Shirakawa-go: My First Onsen Experience in Japan

It was the first week of April when we went to Shirakawa-go and yet there was no sign of spring. There were still snow piles a couple of feet high and snow-capped mountains creating a real Winter Wonderland. We were actually expecting to see beautiful Sakuras or Cherry Blossoms but we were welcomed by snow! Of course I can’t complain because we saw Spring in other parts of Japan and experienced Winter in this lovely village. It was a real treat!

Shirakawa-go Winter Illumination
Shirakawa-ho Winter Illumination

After exploring the town of Shirakawa-go, we decided to go back to Yokichi Gassho Zukuri (farmhouse) where we stayed overnight. That evening, Saeko-san called us for dinner and that was the time we met Swan. She was a solo traveler originally from Guangzhou, China but now based in Germany. We talked about so many things about Japan and nobody would be able to tell that we just met that night! When she invited us to go to the Onsen, we said yes because it was our plan as well.

our traditional Japanese dinner prepared by Saeko-san of Yokichi

Before I forget, this was our traditional Japanese dinner prepared by Saeko-san herself. There was tempura, seasonal grilled fish, seasonal pickles, vegetables served with tofu, Suzakana (vinegar-based dish used to clean the palate), hida beef (OMG! THE Hida Beef!), miso soup and of course rice. She served so many things actually, I could not remember what else was there. But I must say, Saeko-san was amazing! Her cooking is one of the best in Japan!

Jett, Swan and I before entering the shower room

So after dinner, we went our way to an Onsen. It was just a 5-minute walk from Yokichi. Maki was actually hesitant to go, the thought of being completely naked with a bunch of strangers was unappealing to her and I cannot blame her. It was our first time but Jett and I were pretty excited. After all, going to an onsen is one of those quintessentially Japanese experiences that every visitor should do.

How to enjoy Japanese onsen?

What to do first? That was our big question. Thank God Swan was with us we just followed whatever she does. To my readers, if you are going to an Onsen soon, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Stash your belongings in one of the coin-operated lockers 
  2. Get naked – I know this is hard to do! But wearing a swimsuit or any kind of clothing is strictly prohibited in an Onsen. 
  3. Take a shower and scrub yourself raw – There are individual slots against the walls of the bathroom where you could shower. Soap, shampoo and conditioner are all provided. Remember to completely rinse yourself before entering the communal bath. 
  4. Hop in, relax and enjoy
Japanese Yukata

I guess walking around naked was the real struggle! I was asking myself if I can cover my private parts? But that would look awkward if the Japanese women see me doing that. So I just walked around feeling confident, though I was really feeling embarrassed wahaha!  

But when I hopped in to the outdoor onsen, it was a different story. The temperature of the water can take a bit of getting used to, but as soon as I adjusted, I was able to enjoy a good, long soak. Swan, Jett, Maki and I talked about so many things, it was really a nice and refreshing experience! When I felt a little lightheaded, I took a post-soak rinse. I remember this because of the Onsen scene in Hana Yori Dango. I can’t believe I applied what I saw in Anime in real life!

our big traditional Japanese room at Yokichi in Shirakawa-go

We wanted to stay a little longer but the onsen closes at 9 PM so we had no choice but to go back to Yokichi. When we reached our room, we changed to our Yukata, provided by Saeko San earlier that day. After that, I cocooned myself comfortably in my futon bedding and felt my muscles relaxed, my skin was so smooth and my bones are a little loose. It was really refreshing I slept right away! 

Where to stay in Shirakawa-go?

Farmhouse overnight stays in Shirakawa-go can be booked directly thru Japanese Guesthouses website. One night stay is priced at JPY 7,000 – 10,000 inclusive of traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast.

How to go to Shirakawa-go? 

How to Access Shirakawa-go from Nagoya

How to Access Shirakawa-go from Osaka

How to Access Shirakawa-go from Kyoto

How to Access Shirakawa-go from Tokyo

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