How to travel around the 9 bathhouses of Nagano’s “Shibu Onsen“

How to travel around the 9 bathhouses of Nagano’s “Shibu Onsen“
With around 30,000 natural sources of hot springs and 3,000 hot spring areas, Japan boasts of being the the foremost hot springs kingdom in the world.
Among these hot spring areas, “Shibu Onsen” in Shinshu, aside from its quaint, old-fashioned townscape, boasts of a unique tradition popular among tourists, the “Kyu-to meguri” or “tour of the nine bath houses for purification.”

Here, we introduce Shibu Onsen’s attractions that will make you want to visit the area, as well as how to travel around the 9 bath houses.

Wooden structures with a retro atmosphere and rich fountaining hot springs! A hot springs town that would make you want to walk around in a yukata

Shibu Onsen
▲“Historic Inn Kanaguya,” said to be the inspiration for the bathhouse in “Spirited Away”
“Shibu Onsen,” which is in Nagano Prefecture, was said to have been opened by Goki, a Buddhist priest of the Nara period, and has a history of about 1,300 years.
Shingen Takeda, and from the ancient times, it has flourished into the hot springs and inn resort that it is now.
Shibu Onsen
Shibu Onsen boasts of an immense number of hot spring sources with plenty of water that has different qualities. Some even say that if you dig anywhere in the ground in this area, hot water is sure to come out.
  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
The town is also famous for the cobblestone pathways surrounded by the traditional wooden structures, emiting a nostalgic feel.

Visiting this area will make you feel like you have stepped back in time, being surrounded by old wooden buildings with complex structures, such as railings above a corridor hanging overhead, and delicate lattice windows. Among these buildings, "Historic Inn Kanaguya" was said to be the inspiration for the bathhouse in the anime "Spirited Away."

Shibu Onsen’s “Tour of the 9 Bathhouses,” its effects and benefits

  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
Shibu Onsen has a lot of attractions, but the most famous is none other than the “Kyu-to Meguri” or “tour of the 9 bathhouses for purification.”
These 9 public bathhouses (“soto-yu,” outdoor bath) are treasured by the locals, and only guests that are staying in Shibu Onsen’s Inns are allowed to enter for free. Touring the 9 bathhouses has the effect of “washing away troubles, preventing disasters, giving long life, and fertility.”

At the end of the tour, if you visit Takayakushi Temple and make a wish, it said that the wish may come true.

First, borrow the key to the baths, get a kigan-tenugui towel and then start touring the bathhouses!

  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
There is a unique rule when doing the “tour of the 9 bathhouses.”
That is, to borrow the key dedicated to touring the bathhouses from one of the Shibu Onsen Inns. The bathhouses are only opened for guests of the inns, so without this key, you will not be able to enter the baths (except for Bathhouse 9).

Once you have the key, buy a kigan-tenugui or praying hand towel from any of the inns.
Each bathhouse has its own stamp and its name and number on the towel, so when you finish touring a particular bathhouse, the stamp shall be placed under the name of that bathhouse.
  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
When you finish touring all 9 bathhouses, visit and make your prayers and wishes to “Takayakushi Temple” overlooking the onsen town. When your towel has been stamped in the part with “Shibu Takayakushi” printed, your wishes shall be fulfilled.
Enjoying a stamp rally while touring bathhouses and reaping their benefits—there is a lot to be gained in this bathhouse tour!

Nine types of hot springs with varying benefits and effects. Though the bathhouses can be visited in no particular order, Bathhouse 9 should be visited last.

Shibu Onsen
Each hot spring comes from a different source, and their effects also vary, as shown below.
【Bathhouse 1】

“Hatsuyu” for gastrointestinal diseases; Bathhouse 2: “Sasanoyu” for eczema and pimples

【Bathhouse 3】

“Watanoyu” for cuts, skin diseases, and childbirth; Bathhouse 4: “Takenoyu” for chronic gout

【Bathhouse 5】

“Matsunoyu” for nerve pains, spinal diseases; Bathhouse 6: “Me-arainoyu” for eye diseases

【Bathhouse 7】

“Nanamisaonoyu” for trauma diseases; Bathhouse 8: “Shinmeidakinoyu” for gynecological diseases

【Bathhouse 9】

“Shibu Oyu” for all kinds of diseases and childbirth

Each hot spring is said to be effective for the above conditions.

