Explore

Yudanaka: The Heavenly Onsen Town Next to Hell Valley

Close to the Snow Monkey Park, foreigner-friendly Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano makes for a great day or overnight hot spring trip.

By 7 min read

As Japan’s coldest season comes to an end, we could all learn a thing or two from these cozy monkeys dipping into onsen (natural hot springs):

Yudanaka Onsen is close to where you can see the snow monkeys.

These cute critters – aptly named “snow monkeys” – congregate at this naturally-formed onsen (hot spring) in a park in Nagano Prefecture named Jigokudani, meaning “Hell Valley.” While you can’t hop into Hell Valley’s onsen like the Snow Monkeys, luckily there’s an exceptional onsen town just nearby for human clientele called Yudanaka.

Get the ryokan experience in a few hours or a few days

Photo:
Yudanaka is a small but perfectly formed onsen town in Yamanouchi, Nagano.

With over 50 hot springs and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), Yudanaka offers impeccable foreigner-friendly service and is easy to get to. Staying for a few nights is an excellent way to relax and soak up all the benefits of onsen, but if you’re limited on time or money, Yudanaka is a great place to stop by for a few hours to enjoy delicious, diet-friendly meals or onsen-meguri (onsen hopping) — a pastime famous in Japan that is similar to bar hopping, except you’re indulging in hot onsen instead of booze.

The gateway to the winter resort area of Yamanouchi, Yudanaka establishes itself as an onsen town right out of the gate, with an ashiyu — an onsen just for your feet — welcoming you as you exit Yudanaka Station. The town itself is compact, with most of the hot springs located within a 10-minute walk from the station. Although it’s small, the town has several distinct neighborhoods, including a retro cafe district, a nightlife area, and a spiritual spot with a Buddhist temple and stone statue of Buddha.

Six ryokan to check out in Yudanaka Onsen

In an effort to better serve international customers, each of these ryokan and hotels (and the nearby tourist centers) has English-speaking staff and signage with English translations, while flexible time schedules and onsen hopping have been introduced based on customer feedback.

In particular, local businesses here have placed special emphasis on catering to guests with dietary requirements, introducing vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meal options that retain the authenticity of a traditional Japanese meal. Supported by the Japan Tourism Association, owners even attend seminars and conferences to better understand specialized diets and how to provide the best customer service possible for visitors from around Japan and the world.

All of these places are located within a 10-minute walk from Yudanaka Station except for Masuya Ryokan, which is a 20-minute walk. Check out the map below for details on the locations of the ryokan and hotels, other sights in Yudanaka, and where to find international ATMs.

Note that overnight guests will have to contribute to the “bathing tax” which costs ¥150 per person, per night.

Hakura Ryokan

The entrance to Hakura in Yudanaka.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? Yes
Wi-fi: Yes
Room availability: Western-style (beds) & Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: From ¥12,960 per person, per night

Not just foreigner-friendly, Hakura is a ryokan that positively celebrates the diverse backgrounds of their guests. Maps of the world and Japan are a centerpiece of their otherwise traditionally furnished lobby, located just next to the rental yukata (cotton kimono robes). Speckled with stickers showing where Hakura’s guests have come from, this map highlights Hakura’s global clientele and is accompanied by a notebook brimming with multilingual messages of thanks from previous guests who loved their stay at Hakura.

Guests from all over the world have visited Hakura.

Remember that if you’re limited on time or budget, you can still drop by Hakura or any of the following ryokan for a quick dip in their refreshing onsen or for a mouth-watering meal. Hakura’s onsen are available on a reservation basis – just write down your name and when you’ll be using the onsen on the whiteboard outside and you can enter in a group, as a couple, or by yourself. And if you’re looking for a place to stay the night as a group, Hakura also has a large room with four beds and an oversized kotatsu, or Japanese heater-attached table a.k.a. the best winter invention ever.

Hotel Tsubakino

The foyer of Tsubakino in Yudanaka.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? With private onsen reservation
Wi-fi: Yes
Room availability: Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: From ¥19,440 per person, per night

While you’re in town, we also recommend hopping on over to Tsubakino to experience the brilliant blend of traditional and modern Japan styles which permeates their onsen and guest rooms. On top of Tsubakino’s utterly beautiful outdoor onsen with panoramic views of Yudanaka, they also have a well-stocked gift shop and a quaint cafe.

