About an hour’s drive from Chitose, Noboribetsu is the largest hot-spring town in Hokkaido, full of natural geothermal springs rich in different minerals from the earth. Every hotel has at least one or more onsens in them.
There is somewhat an obsession about demons here in this town. Rather fitting considering the location of Hell Valley is located in the heart of it. Various demons statues are seen everywhere in town. Demons (yukijin) are believed to protect the hot springs, ward off evil spirits, maintain the peacefulness of the town and bring good fortune and good health to humans. There are Demon Fire Festivals held here every year.
The Welcome Statue of Oni, an 18m-tall huge red, fanged and horned angry demon welcoming us to its town, at the crossroad entrance to Noboribetsu.
Oni-Bokora – a praying demon statue believed to originate from the Edo era is enshrined here, with a 3.5m standing red demon and a 2.2m blue seated one on both sides of it.
Left: A cold day in hell, even the demons are bathed in snow. Right: A considerably ‘warm’ day in hell. 😉
Demon statues dotting the town, representing success in love, study, business and health.
Jigokudani (Hell Valley)
The pungent smell of sulphur wafting through the dry cold winter air, welcoming us as we approached the “Hell Valley” Jigokudani. Yellow, brown and white sulphur rocks form the natural rugged terrain in a mysterious setting of hot steam belching and bubbling out of snowy rocks all around. The only thing spoiling this primordial scenery and surreal feel, were the throngs of Chinese and Korean tourist bus groups who were noisier than the flight of hundreds of crows above us. 🙁
It was a cold day in Hell indeed. Strong chilly winds and heavy snow hitting hard on our faces as we hiked up the snowy (and sometimes icy) mountainous trails towards the Oyunumagawa Natural Footbath deep in the woods. We were rewarded with plenty of natural scenery along the way including Mt Hiyori, Oyunuma and Oku no Yu, and a series of quiz questions planted all along the trail, to entertain tired trekkers. 😉
Some attractions and parts of the scenic pathway were closed though, probably due to too much snow. But the best part is, no throngs of noisy tourists to pollute the serenity of the natural environment here, as packaged bus tours rarely give them long enough time to venture this deep into the valley of Hell! Good news for us though! We had a quiet day in Hell for ourselves. Hehe 😀
Oyunuma – a huge gourd-shaped pond of hot sulphur spring in a volcanic crater of Mt Kuttara. The temperature of the water ranges from 50oC at the surface and up to 130 oC at the bottom of the pond. Mt Hiyori, an active volcano, stood at the background spewing steam at its peak (means bad weather is coming – I learnt this from one of the quiz questions 😉 ).
Oku-no-Yu – another part of a volcanic crater of Mt Kuttara.
Oyunuma on the left and Oku-no-Yu on the right, separated by a parking lot and lookout points in the middle. Most of the onsens in Noboribetsu town derived its source from these black sulphuric calderas.
Sengen Park – a park in town with a geyser erupting by the hot spring flow from Jigokudani. The eruption happens once every 3 hours and often accompanied by loud banging roars and clouds of steam gushing out. Huge spiked demon clubs with various colors (and different meanings) stood tall surrounding the park.
Gokuraku Shopping Street – a kilometre-long shopping street with lots of shops, restaurants, omiyages, sake and cultural arts, and the Karakuri Enma-do, a shrine dedicated to Enma-Daio, the judge of the afterlife in Japanese mythology, with animated performances few times a day.
Demon toys, demon spiked clubs, demon chocolates and demon cookies are sold as omiyage here.
Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura
An theme park based on Edo period, this is a place where samurais, ninjas, oirans and 19th century merchants and townspeople come alive in a big open entertainment area built to recreate the life and culture of the Edo Period.
A rather interesting and pretty place, with a semi-frozen lake in the middle of the park, gazebos and arched bridges all around it in a thick blanket of snow.
3 shows are included in the entrance ticket – Ninja show, Samurai show and Oiran show.
Activities and attractions include a Ninja Maze (a labyrinth full of tricks and traps); House of Monsters (a sort of haunted house with weird mechanical creatures), Yugi Kan and Taiken Dojo (interactive games of traditional ninja weapons and devices like throwing knife, darts and arrows), and an Utsuroi Kan where you can dress up in samurai or ninja costumes and walk around town like one of them. (Nobody does this in winter though, it’s too little clothing for a -16oC day! Even the real ninjas and samurais tried to hide their hands inside their robes! Lol 😛
There are other attractions like a Samurai museum and a Goblin Cat Temple, a temple-cum-haunted-cat-house where a loud “MEOW!” can be heard over the entire park every other minute.