Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Shibu Onsen Snow Monkeys by Jeffrey Donenfeld 2015-03-10 High in the mountains of central Japan, there’s a hotsprings “onsen” where Macaque snow monkeys bathe. Saori and I took an amazing trip to visit them, and soak in a few onsens ourselves. Saori and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and met up in Tokyo at the main Tokyo train station. To save on time, and have an awesome ride, we took a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano – fast and comfortable! Tokyo station is designated as the “centroid” of Tokyo, and here’s the actual center marker of the city! Right on the Shinkansen platform. Since we were dashing to catch the after-work train, we picked up a few bento boxes for dinner. For train food, this is pretty awesome. Arrival in Nagano, site of the 1998 Olympic Games. From here, we got another slower train up to Yudanaka, and then walked about 30 minutes to Shibu Onsen. Walking through the streets of Shibu Onsen at night. The traditional town is beautifully old-worldly, with cobblestone streets and traditional houses. Also, streams of geothermally heated onsen water bubble from pipes and vents everywhere. We stayed at a traditional Ryokan, and had a great tatami room to ourselves, complete with dining table, porch, futon mattresses, a private bathroom, and most importantly a karaoke machine! The room also came with robes, a key to our own private co-ed onsen, and a pair of keys to the legendary 9 public onsens for which Shibu Onsen is known. Starting the day of exploring the mountains and seeing the snow monkeys. Walking through Shibu Onsen – such a beautiful town. Outside of Shibu Onsen, the river leads to mountains filled with snow – and the ski slopes of Shiga Kogen, Japan’s largest ski resort. Geothermally heated onsen water springs up from pipes all around town. Here, it’s rising through a piping system that delivers it directly to people’s houses. Japan loves vending machines – so much so that a snowy field seems like a great place to maintain one. Hot or cold drinks anytime! Our Saturday in Shibu Onsen started with a hike up into the snowy mountains to visit the indigenous Macaque snow monkeys. But of course, first we must stop for snow monkey coffee at Enza Cafe, just up the road from the famed Shika Kogen brewery. Starting the hike up the snowy path leading to the Snow Monkey Onsen. Bark of the native evergreens was flaky, colorful, and beautiful. The last stretch of trail to the Snow Monkey Onsen. Snow Monkey Onsen is a popular tourist attraction, with hoardes of touritst taking photos. Despite this, the monkeys seems at ease, and walk amongst the people freely. Lots of snow monkeys, lots of tourists, lots of photos. Macaque Snow Monkeys relaxing in the snow. Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Snow monkeys love hanging out in the warm onsen. Only for monkeys though! Naturally, monkeys climb trees too. Saori pointing out the portraits of the monkey tribes current and past leaders. It’s like a country club. Pre-onsen lunch. Very tasty! After snow monkeys, we went back to our homestay and changed into comfy robes and not so comfy wooden flip flops, grabbed our keys, and went out to hit all 9 Shibu Onsen Onsens. The red pouch I’m holding has my onsen cloth, which has the names of all 9 onesns, and is stamped at each one. Saori is holding her key, attached to a piece of wood with a map of town. The onsen path is popular, and people show up in all sorts of nice robes. You can also see these women are wearing the traditional wodden onsen flip flops. They’re not super comfortable, but it is possible to walk around town in them. The two wood bars on the bottom facilitate a rocking motion when walking. Stamping my 1st onsen. Each onsen requires a key to get into, and the mens and womens doors are on separate sides. Saori and I enjoyed the public onsens separately of course, but got back together for the occasional foot onsen in the center of town. Egg Onsen! Shibu onsen as the sun sets, with traditional tatimi rooms everywhere. After a long day of snow monkeying and onsening, we of course needed a sushi dinner. And some meat skewers and beer for dinner #2 Strangely, Shibu Onsen also has a couple of cork-gun shooting galleries. People love it! What to do after a long day of snow monkeys, onsens, sushi, meat skewers, and beer? Karaoke. Vending machines are everywhere, and this one brews fresh coffee on demand.
What a magical world! Love it.
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