This is going to be a long post, so I've decided to split it into 3 parts, as there are just too many stories to tell, and yummy food to share at this amazing gorgeous place deep in the Japanese Alps called the Shibu Onsen. You may not have heard of Shibu Onsen, but you definitely have heard of this place where the Japanese snow monkeys that like to have a dip in the hot spring. Hot springs, exquisite traditional Japanese food, and the amazing landscape make this place a MUST to visit in our itinerary.
It does take a bit of effort to get to Shibu Onsen, but if you do your homework, it is not that difficult after all. I luckily found this perfect ryokan named Kokuya, through Zeno's blog, an ex-Sydneysider who now settled in Shibu Onsen and works as a massage therapist at Kokuya. An English spoken employee like Zeno makes the reservation process a whole lot easier and convenient.
After hours on Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano, followed by a local train to Yudanaka, Shibu Onsen is only a few bus stops from there. When we arrived at Kokuya, first thing we noticed is the a bamboo basket filled with eggs, soaked in the hot spring right outside the entrance. Onsen Tamago, are half-boiled eggs cooked in the hot spring between 52-70°C. The eggs are free to take home for a merely ¥50 ($0.80) each, and Kokuya will donate 60% of the profits to the welfare in Yamanouchi town. I thought we have to try at least one, but best to check in first. :)
We arrived before the check-in time, so we decided to go and check out the Monkey park instead. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the park, mingled with the monkeys, truly an amazing experience. By the time we got back to Kokuya, we were well knackered, a nice hot bath is just the best remedy to heal the exhaustion.
A friendly staff led us through a maze of rooms and baths seems never ending, but eventually we were shown to our room on top floor. I just love traditional japanese room with the scent of tatami floormat and the simplicity of the decor. While our friendly lady started making a cup of green tea for our arrival, we were all excited and kept ourselves busy, checking out everything in the room, especially our own private outdoor onsen on the balcony! After she left, we were presented with a nice cup of green tea, and a little mochi parcel to go with it. I just love the little packaging of the mochi. It is all hand made by the locals no doubt. The mochi is bouncy and translucent with a chestnut planted inside, the sweetness of the mochi harmonises the green tea so well. We were relaxed after the nice cup of tea and the mochi, but we were dying to try out the hot bath outside our balcony!
It is autumn season in Japan and is getting chilly at the alps. My body was shivering while stepping outside the balcony - naked! Hence, a quick scrub, sitting on the little stool and hose yourself clean with hot water, and in I went into the big wooden bath tub of hot spring.
"Aaaahhhhh..." It is truly magical, dipping yourself in hot spring at 40°C while the air temperature is slowly dropping. I had a long dip in the onsen, till all my fingers gone wrinkly. Not sure about healing powers, but it definitely makes me hungry after the hot bath. But we still had an hour to spare before dinner time. So we decided to put on yukata and geta to have a stroll along spa street, and had some of the onsen half-boiled eggs.
First time I had the onsen tamago, it is actually quite different from your normal half-boiled eggs. The egg white is soft and runny, but the yolk is already semi-hard. Not sure how that's possible, perhaps is the mineral in the water? We only had one egg each, because we wouldn't want to ruin our appetite for a long night Kaiseki dinner, would we?