Noboribetsu, Hokkaido: A weekend in a steamy onsen demon town

For a couple of years, my husband has been dying to go to 🔥hell🔥; that is 地獄谷, Jigokudani or Hell Valley in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan) famous for 温泉 (onsen, hot spring)♨. Japan has many famous onsen destinations but Noboribetsu is the most famous area in Hokkaido and is often highly ranked as Japan’s best onsen destinations.
As Hokkaido also offers amazing food🦐🌽🍖🍜🥛🍦; Noboribetsu was the perfect destination to celebrate his first birthday in Japan🎂.

Firstly, about Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu has been a well known healing spot for its rich mineral water since Edo period and the region offers 9 different types of mineral rich water. The sulphur smelling town is full of accommodation waiting to rejuvenate its guests by improving blood circulation, skin conditions and to ease muscle pains.

Not only for the onsen, but it’s famous for 鬼 (oni, or demon) 😈. As the volcanic steam looks like hell, the story started that demons live in Noboribetsu. 

There are many oni statues throughout Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu is located between Sapporo and Hakodate on the southern part of Hokkaido, approximately 2 hours from Sapporo by bus/train or 1 hour from New Chitose Airport (Sapporo’s biggest airport).

The steaminess of the town was the most visible at night time

Things to do

Besides relaxing in onsen, walking along and inside the onsen in nature is a great way to experience Noboribetsu.

We started the walk at 地獄谷 (Jigokudani) which is only 5 minute walk from our accommodation with wooden footpath that lets you walk through the steamy volcanic valley.

Our accommodation at the back
Different mineral water conversing?!

We thought we can see the steamy lake but you can just see steam piping up here and there as the onsen water from this area is 80 degrees with occasional geyser activity:

The path continues to 大湯沼 (Oyunuma) with a lot of warning signs.

The sign reads: 22m depth, the surface temperature is 50 degrees celsius , the deepest water temperature is 130 degrees celsius and if you get to the middle- you will be buried.

Keep walking along the path that leads you inside the mountain a little to reach 大湯沼川天然足湯 (Oyunuma river natural foot bath).

Naturally a perfect temperature (but watch out for deep spots!)

It’s the ideal temperature to warm your feet and they have cushions to let you sit along the side to rest.

Tourists enjoying the footbath

The overall walk took around an hour each way which was a pleasant way to break our onsen session.

There is a bear park and historical Japanese theme park but we just focused on onsen.

Accommodation: 第一滝本館 (Daiichi Takimotokan)

Daiichi Takimotokan is the closest accommodation to Jigokudani and I think their biggest selling point is its expansive onsen with the view of Jigokudani.

Unfortunately, we didn’t plan ahead and couldn’t book a Japanese style room or buffet dinner but we chose this place for their quality onsen plus set dinner and buffet breakfast inclusion.

Our western twin room was in the southern wing, closest to the reception where as the meals and onsen (plus pool and outdoor jacuzzi) were located in the main building. It’s a bit of a walk between our room and other facilities due to it the size of the location but it’s relaxing to wander around in 浴衣 (yukata, kimono like lighter clothing) 👘 and sandals provided by the hotel.

Onsen

The weird thing about the onsen at Daiichi Takimotokan is that although the onsen is offered for non-hotel guests for 2,000yen per entry (approximately AUD$24), verifying hotel guests seemed non-existent.  I initially thought they let us in because we were wearing the hotel yukata.

However, another benefit of this hotel is that you can still soak in the onsen after check out at 10am. Upon check out, we surrendered the comfortable yukata so we went to the onsen in our normal clothes but we didn’t have to show anything and simply picked up towels and entered the onsen (?).

The women onsen space is smaller than men’s but I really enjoyed the 4 outdoor onsen.  The cool temperature outside (6 degrees celsius or so) felt chilly when you pop outside naked with a thin small towel but once you soak in the 38 – 40 degrees celsius onsen, you don’t really want to leave. It’s really peaceful to see the trees rustling in the cool autumn breeze but the only reason to leave it is because there are a range of other onsen as well as sauna and steam room to try out!

I have been to quite a number of onsen now but even after 12 hour long flight, my skin and hair felt so soft after the onsen session at Noboribetsu🧖.

Meals

At the accommodation:

Initially we were disappointed that we couldn’t eat the buffet dinner with steak cooking chef and seafood station, but it was a relaxing experience to have multiple course meal brought into our private booth dining area.

Also, the breakfast buffet was quite a lot of food of both Japanese and western style food with plenty of Hokkaido produce so double buffet would have been too much (their freshly baked croissant was yummy).

Meal within the Noboribetsu onsen region

On Saturday afternoon, we ate at 登鬼屋 (Tokiya) and my husband had miso ramen (which is famous in Hokkaido) and I had chargrilled onigiri with butter with dried bonito inside and oily salmon sashimi.  It was tasty, traditional izakaya style restaurant (cash only) and affordable except for the “Noboribetsu beef” that was 8,000yen or so! They are open 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.

For Sunday lunch, we had pizza at Pizza Astra that offered Hokkaido cheese and Hokkaido steak with local craft beer. I feel that everything tastes good in Hokkaido!

Fun fact: Their local craft Noboribetsu Oni Densetsu American pale ale (meaning Noboribetsu demon legend) has won international awards.

This is the pilsener can and the award winning beer is in a green bottle but this is the same brand

Transport

There are a few options to get to Noboribetsu but the timing was tricky.

From Sapporo, I think the best option was to catch a direct bus from Sapporo bus station to Noboribetsu onsen that only costs 1,990 yen but we decided to catch a bus to the airport then another bus from there which took a bit longer.

Note that Noboribestu train station is 15 minutes by bus away from the onsen town. There are local bus every 20 minutes between the train station and the onsen town.

I felt there were a few options to leave Noboribetsu in the morning back to the airport but not much in the afternoon so we caught the local bus to the train station then the express train to the airport.

The transport wasn’t too smooth but at least New Chitose Airport offers a range of delicious Hokkaido meal to end the trip by tantalising your tastebuds!

Oyako-don (parent and child rice bowl) with salmon and salmon roe。

Bonus: A night in Sapporo

I arrived in Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport from Frankfurt after visiting my sister in Germany the day before my husband arrived.

I just needed a clean, central place to stay (one thing to note about Hokkaido that is different from Tokyo is that Hokkaido’s roads are wide. A couple of blocks takes much longer to walk compared to Tokyo so being centrally located is important especially at such a cold destination).

Route Inn was my answer. Per person per night was 8,000yen (around AUD$107) which included a buffet breakfast, access to a communal public bath and 11am check out.

The accommodation is in the heart of Susukino area that is filled with restaurants and bars rather than Sapporo station which is around 20 minutes walk away.

Upon checking in, I saw a poster for German Christmas market that conveniently started on Friday 22nd November (until December 25th) when I was visiting.  As I just missed out on the real Christmas market in Germany, I decided to wander over to the market.

Just like Germany…?

The weather was as cold as Germany and although it wasn’t snowing that night, I saw some snow on the street (!) First snow of the year!

Slippery, slippery pathway….

The food and drinks seemed quite authentic but as I was in Germany for a couple of weeks, I decided to stroll through the market and have Japanese dinner.

Hokkaido is famous for many things but what it’s really famous for is their fresh seafood. 

開陽亭どさんこ家 (Kaiyoutei Dosanko) was close to my hotel and looked good so I ate some fresh sashimi and their famous crab croquette (which was filled with proper crab!).

The temperature is certainly dropping down in Japan at the year is ending but at least there are many relaxing onsen to dip into and tasty regional food to tuck into to!

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