Located within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Noboribetsu 登別 is the largest onsen in Hokkaido and one of the most well known hot spring resorts in Japan.
The source of the town’s fortunes comes from Jigoku-dani 地獄谷 – also known as “Valley of Hell”, a massive geothermal crater formed following the eruption of Mount Kuttara some 20,000 years ago. Visitors can follow the marked trail through ‘hell’, passing bubbling pools of water and mud as well as furious steam vents. Jigoku-dani smells like one giant rotten egg that fortunately one gets used to after being immersed in its steamy pungent environment for several minutes.
From the valley, there are several walking trails taking visitors through the woods above Noboribetsu. My sister and I climbed up the hill and followed the path that would lead us to Oyunuma, a steaming sulphurous crater lake where you can enjoy a relaxing natural foot bath further down the way. The pleasant 20-minute walk is dotted with questions in English and Japanese about Oyunuma, a quirky effort to engage visitors who decide to take the wooded elevated path instead of continuing on the flat trail below.
Back in the centre of Noboribetsu onsen, there are 11 demon statues – mostly put in place to amuse tourists – to be spotted. This includes the adorable tubby-looking stone demons positioned along the Gokuraku shopping street, representing success in business, love, education, and more.
Interesting fact gleaned from the BBC website: Several of the stark concrete hotels in Noboribetsu once served as a healing centre for wounded soldiers in the Russo-Japanese War in the early twentieth century. Today, most people visiting Noboribetsu stay overnight in one of the (converted) hotels to enjoy the onsen.
As I wanted to avoid the crowd, I arranged for us to stay somewhere else within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park: Marukoma Hot Spring 支笏湖丸駒温. Located in a remote corner of Lake Shikotsu, the ryokan has a wonderful outdoor onsen looking out to the lake. It was an incredibly relaxing experience – particularly after a long day of driving – to soak in the outdoor onsen as my surroundings were bathed in the warm hues of sunset. Ah, life is good.