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Hot Spring Heaven at Shibu Onsen

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August 19, 2012 / Japanese / By
Dinh

I have always been fascinated with hot springs (onsens) in Japan, so this time I decided to visit Shibu Onsen, a town about 45 min by private train from Nagano. We also chose this onsen town as it was close to the famous snow monkey park (ie. you can see snow monkeys enjoying hot springs in a natural park environment).

When you arrive at Yudanaka train station, there is a public foot bath to enjoy. We promptly took off our shoes and soaked our feet in the hot spring water.....ahhh...how relaxing....
A lovely old Japanese lady arrived and sat next to us. She was very friendly and we attempted to have a conversation despite the language barrier. She gave us a very big apple that she had just picked, we thanked her and were very moved by the hospitality of the locals. We tried the apple later that day and it was very crisp and delicious, it's the first time I have tried freshly picked apple...

After we checked into our hotel, we spent the day roaming around the 9 public baths within Shibu Onsen town. As long as you are staying overnight at a hotel in the area, you are given a key to access all these public baths free of charge. We decided to go to public bath number 9 first as it was famous for "curing all sicknesses"....that particular bath was nice, not too hot. This particular area was used by the shogun warriors during ancient times to revive themselves after battles and public bath number 9 was often used....it felt surreal knowing that I was using the same bath that the warriors used so many years ago....such is the beauty of the history of Japan.

We wandered around to a few more public baths, but we knew we had something important to do that night...yes...a 12 course dinner at our hotel - Kokuya. The hotel prepares the meals from fresh local Nagano products. It is traditional in Japanese culture to have an extensive dinner after a hot spring day, which is called "KAISEKI". After a very relaxing day using the public baths and some of the hot spring facilities at the hotel, we got ready for our elaborate dinner.

We entered the dining room area and were allocated a seating booth area where we sat on the floor on mats, the traditional way. The dishes promptly arrived one after the other....and it was a thrilling experience to have so much food to eat, I was having trouble finishing the dishes in time, as each time I was about to finish a dish, another 1 or 2 dishes would have arrived on my table. Each dish was elegantly presented and small in size, however, by the seventh or eighth dish, I was already full, but persisted...as I was determined to try all 12 dishes. All in all, I really enjoyed the delicate taste of all the dishes, as they were prepared in a very different way to the meals you find in the big cities. It was also great to have the chance to taste some local produce. Here's a list of the 12 course dinner we had:

* Persimmon with walnut paste
* Stewed duck with vegetables
* Carp sashimi
* Baked rainbow trout pie
* Simmered radish with shrimp paste
* Chyawan-mushi (savoury steamed custard and vegetables)
* Fried local mushrooms with vegetables
* Soba noodles
* Steamed first rice crop of the year
* Miso soup with local mushrooms
* Vegetable pickles
* Apple compote with red wine

On top of that, we also had a lovely traditional Japanese breakfast at the hotel the next morning, which was equally delicious. We strongly recommend staying at Kokuya hotel, it has over 400 years history and is still run by the same family. It has a very homely feel to it, and the hot spring facilities within the hotel are great, especially the open air baths....now that I have experienced Japanese hot springs, I have come to realise why the Japanese love it so much....I must come again soon....

Kokuya Hotel

Country: Japan

Province/State: Nagano

City: Yamanouchi

Address: Shibu onsen street

Zip/Post Code: 381-040

Location Tips: The hotel is located close to public bath number 9, free transfer from the Yudanaka station is available if you arrive around check in time (3pm). Further location details here: http://www.ichizaemon.com/en/27/map-guide-travel-nagano-japan.html

Phone: 0269-33-2511

Website:http://www.ichizaemon.com...

Price Guide:$$$ (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

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