Day 12 (Jan. 26/20) – Highway to Hell

Noboribetsu is a pretty popular hot spring resort town. The big red dude’s name is Yukijin, In some form or other, he’s the mascot for the town. The big draw, aside from the onsens, is Jigokudani, or Hell Valley.

They picked a demon for a mascot because Hell is hot, get it? But don’t worry, he’s a nice demon and takes away bad luck.

The main part of the town is practically two streets: one full of shops and restaurants and one with access to hotels and resorts. At the end of the shopping street, you arrive at Jigokudani. Like Onuma Park, there are trails that take you into Hell Valley.

That’s steam rising from the geothermal spots where the water bubbles up.

The landscape is pretty dramatic with some neat colouration that I assume is from the various minerals in the ground. But, sensitive visitors be warned – there is a unique odour from the hot springs that permeates the town. I’m guessing it’s the sulphur.

Unfortunately, only two trails into Hell Valley were open with the rest being closed for the winter. So, having finished the trails and not wanting to do any more walking for a bit, I visited the onsen in the Grand Hotel. They boast a number of different baths depending on the hot spring source: salt, iron and sulphur were the ones I spotted, aside from just a regular hot water bath. Very relaxing but the highlight is the outdoor section where the sulphur bath is. Unbelievable the scenery you can get in an area that’s part of a hotel.

This is the outdoor onsen area. To the left, you might see a section that’s iced over. That is actually a small waterfall from the hot springs.

Feeling rested and refreshed from the onsen, I strolled the town going through the various souvenir stores. On a side note, I’ve been looking for Advil to help with my knee and I notice that none of the stores carry it. Luckily, there are other brands of analgesics I can try.

Oh Yukijin, you mischievous scamp!

One thing I’ve learned about the smaller towns is that the restaurants close right after the main lunch rush. And, of course, I mis-timed things here in Noboribetsu so I had to settle for some snacks before I could get real food somewhere else – namely Sapporo.

Luckily, the wonder that is the Japanese convenience store comes through again. There are whole webpages devoted to those products so I won’t go into it much here. Suffice to say the Japanese are far ahead in terms of their convenience store game – you can eat very well just at the convenience store. And not just cold food but hot food too. I recall walking into a convenience store one morning and the staff were preparing some of the hot food, packing rice into plastic bowls and laying out the toppings by hand.

Mmm, zaru-soba from 7-11.

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