Noboribetsu's hot spring retreat turns a visit to hell into a dream vacation.
In the heart of Japan’s wildest prefecture lies a sleepy onsen (hot spring) town guarded by ferocious demons. Thick clouds of smoke gush out from Jigokudani or ‘Hell Valley’, a huge volcanic valley made up of bubbling pits, hot water rivers, steam vents and mud ponds. Welcome to Noboribetsu – a hot spring resort where you’ll want to stay for all eternity.
Since the native Ainu people first began using Noboribetsu’s hot springs for their many health benefits, the town has become Hokkaido’s most popular hot spring retreats.
A stroll along the main drag offers a pleasant souvenir-shopping experience, with enough demon-related things to outfit you and your entire house. Look out for the small stone oni that guard the streets – these grinning imps may grant you success in love, studies, or business.
Of course, you came for the onsen. An overnight stay at a ryokan or hotel is the most leisurely way to experience them, but most of the baths also welcome daytime guests. The Daiichi Takimotokan is the biggest, boasting 35 different baths; while the Sekisuitei offers a stunning view of the valley from its 8th floor onsen; and Noboribetsu Grand Hotel’s outdoor bath is situated in an ethereal garden featuring a manmade waterfall.
With so many different experiences available it’s hard to limit yourself to just one trip.
Hot spring havens are perfect for getting back to nature, and there are a number of walking and hiking trails to facilitate this. A wooden walkway leads straight into the mouth of Jigokudani, where you can cosy up to a boiling geyser.
The longer Oyunuma Pathway hike passes through a mysterious landscape of Kannon statues hidden in quiet forests, and sulfurous lakes shrouded in steam. Don’t stop until you reach the natural foot bath. It’s the ideal place to rest and reflect before you cross back to the land of the living.