Noboribetsu is a city in Iburi Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, it lies Southwest of Sapporo and Northeast of Hakodate.
On our approach to Noboribetsu Onsen, we sighted the 18m tall and 18 tons heavy “Welcome Demon Statue” pointing us in the right direction. An unmistakable sulphurous odour pervades the atmosphere here and it gradually seeped into our car cabin creating the ‘stink bomb’ or ‘rotten egg’ effect. If you did not know any better, you would have thought someone did something rude in the car!
Noboribetsu Onsen is probably the most famous of all of Hokkaido’s Hot Spring resorts. Jigokudani or “Hell’s Valley” lies north of the resort town and is the main source of the spring waters in Noboribetsu town. The magical waters here have been purported to heal various diseases and ailments but it’s efficacy I believe, varies from person to person.
The different types of thermal waters found in Noboribetsu like Sulfur, Aluminum, Salt, Iron, Acidic Iron, Mirabilite, Melanterite, Alkaline and Radium Springs are believed to be helpful for conditions such as chronic dermatitis, athlete’s foot, hives, lower back pain, poor circulation, chronic eczema, hypertension, wounds, arteriosclerosis, rheumatism, menopausal disorders and neuralgia. There are many onsens in Noboribetsu offer accommodations and day spas to suit various needs.
Jigokudani was formed after the eruption of Mount Kuttara some 200,000 years ago and it is a large crater measuring some 450m in diameter covering about 11 hectares. The locals believe that Yukijin – a good guardian demon not only protects the hot springs in Noboribetsu, drive away evil spirits but also prays for the good fortunes of the people. There are events and festivals where ‘demons’ participate, to wish the people happiness but an interesting one where you get to experience the fable of Hell Valley would be in Summer during the “Demon’s Fireworks”. Watch Blue and Red demons launch hand-held fireworks 10m into the air and enjoy the spectacle of falling sparks and dancing to resounding Japanese drums.
There are 11 hot springs in this valley and it is surrounded by cliffs of red scoria, a vesicular basaltic lava and the many active hot steam vents and fumaroles contribute to its moniker – Hell’s Valley.
This is the general area of Jigokudani’s Observatory, walking straight up slope from the Parking area.
This feels very much like going on an exploration of some unknown celestial body and paints a poignant scenario of abject desolation. Well… you could probably attribute that to my fertile imagination that elicited this feeling.
You can do a slow “Hell Walk” starting from the Observatory and heading first to Tessen Pond, then Yakushi Nyorai Temple and back to the Observatory in 1 hour with ample time for photo taking and lingering a bit.
The Tessen Pond is an intermittent hot spring and geyser rich in iron content with a temperature hovering around 80ºC. Listen carefully and you will be fascinated perhaps by the sound of nature.
Jigokudani Valley produces on average 3000 litres of hot water per minute. These spring waters are piped to many hotels and Japanese inns that dot the surrounding area.
Jigokudani and Noboribetsu Spa are sites where active thermal activity is still evident and fumaroles, hot springs and geysers are found in the area. A fumarole is an opening in the earth’s crust usually in the vicinity of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulphide.
It was said that in 1861 a vassal of the Morioka Domain (a feudal region in Northern Japan) was gathering sulphur in Noboribetsu. He washed his diseased eyes with the waters gushing beneath the temple and they were healed. In gratitude, he erected a stone monument which was later enshrined. The spring is now known as “the spring water of eyes”
As darkness enveloped the Valley and the temperature started to drop a couple of degrees, we headed to Gokuraku Street for a Genghis Khan charcoal grill and BBQ dinner at Isekura Restaurant. After walking back to my hotel Oyado Kiyomizu a cozy little onsen, I rested a bit before heading to the hot baths for a rejuvenating soak. Ladies would be especially happy to know that the natural minerals in the baths help to cleanse and lighten the skin tone. After soaking in the hot bath, plunge yourself in a cold bath to close the pores and cool down. It is quite a shock to the system but the refreshing experience, smooth skin and sweet slumber is totally worth the effort.
It was about 10pm when I decided to venture outdoors since I was feeling so refreshed from the hot bath. I must admit the Valley looks a little spooky at night, so surreal and bizarrely beautiful! I stood there for some time just soaking in the ambience.
It was very dark beyond the flight of steps and I didn’t want to wander up there, not for fear of demons or ghosts but someone who may be lurking in the shadows.
It was very cold and my fingers were getting numb, making it harder to take photos but I persisted.
What a beautiful full moon! The appearance of a Werewolf would be so timely and perfect for the moment. I know it was crazy coming outside this late at night alone thinking Japan is a relatively safe country but all the same, low crime does not mean no crime.
Spotted instead a pair of demons at the Nenbutsu Kizo Shrine. A 3.5m tall red standing demon stands on guard where the Praying Demon Statue is enclosed in a mini-shrine.
Another 2.2m tall blue demon keeps watch over the Praying Demon Statue which dates from the Edo period (1603-1868) that is engaged in Buddhist prayer.
Right in front of Takimoto Inn is Sengen Park which has a geyser in a basement-like enclosure. It was pretty dark so I could not see it clearly and neither could I get a picture of the spouting water, clouds of steam rising against the cold night air and the roaring sounds of agitated waters. This happens once in 3 hours so I was lucky to have experienced it.
I love this photo very much, it feels so much like something out of the Twlight zone. The appearance of an eerie, mystical , white apparition in the cold, dark night perhaps?
This is one night walk I will remember for a long, long time. Though I was a little nervous wandering close to witching hour, it was such an exhilarating and interesting time I spent alone discovering Noboribetsu which took on a different character in the stillness of night.