous hot spring sources.
Typical of many traditional hot spring towns in Japan, both Yudanaka and Shibu are somewhat showing their age and in need of a little revitalisation while also blessed with true character and some lovely historic pockets.
Stay at a Traditional Guesthouse / all year round
Yamanouchi is blessed with an abundant supply of natural thermal water and as such, has numerous guesthouses and hotels spread through the area, most of which have their own in-house ‘onsen’ (hot springs).
Accommodation ranges from budget to luxury and caters for all tastes and needs. In the hot spring villages of Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen you will find many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses), often family-run and priding themselves on their service, food and hot spring.
No matter what time of year you are visiting, the towns of Yudanaka and Shibu are best enjoyed and most active at night, when visitors wander the streets in ‘yukata’ (light kimono) as they move from their guesthouse to hot springs, restaurants or just wander and explore.
‘Kyu-to-Meguri’: Shibu Onsen’s 9 Onsen Tour / all year round
Shibu Onsen is particularly charming. With a history stretching back 1300 years, this quaint town is full of surprises with many ryokan family-run.
The town is long and narrows with numerous alleyways to explore. As such, Shibu affords fantastic photography opportunities with numerous historic and older buildings imbuing the streets with a charming aesthetic.
Of particular note, Shibu is home to nine ‘public’ onsen however all but one is reserved for the use by hotel guests and local residents. Upon check-in, guests of any hotel or guesthouse are given a key which opens each of the nine small baths.
Each has its own source of water and own (claimed) medicinal properties. Trying each of the nine onsen on ‘kyu-to-meguri’ (nine onsen tour) is an experience unique to Yamanouchi. Shibu Onsen also has two public footbaths, free to use and accessible anytime of day.
Yudanaka’s ‘Kaede no Yu’ / all year round
Centred around the station, the hot spring town of Yudanaka stretches towards Shibu with some very good guesthouses, including some hidden gems, in the surrounding streets.
Of note, Yudanaka Station itself has an onsen inside and free public footbath directly outside.
Located on the opposite side to the platform access and station waiting room, the public hot spring of ‘Kaede no Yu’ is open from 10:00 to 21:00 with a large outdoor ‘ashi-yu’ (foot onsen) for free use by anyone, while waiting for your train or just relaxing.
Traditional Activities / all year round
One of the basic charms of any onsen town, is the feeling they imbue of stepping back in time into a quaint and fading world. Life is slower in an onsen town and tradition holds on with determination in the face of a changing world.
When visiting Shibu Onsen – or any other traditional hot spring town – the emphasis is doing little, going slow and totally unwinding. While such towns can seem a little quiet, that’s the whole idea! Japanese come to places like Shibu to forget about daily troubles, wander in their ‘yukata’ (kimono), and enjoy the simple and fun treats of an onsen town.
Wandering the streets of either town you will find stores selling savouries and confectionaries including ‘senbei’ and ‘manju’ – snacks synonymous with onsen towns.
You will also find ‘onsen tamago’, eggs literally boiled in the onsen water and hot water sources you can drink.
Festivals of Yudanaka & Shibu / late-July to August & February
Known as ‘matsuri’ in Japanese, festivals play an important role in the health and well-being of local communities, and joining-in on the fun is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have in Japan.
The Yudanaka Summer Festival sees nightly events take place around the Yudanaka Station area from late-July until mid-August.
There is a strong emphasis on community, with all events and activities arranged and conducted by local residents including ‘taiko’ (traditional drum performances, school bands, outdoor karaoke and ubiquitous game and food vendors found at Japanese festivals.
Taking place from early to mid-August each year, the Shibu Onsen Summer Festival is a simple but fun local event, that sees the local community enjoying traditional games and activities in the streets of the famous hot spring down. ‘Bon O-dori’ is danced in the streets with everyone welcome to join in the fun each evening.
Once winter rolls back round, the ‘Kanbyashi Onsen Sendayaki’ is a small and very local fire festival taking place in the first week of February. The event sees members of the ‘Mitake-kyo Chusei-kosha’ – a Shinto sect that worships Mount Ontake – move from the lower town of Shibu Onsen up to Kanbayashi Onsen in ceremonial attire.
Parading from Shibu Onsen to Kanbayashi Onsen, the festival concludes with the three Shinto members walking across burning charcoal as a form of purification.