We were in two minds when booking Korakukan Onsen as it is a fair bit more expensive than other accommodation in the area, but we are so glad we did. This stay was far and away the highlight of our trip and a beautiful experience from start to finish. The ryokan is very worth the extra you pay for the experience.
After a wonderful time in the Snow Monkey Park we checked in to the ryokan and were shown to our room, which is in the traditional Japanese style with futons and rice paper screens separating the sleeping area from a small sitting room. It’s not luxurious, but more comfortable than it looks and unbeatable for the authenticity of the experience.
A delicious dinner was included in the price - hotpot, fresh fish cooked beautifully, sashimi and even crickets, which were surprisingly tasty. After dinner we signed up to learn the ancient Japanese game of Go. The hostess was absolutely lovely, teaching us the rules of the game and checking in with us to see how we were going, offering pointers on our game. Afterwards we were presented with a Go board with pictures of the snow monkeys. A really great experience all round.
Of course the highlight of Koranukan is the onsen, where you can bathe with the monkeys. There are separate indoor onsen for men and women, and one outdoor onsen which is mixed much of the time but reserved for just men or just women at certain times. The outdoor onsen is visible from the walkway up to the Park, so overly modest guests may not like it, but the experience of sitting waist deep in hot spring water while the snow fell on our upper bodies in sub zero temperatures with monkeys bathing nearby was simply amazing and unlike any other experience we’ve had. The cold of the air and the heat of the onsen conspire to make it quite comfortable to sit outside even when it is very cold, so don’t fear trying out the onsen even if you think it is too chilly. We found there were more monkeys around in the morning after breakfast so try to go then.
Overall we highly recommend this beautiful ancient ryokan with its lovely hosts and surrounds. An experience not to be missed and well worth the price. Even the walk to the park/ryokan was beautiful with the snow falling gently on the pine forest.
You're basically not going to get an experience like this anywhere. Sitting in a hot spring watching monkeys running around whilst you bathe is just amazing. The locale is gorgeous, with a view out over the snow capped hills and the geyser just across the stream. Add to that you can sit in your traditional room with its tatami mats in your yukata sipping green tea and you feeling like you're touching a piece of Japanese history. The Inn itself has been in the same family for over a hundred years. The meals were good and the ingredients well sourced. All that said this place is rustic, you are sleeping on futons on tatami mats and if you've not properly adjusted to the time zone you could be in for a rough night. I probably slept about 4 hours all in all. This place is also pretty pricey for what you're getting. Because of the location there's not much in the way in hot water and you'll find yourself shuffling to the cold shared toilet in the middle of the night. It is all just part of the experience, though.
I think I had high expectations for this place based on the high price tag (paid almost $300 usd for two people for one night including an extra $50 for vegetarian meal request.) and relatively excellent reviews. It was just not a comfortable place to stay.
The good and the reasons I gave 3 stars rather than 1:
Absolutely beautiful location!
Snow monkeys all around the inn.
Food was excellent.
The bathrooms; No shower. I repeat: no shower. Just buckets to wash yourself prior to going into onsen.
No hot water, other than onsen.
Shared bathrooms all had urinals. I am accustomed to occasionally using shared bathrooms in hotels and knew in advance they were shared, but was not expecting this. I am a woman and don’t like to go into a stall thinking I might come out to a man urinating. Usually hotels with shared bathrooms are either private individual stalls or gender segregated dorm style. I don’t want to be walked in on by a man. No trash cans in bathrooms which women occasionally need. 1/3 of them smelled like urine. Sinks to wash up were literally in the hallways. I don’t want to brush my teeth in a hallway.
No sheets on my bedding. This was how bed was set up: mat, mat, sheet, blanket, sheet, blanket, comforter covered in sheet. So, there was no place to sleep in between two sheets. I would have asked about it, but didn’t realize until I went to sleep as one of the blankets had a “faux” sheet at the top of it. I am pretty sure I spent the night in unwashed blankets.
There is no place to sit inside and enjoy the beautiful views. It’s a gorgeous location and you can’t enjoy it while inside. I had a beautiful view from my room, yet I could only see it if I stood by the window. It’s a waste of the location. Dining room does have view.
There’s junk everywhere. Both inside the inn and on the grounds. It’s just not being maintained or looking nice. I was honestly a bit shocked by it considering how stylish and clean most of Japan is. Actual room was clean and not junky at all.
If you are not accustomed to traditional ryokans, just be warned that when you read “futon,” it’s not a futon like you may be thinking, but rather two thin mats on the floor. You don’t even get a real pillow, but a pillow that is about 1/6 the size of a regular one. If you’re accustomed, this may not be necessary to warn you, but I read about staying in ryokans prior to staying here, and I was still unprepared for how thin the mats were.
We stayed at Korakukan for 2 nights but we wished we could have stayed longer!
We got the Shinkansen to Nagano then a train to Yudanka station, then a 15ish minute bus to the carpark of the Snow monkey park. From there it was about a 30 min walk uphill, which wasn't to strenuous for us but i would definitely recommend packing light and taking only a backpack if possible as it was quite snowy on the way up -on a side note, there is a little cafe/pub on the way called 'the farmhouse' which is well worth checking out-.
Once we got there we had to cross a bridge to the Ryokan were we where immediately greeted by some monkeys! From there, the owner met us and led us to our room, where they had tea waiting for us. Dinners and breakfasts where in the dinning hall and they where fantastic! They used locally grown and caught foods and the beers and sake where also local. After dinner we where shown how to play the boardgame 'go' which was great fun as there is a lot of history at Kurakukan about the game.
The Snow Monkey park is probably a 5 min walk from the ryokan and cost 800 Yen for the day (can come and go as you want).
The ryokan itself was fairly run down and old but i think that really added to the ancient feel of the place, it felt more like a homestay then a ryokan, which was great.
Obviously the big appeal of this place is the proximity to the monkeys and we certainly saw plenty on our stay (we even had an onsen with a few on the second day!)
Just be aware that there are no actual cleaning facilities (showers etc) and that the onsens themselves are pretty grubby- this didn't really bother me too much as the trade off is having an onsen with monkeys which is a very unique experience.
My advise would be to bring a towel as only the small onsen towel is provided and to bring your own toiletries and hand sanitiser.
Overall we had a brilliant time! the food was outstanding , the hospitality from the family was excellent and the experience of staying with snow monkeys was once in a lifetime (although we are already planning our next trip there!)
I would highly recommend this ryokan and will be returning
Stayed earlier this month - a lovely experience with monkeys everywhere including outside our bedroom window. They also joined us as we sat in the onsen, just hanging out, having a drink and/or grooming each other. We stayed two nights and it was tranquil and calm (once day-trippers leave the park at 4pm) leaving us to have quality time with the monkeys. Breakfast is also included and equally tasty.