The 9 bathhouse tour may be done from 6am to 10pm, and each bathhouse may be visited in any order you like.
You can visit each bathhouse depending on your preference and at your own pace. If a particular hot spring is effective for you, or if you wish to do the tour in the order of the bathhouse number, or if you just want to enter whichever bathhouse is not crowded, you may do so.

However, Bathhouse 9 must be visited last. “Shibu Oyu” serves as the “kechigan-yu” (concluding bathhouse) and serves as the final goal of the 9 bathhouse tour.

If you cannot do the tour of the 9 bathhouses, we recommend at least visiting Bathhouse 6 and Bathhouse 8, which are popular among women

Touring all 9 bathhouses is ideal, but if you cannot enter all of them, you will still be blessed with wonderful benefits.
Bathhouse 6: “Me-arainoyu” and Bathhouse 8: Shinmeidakinoyu” are especially popular among women.
  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
Stories say that long ago, the waters of Bathhouse 6 healed the eye diseases of many people, thus earning it the name “Me-arainoyu” (Eye-washing hot spring). It is also known by another name, “Bijin no yu” (Hot spring of the beautiful), and is said to have skin beautifying effects.
Feel your soft and smooth skin once you get out of the bath! Compared to the 9 bathhouses, “Me-arainoyu” is relatively spacious, and hence, you can enjoy a relaxing and leisurely bath.

Bathhouse 8, “Shinmeidakinoyu” springs out from the Shinmei mountains, and in the past, it was said that the hot water splashed down like a waterfall (thus the name, “Shinmeidaki” meaning “Shinmei falls”) which washed away fatigue.
Aside from being effective against gynecological diseases and back pains, it is said to also be effective for those who wish to have children.

Bathhouse 9: “Shibu Oyu” can be entered even if you are not a guest at the Inn!

Shibu Onsen
“Shibu Oyu,” the final goal of “Kyu-to Meguri” is the only bathhouse that can be entered even if you are not staying at the inns.
Those who are not guests at the inns can only use this bathhouse from 10am to 4pm. If you pay the entrance fee of ¥500 at the Shibu Onsen Ryokan Association Office or Shibu Onsen Parking Lot, someone from a nearby inn or shop can unlock the bathhouse for you and you will be able to use it.
  • Shibu Onsen
  • Shibu Onsen
This hot spring is rich in iron and is beneficial for all kinds of diseases and childbirth; it is also effective for nerve diseases and rheumatism.
Since “Shibu Oyu” is open for everyone, it gets crowded even early in the morning; being able to interact with all sorts of people is also one of the things to enjoy in “Kyu-to meguri.” That “once in a lifetime” chance meeting can have the best healing effect of all.

The hot springs, the history, the townscape, the hospitality of the locals—there are so many things to love about Shibu Onsen.
By doing the tour of the 9 bathhouses, you can experience all of these. You will surely gain a lot more than just the fulfillment of your wishes.
【Address】Hirao, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai, Nagano
【Nine Bathhouse Tour】
Shibu Onsen Inn Guests: Can use all 9 bathhouses General Admission: Can use Bathhouse 9 “Shibu Oyu” only        
【Entry Hours】
Shibu Onsen Inn Guests: 6:00-22:00 (No breaks)
General Admission: 10:00-16:00
【Fee】Shibu Onsen Inn Guests: Free/General Admission: ¥500
【Access】 5 minute by taxi from Nagano Electric Railway-Yudanaka Station or 7 minutes via Kanbayashi Route Bus; get off at either Shibu Onsen Entrance or Shibu Onsen-Wagobashi-Teiryujo Bus Stop.

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