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Warm Welcome to Noboribetsu

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Noboribetsu: Fostering Health from Hell

By Denis Plamondon

Photos: Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

Noboribetsu Onsen (登別温泉) is definitively a place to visit if you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido, especially if geothermal activities are included on your agenda! This small town hosts some of the most renowned hot springs in the world. The resort area, entrenched in its mountainous landscape, is only 8 kilometers away from Noboribetsu JR train station and is easily reached by bus in 15 minutes.

When you arrive, you will soon discover the calming effects of this intense geothermal destination. Most of the hotels and inns are equipped with outstanding o-furo bathing facilities, and some even specialize in comprehensive health programs. You can choose from a wide variety of therapeutic and healing experiences, including spa massages and fitness activities. No matter the choice you make, one thing is certain – with water temperatures varying from 45 to 90 degrees Celsius, nature is supplying one of its primary substances in full force. In fact, in Noboribetsu (which means: a river with dark colors in the native Ainu language: nupur-pet, nature is venerated as much as it is feared; devils and demons are considered an evocation of the ominous spirits that rise from Jigokudani or Hell’s Valley, which is one of the main attractions in the region. At the end of August, Noboribetsu Onsen organizes its famous annual Jigoku Matsuri .

Hell’s Valley is proof of the incredible rawness, harshness and power of such an inhospitable environment. The extreme heat and corrosive minerals that rise from the ground prevent vegetation from growing. As visitors walk along a wooden path that cuts across steaming puddles, sulfuric streams and hot gases spewing from deep within the earth, they are left with a strange feeling of amazement and admiration for this barren landscape – one can almost imagine walking along the back of a dragon!

Several hiking trails are well indicated just beyond Hell’s Valley. You will find yourself suddenly trekking through lush vegetation and listening to the sounds of the forest as you climb towards an observatory that overlooks a scorching lake. Your stroll will then continue past blistering mud pools on the way to a “natural foot spa” in the forest which is made from a cascading hot spring. It’s a great place to relax and bathe your feet.

Back in Noboribetsu Onsen town, you can ascend higher into the mountains via a cable car to see spectacular Kuttara Lake, a perfectly round caldera that is now filled with deep blue water. A cable car ticket will also give you access to a bear park where more than a hundred brown bears live in protective captivity; although these wonderful creatures are impressive to see, one can but feel distressed to see so many crammed in a small arena begging for food from tourists. Atop, you will also find the world’s largest brown bear museum and an Ainu museum which demonstrates the close relationship between the two, as Ainus’ worshiped the bear as a God.

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Engraved stone in Jigokudani, the Hell's Valley of Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Engraved stone at Jigokudani, Hell's Valley of Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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White landscape in Hell's Valley, Jigokudani, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

White landscape of Hell's Valley Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Story of a man who came to collect raw material for gun powders. His eyesight was healed by the contact with the water from the hot spring. An altar was builted as a grateful gesture.
Story of a man who came to collect raw material for gun powder. His eyesight was healed by contact with water from the hot spring. An altar was built as a gesture of gratitude.

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Altars are always close to nature manifestation. Jigokudani Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Altars are never very far from natural manifestations, at Jigokudani Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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This geyser gushes its boiling water out from Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

This geyser gushes out boiling water at Jigokudani in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Boiling mud in the Oku no Yu pound. Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Boiling mud, Oku No Yu Pond at Noboribetsu in Hokkaido

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Oyunuma thermal lake, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Oyunuma thermal lake and smoke rising out of Mount Hiyori near Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

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Pathway along the Oyunuma river in Noboribetsu Hokkaido

Pathway along Oyunuma River in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Thermal waterfall in Oyunuma river and natural pool for footbathing, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

Thermal waterfall at Oyunuma River and natural pool for footbathing, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

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Unbearable conditions for noble animals in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. Fog is due to low cloud, not to hot spring reaction.

Unbearable conditions for noble animals in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. Fog is due to low clouds, not to hot spring reaction.

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Your comments are most welcomed.

Here is a link to Tourism office of  Noboribetsu Onsen Web site.