An avid onsen enthusiast, I recently paid a visit to the hot spring village of Shirahone in the mountains of Matsumoto. Although going via public transportation in the winter is a bit more of a challenge, it is still doable. After purchasing my round-trip ticket (available in the ALPICO Plaza/Matsumoto Bus Terminal across the street from Matsumoto Station), I hopped on the Kamikochi Line train bound for Shin-Shimashima Station.
Things to Note about Going by Public Transportation
A direct bus leaves from Matsumoto once a day, but departs only in the afternoon, so if you want to make a day trip of your visit, you will need to take the earliest train (7:16 a.m. in the winter) and head back on the 3:50 p.m. bus. Since a lot of visitors come to the area after Kamikochi opens (around mid-April), you will probably have a nicer trip if you visit after that. A few ryokan and the only cafe are closed for the winter. Furthermore, the ryokans that allow day-trip bathing will only allow you to use them until 2:00 p.m. or so. Thus, you will have a bit of time to kill before you catch the bus back to Shin-Shimashima. While there is an information hut next to the Shirahone bus stop, it is fairly old and small and also not very well heated.
The Trip Up
A winter wonderland awaited me. The road was very winding, but the view was superb.
Watching us from the roadside, a kamoshika or Japanese deer.
The Shirahone settlement sinks into the valley.
Arriving at Shirahone Onsen
I stayed on the bus until the last stop, Shirahone Onsen. However, for those visiting for just the day, I recommend getting off one stop sooner at Awa-no-yu.
Walking to Awa-no-yu
Fortunately, the previous stop, Awa-no-yu, was only about a 15-minute walk back up the road. Still a part of Shirahone Onsen, there are a few ryokan there that all offer day-visit bathing. I was able to visit two of them. My first stop was the Marui Ryokan‘s Katsura-no-yu. They were kind enough to let me enter a little early. Although the bath was not very large, it was well maintained and included an outdoor portion (possible coed a bath). The natural hot spring waters were the perfect temperature for a nice long soak. Shampoo, conditioner, and body soap were available, but bring your own towel and hairdryer. No lockers were available in the changing room, but the front desk might be willing to keep an eye on your things.
After a cup of coffee (available for purchase in the lobby along with some other drinks and snacks), I headed over to the inn across the street. The Awa-no-yu Ryokan offers both separate and coed bathing. If you’re just there for the day, you will enter through an entrance around back. Last entry is 1:30 p.m. Medium-size coin lockers and lockers for valuables as well as drink and food vending machines are available in the lobby.
The women only side has both an indoor and outdoor bath and provides shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hairdryers. Once you wash off, you can cover up and head down the hall to the large outdoor bath. The men’s and women’s entrances are separated, so you can fully submerge yourself before heading out into the open. The water is so cloudy that you can’t see more than a few centimeters down, but I was told that I was allowed to wrap myself in a towel if a preferred.
After trying out all of the baths, it was time leave, so I headed back to the information hut to wait. I lucked out with some nice weather and got to enjoy the scenery along the way. Overall, I had a pleasant, relaxing experience and hope to be back again.