Traditional Japanese Accommodation in Yamanouchi
Yamanouchi resort is located in the Shiga highlands region and is surrounded by stunning scenery. We aimed for Yudanaka specifically to see the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Ok, it wasn't winter and it wasn't snowing but we'd wanted to see those bathing monkeys since we first learned about them! They're Japanese macaques probably best known for their appearance in the opening scene of the movie Baraka.
We also wanted to experience a Japanese onsen (温泉), which is the term for hot springs and is used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs found throughout Japan. You will find many onsen in Japan due to the geology of the islands (a bit like Iceland).
We stayed at Shimaya Ryokan (3075 Hirao). A ryokan (旅館) is a type of traditional Japanese inn which would probably equate to a guesthouse or bed & breakfast in the West. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms and communal baths.
This ryokan is about a ten-minute walk from Yudanaka Station (the end of the line and accessed via Nagano on the Hokuriku shinkansen from Tokyo). Shimaya is also handily close to a 24-hour Lawson Station plus some restaurants and bars, like the excellent craft beer bar Hakko (review coming soon!).
Shoes are not allowed inside so as soon as you enter leave them at the door and put on a pair of slippers!
Checking-in was easy with the very helpful and friendly owner providing information on local amenities - especially Jigokudani snow monkey park, suggesting when he could take us there the next day. Free transport to the monkeys is provided if staying at Shimaya, otherwise, it's around a 1-hour walk to the entrance/shop, and then another 30 minutes from the main road along a forested path to the office where you pay the entry fee.
The room had a safety-deposit box , TV, free Wi-Fi, a tea set, a choice of yukata (light Japanese robe), bath towel, face towel, toothbrush (comes as standard in Japanese hotels and guesthouses), soap and a retro telephone.
Our beds were made up for our arrival as was a pot of hot green tea, much-needed after our journey which took a good few hours and involved one missed train!
Outside the room there were washing facilities for dishes, a microwave oven and an area for cleaning and drying laundry. Further down the hall there were toilets...
But don't worry, there are Western toilets here as well!
And of course, obligatory toilet slippers (leave your normal slippers in the hallway).
There are yukata (not kimonos!) for the whole family to use, and instructions on how to tie them correctly! You wear it whilst in the hotel, or going to the public onsen outside. We saw many Japanese visitors wearing yukatas to breakfast across the various places we stayed on our two week trip in Japan.
A very humid-looking Mrs. Foodie with her yukata.
Apart from the snow monkeys, the main draw here are the onsen, the hot spring baths, and in Shimaya there are male and female public onsen plus a private indoor and outdoor onsen. Decorum is to shower and then bathe naked so if you don't feel comfortable doing that in front of strangers then use the private indoor one (there's a lock on the door). Tattos are also taboo in many onsen so if you have any it's best using the private facilities!
Red curtain for the ladies and blue for the boys. There's a changing area behind each one with a washing area with sinks etc. Take your clothes off and place everything into one of the provided baskets - remember no bathing costumes here! The only thing you should be taking with you is a towel but you mustn't let it touch the spa water as this is considered unclean!
The water is communal, like a swimming pool, so you must wash before you enter the spring pool, in fact, you must clean thoroughly during your shower. You don't need shampoo or shower gel as it's provided, but make sure not to let any dirty shower water get into the bath!
Being British, we went to the private onsen! It looks small but is big enough for two people to sit inside, where the water reaches to mid-chest level on average-sized adults and is constantly filled by the sulphur smelling tap at the side. Note: we read a negative review about the temperature of the water on Tripadvisor so bear in mind that this is naturally-heated water from the outside, the temperature of which will vary depending on the season. Shimaya can't control this!
We slept soundly after our relaxing onsen and then in the morning it was time for a Japanese breakfast with a mix of small plates, including fish and pickles. You can also pick an American breakfast if you'd prefer, which is slightly cheaper and included toast, boiled eggs and fruit. Unlimited coffee refills were available too.
Soon after breakfast it was time to visit the famous snow monkeys, so we piled into the owner's car (we'll publish a page about visiting them soon too). The owner also picked us up when we were finished and drove us to the train station at no extra cost (there's a payphone at the ticket office).
The ryokan was basic but provided everything we needed. Comfortable bedding, amazingly helpful staff, handy location and a tasty breakfast. You can borrow boots, skis and all sorts of things from the owners so there's no need to weigh your luggage down with bits and pieces. The hotel is dated and not the most attractive, there's also no lift, but we liked the retro interior and the stairs are full of drawings made by people who have stayed there and it looks like everyone had a great time - we found all this quite charming but it won't suit everyone so if you're used to 4 star hotels you might want to look elsewhere though the couple who own the place are some of the friendliest, most helpful people we've come across and you'll struggle to find better hosts.
For around £76 a night for two people, access to hot springs, transport to the snow monkeys and then to the train station we thought that was a great deal (breakfast was not included as the two choices are priced differently). They also have a small selection of local sake and beer for sale and are very happy to give advice on other areas within Japan. As we were travelling to Kyoto next the owner insisted on giving us a free map and pointing out the must-see sights!
We booked through Expedia and if you use the link below we get an affiliate commission which costs nothing to you.
+ Great location - near train station, 24hr shop and a great bar
+ Lot of facilities (microwave, local alcohol for sale, onsen etc)
+ Private onsen
+ Free transport to Jigokudani monkey park
+ Friendly and extremely helpful staff
+ Free maps and advice
+ Choice of Japanese or western breakfast
+ Overall, great value for money!
- The building is quite dated so may not suit all tastes
- No elevator/lift