After a fruitful day hiking on the Okushiga Mountain, we decided to take an evening trip to the Shibu Onsen village. The hotel arranges free shuttles to this village – you just have to call the front desk. Since we wanted to see this traditional town at night, we chose to head down at about 6 PM.
Shibu Onsen, located near Okushiga in the Nagano prefecture, is a beautiful hot springs town. The naturally hot, spring water flows from deep within the earth, and has done so since the town opened over 1,000 years ago. Its long history is ingrained in its cobblestone streets lined with traditional wooden ryokans (inns), onsen and shinto shrines. We are so excited to check it out!
The trip to Shibu Onsen village takes about 30 minutes from the Okushiga Kogen Hotel.
We are dropped off on an old wooden bridge, and are met with this incredible view! The sky is a gorgeous royal blue color – its almost night time when the locals and guests enjoy their post dinner baths. Did we mention that this town is famous for being the inspiration for the Miyazaki film Spirited Away?
We venture into the town through a small side street to get to the main boulevard. The old street lamps, contrasting with the darkening sky, create a magical atmosphere – we feel like we are transported back to another time.
Once on the main street, we take a moment to pay our respects at a shrine.
The streets are already full with bathers sporting Yukata (traditional Japanese dress) as they venture from bath to bath.
There are 9 Onsen (hot spring baths) accessible only by key. Onsen-goers carry a key with them and use it to unlock these 9 baths on a purification tour – each has a different water source along with different medicinal attributes.
All of the 9 Onsen (hot spring baths) are marked with a specific number so that bathers can follow the Onsen trail. We take a peek at the Onsen #2 – the left door is for women, while the right is for men.
While walking on the main street, we spot Kanagu-ya, an inn built over 250 years ago that served as the inspiration for the Spirited Away film.
We continue to the foot baths that line the street. People regularly stop here while walking from bath to bath.
Its getting late and we are starting to get hungry. Before grabbing dinner, we stop at a local sweets shop to get some onset-manjyu, a steamed bun filled with sweet bean paste, a speciality at onset resorts.
As we walk back down, we see some onsen-goers getting some manjyu, too.
Before heading back, we decide to grab some soba noodles at this traditional soba shop. The noodles are delicious and made from scratch daily! For the non-initiated, we recommend trying the classic zaru-soba – cold soba noodles with regular sauce , or the kurumi-zaru soba (chestnut) – cold soba noodles with chestnut infused sauce. Any soba place will have these so even if you can’t read Japanese, ask for zaru-soba!
We get picked up on this bridge again and head back to the hotel. It’s dark now and we can see the beautiful old lanterns with Kanji writing reading “Shibu Onsen”.
The Shibu Onsen village is definitely worth visiting, even if you aren’t going to take a bath. It’s a rare opportunity to see a village that has remained unchanged since the Edo period (250+ years ago). For more information, contact the hotel front desk and we can arrange a shuttle there and back for you. And the best part? Its totally free!