Shirabu OnsenEarth : Asia : East Asia : Japan : Honshu : Tohoku : Yamagata (prefecture) : Shirabu Onsen
Shirabu, "white cloth", probably received its name from the vast blanket of snow that wraps up the entire valley in winter, as by February, there's often over 2 meters of the stuff. The locals, though, have an even more poetic legend: a hunter discovered a wounded white-flecked eagle and nursed it back to health with the spring's curative water, and then dubbed the spring Shirabuchi Takayu (白斑鷹湯), "White-Flecked Eagle Spring", this being then shortened into today's name.
Legends aside, it's known for a fact that the hot spring here was discovered back in 1312 by a warrior named Sato Muneyoshi, who applied for his feudal lord's permission to open a spring here. Even seven hundred years later, the village remained so small that the original inns didn't even have real names, instead going by "west", "center" and "east" depending on which side of the road they're on!
The nearest major train station is Yonezawa, two hours from Tokyo by Yamagata Shinkansen, while the nearest airport is in Sendai. Yamakō Bus  runs from Yonezawa station to Shirabu, but the service is infrequent: seven-eight buses per day, running roughly every 90 minutes from 8:05 AM to 6:30 PM. The trip takes 40 minutes and costs ¥840. Note that the bus continues a few min onward from Shirabu Onsen to the Tengendai ski lift at Yumoto-ekimae (湯元駅前).
Shirabu is easily covered on foot.
Outside the inns, there's one single noodle shop in the village, which is open sporadically. The ski resort also has a restaurant open in season.
There are three traditional ryokan in Shirabu. Previously all had thatched roofs, but both Higashiya and Nakaya were burned down completely in May 2000 and rebuilt with tiles.
- Higashiya Ryokan (東屋旅館), . Rebuilt in traditional style after the fire, the "East Inn" is the newest and swankiest of the three here. edit
- Nakaya Bekkan Fudokaku (中屋別館不動閣), . The annex of Nakaya, the only part that survived the blaze. edit
- Nishiya Ryokan (西屋旅館), . The "West Inn" is the only original thatched building left in Shirabu. edit
There are three other accommodation options:
- Azumaya Ryokan (吾妻屋旅館), Shin-Takayu Onsen, ☎ 0238-55-2031, . This rustic lodge is located another 20 min up the hill from Shirabu, being the sole inn at Shin-Takayu Onsen (新高湯温泉). Despite ryokan prices, facilities more resemble a mountain hut, with basic home-style cooking, guests expected to lay out their futons and no shower facilities. But the bath selection is unparalleled: in addition to the indoor bath, there are five (5) outdoor baths, ranging from two large rock baths with valley and waterfall views to tiny one-person nekko baths carved from hinoki tree trunks. Only 3 of the outdoor baths are open during winter though as the two rocky baths on the outskirts are closed due to heavy snowfall. The water is clear and virtually sulphurless, although there's a fair amount of harmless "onsen flowers" (visible mineral flakes) in it. All outdoor baths are mixed, although there's a slice reserved for women only. Free transfer to/from Shirabu bus stop. From ¥11700/person. edit
- Keizan Hotel (ホテル渓山), . Modern ferroconcrete hotel that fits the valley like a slap in the face. edit
- Minshuku Shirabuya (民宿 白布屋), ☎ 0238-55-2006. The simplest and cheapest place to stay. edit
Mobile phones work in the village, but coverage gets spotty fast up in the hills near Shin-Takayu.