Yudanaka & Shibu Onsen: Hot Springs, Local Food & More!
Located only 45 minutes from Nagano City, Yamanouchi Town is ideally-positioned between Nagano’s largest city and main transport hub and the popular nearby destinations of Nozawa Onsen, Kusatsu Onsen. Blessed with Nagano’s largest supply of natural thermal water, the area has long been known for its many hot springs supporting multiple ‘onsen’ towns including Yudanaka, Shibu and Kanbayashi.
Known as ‘onsen’ in Japanese, natural hot springs have long been sought-out for their claimed recuperative powers and in more recent years, for pure relaxation. Some of Yamanouchi’s hot springs allow use by day-visitors however most retain the tradition of reserving their onsen for the exclusive use of guests.
As such, the best way to enjoy the area’s hot springs is staying at least one night at one of the many guesthouses of Yamanouchi. Known as ‘ryokan’ or ‘minshuku’, most traditional guesthouses in the area will have their own hot spring, with some accommodation offering multiple baths – both indoor and outdoor – along with onsen in your room or private baths that can be booked.
Staying at a ryokan is all about escaping the troubles of daily life and indulging in tranquility and refinement of traditional Japanese service. Most ryokan will offer the option of dinner and breakfast, with traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) meal service making use of local and seasonal ingredients to create unique and changing menus.
While many international visitors to Japan have heard the term ‘kaiseki’, the exact meaning is often less well understood. That is for good reason. Kaiseki refers to a multi-course meal service which uses seasonal and often local ingredients to create a unique menu, as designed by the head chef.
For that reason, not only is there fantastic variation between kaiseki menus from one guesthouse to the next, kaiseki dining will varying greatly at the same hotel between seasons.
Speaking of seasons, Yamanouchi is blessed with four distinct seasons, each offering its own reasons to visit. Winter brings cold and heavy snow, with the monkey park at its busiest and the ski resorts of Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen offering some of Nagano’s best skiing and snowboarding.
Boasting around 80 ski runs spread over 600ha+ of terrain, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest and highest ski resort, while nearby Kita-Shiga Kogen is popular with snowboarders and know for its epic powder. For further information, please see our ‘Shiga Kogen & Kita-Shiga Kogen in Winter’ page. In spring, Shiga Kogen stays open and boasts Nagano’s best spring-skiing conditions while the in the valleys below,cherry blossoms bloom and the year’s baby monkeys emerge in the park.
As the snow melts, Yamanouchi’s farmlands are full of activity as rice and vegetables are planted, and fruit trees are attended to. Summer brings heat and humidity but notably lower temperatures than the coastal cities, beckoning visitors to return and explore the Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen. Nestled in the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, the region is home to unique alpine flora and fauna, important wetlands fed by the snowmelt, and outstanding hiking trails.
The hiking season continues through autumn as the landscape is transformed into a mosaic of red, gold, amber and brown.Known as ‘koyo’ in Japanese, the changing leaves of autumn can be best enjoyed walking through Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen, while in the farmlands below, the autumn harvest is collected and supplies Yamanouchi’s restaurants and guesthouses with the year’s best cuisine and dining experiences. For further information, please see our ‘Hiking, Cycling & Photography in Shiga Highland’ page.