Noboribetsu is a town in southern Hokkaido, Japan's northern-most island. The name comes from the Ainu language, meaning "A Cloudy River Tinged With White," no doubt a reference to sulfer-tinged water. It’s nationally famous for its abundance of onsen, or hot springs, which are the indispensable cornerstone of Japanese relaxation and vacation. When it was discovered that the onsen of Noboribetsu were particularly effective in curing several illnesses, the area began to be developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
In particular, a place called Jigokudani (Hell Valley) became extremely touristy. In short, it’s a volcanic crater measuring roughly 450 meters across, from which approximately 10,000 liters of boiling water pour forth each and every day. This lends to some extreme bathing. These days the peaceful landscape is marred by high-rise hotels and souvenir shops and countless statues of devils ranging from harmless cartoons to fearsome horned giants, which is all fine and good for the tourist industry, but one can’t help but wonder what the land would be like in its wild state.
The most famous hotel in the area is by far the Dai-ichi Takimotokan, a massive structure boasting seven different types of hot springs and more than thirty different baths. It’s ridiculously packed year round, but worth at least one night for anyone who’s in town.
There’s technically more to Noboribetsu than an onsen resort, but honestly, there’s not.
From the New Chitose Airport, it takes about one and a half hours to reach Noboribetsu by the JR train. From Sapporo, it is approximately a two hour bus ride, or if you’re truly in a hurry, feel free to hop on the Limited Express train to make the trip in seventy minutes for about $40 one way.
Helpful kanji and (hiragana) for travelers:
北海道 (ほっかいどう) : Hokkaido
地獄谷 (じごくだに) : Jigokudani, Hell Valley
新千歳空港 (しんちとせくうこう) : Shin Chitose Kuukou, New Chitose Airport
札幌 (さっぽろ) : Sapporo
温泉 (おんせん) : onsen, hot springs
女 (おんな) : onna, woman (this is important when going to the onsen!)
男 (おとこ) : otoko, man (also important stuff)