Tsubankino offers beautiful outdoor onsen with a view of the town and mountains beyond.

For a taste of traditional Japan, stay for a meal served in their private rooms with gorgeous views of the Japanese gardens outside, just lovely in any season.

Seifuso Ryokan

Photo:
A view from the window of Seifuso in Yudanaka.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? With private onsen reservation
Wi-fi: Yes
Room availability: Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: From ¥12,030 per person, per night

Seifuso is among the best-reviewed ryokan in Yudanaka, with enchanting Japanese gardens and excellent service. The ryokan was built in the Meiji Era and features an authentic Japanese-style garden at its center – a truly striking sight in the winter when surrounded by snow and ice. The staff is equally impressive with a heart for customer service, including foreign guests.

Photo:
Enjoy a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) meal at Seifuso.

Local ingredients such as Nagano’s shinshu-gyu steak and fresh mountain vegetables are the main feature of their menu. And with gluten-free options also available, all visitors can enjoy a variety of tastes and textures during their meal.

Aburaya Tousen

Setsugekka: The rooftop bar of Aburaya.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? With private onsen reservation
Wi-fi: Yes
Room availability: Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: From ¥18,510 per person, per night

Aburaya is a “must-visit” while you’re in town, whether for a dip in their extensive indoor and outdoor onsen, pampering at their spa, or a trip to their one-of-a-kind rooftop bar, Setsugekka.

The first of the nine-course vegan meal served at Aburaya.

A luxurious and unique lodging with incredible views from bedrooms, dining rooms, and onsen, what truly stands out is their mouth-watering menu; it includes a multi-course vegan meal pleasing to both the eyes and the stomach. Whether you order a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or standard course, Aburaya brings a wide range of gastronomic delights to the table.

Maruka Ryokan

A room looking out to the garden at Maruka in Yudanaka.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? Yes
Wi-fi: No
Room availability: Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: From ¥9,600 per person, per night

This traditional, homey ryokan is situated just next to a tranquil Buddhist temple. The peaceful atmosphere permeating this area makes it perfect for a more spiritual experience. Furthermore, Maruka offers up an impressive menu featuring some local ingredients that come from Maruka’s own backyard. Speaking of the backyard, there you’ll find a gorgeous little pond with a miniature waterfall, perfect for mindful meditations. You can also stop by anytime to luxuriate in Maruka’s private onsen (on a reservation basis).

Masuya Ryokan

Masuya combines Western and Japanese-style rooms for a tourist-friendly fusion.

Meals available: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Tattoos OK? With private onsen reservation
Wi-fi: Yes
Room availability: Western-style (beds) & Japanese-style (futons)
Room package cost: ¥14,040 per person, per night

For a tasteful fusion of western and Japanese aesthetics, there’s no ryokan better than Masuya. They have guest rooms with a Japanese-style tatami room adjacent to a western-style bedroom, which means that you can enjoy green tea and relaxation in the tatami room during the day, then mosey on over to a warm, cozy bed at night.

Get cozy under the heated kotatsu at Masuya.

How to get to Yudanaka Onsen

To get to Yudanaka from Tokyo Station, take the 1-hour 30-minute shinkansen (bullet) train to Nagano Station; one-way tickets start at ¥7,680. From Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station, you can take the Nagano Dentetsu Line at ¥1,260 per ticket.

There is also a special 2-day ticket available at the Nagano Dentetsu Line ticket booth called the Snow Monkey Pass. At ¥3,500, it covers the train cost between Nagano Station and Yudanaka Station, the round-trip bus to Snow Monkey Park, and the Snow Monkey Park entrance fee.

For more information about what to do and how to get around Yudanaka, check out their English homepage. And while most of Yudanaka is walkable, there is also a bus that passes through the town. For more about the bus stops and timetables, please visit the bus operator’s website.

Related

Explore

5 Guided Tours Where You Can Experience Tokyo Like A Local

Crash courses in bar lingo, uncovering secret hideouts and boozing up in suburbs, these tours will show you the true Tokyo.

By 6 min read

Explore

A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Mt. Fuji

First-time tips for climbing Japan's iconic peak.

By 10 min read

Explore

GaijinPot’s 2019 Cherry Blossom Contest Winner and Top 20 Photos

And the #gaijinpotsakura grand prize goes to...

By 2 min read