Noboribetsu was our next stop after the beautiful national park, and it is famous for its Japanese onsens – hot springs! There are 11 types of water found in the local hot springs and tourists flock there throughout the year to stay at one of the local ryokans and enjoy the baths. The town is located on the JR Muroran Line, and can be accessed via train and bus from Sapporo. The town is also famous for the Jikokudani – Hell Valley national park, which displays multiple volcanic activity such as steam vents. There are various walking trails, which will lead you to attractions such as mud and sulphurous ponds. In the warmer months, the trees surrounding the valley add spectacular colour too! If you are lucky, you can see the Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani, who can survive sub zero temperatures and bathe in the hot springs.
We stayed at the best onsen hotel in the town – Daiichi Takimotokan. It boasts multiple indoor and outdoor pools, and guests get to enjoy unlimited access to the onsens, sumptuous breakfast and dinner buffets, and sleep on traditional tatami. I think there are 12 different onsen pools, and there is a routine you can go through to ensure you maximise relaxation for your entire body. Starting from your feet, to your back, to pools that focus on your skin, muscle aches, and finally, the outdoor pool.
It is a thrilling experience to dash out of the warm onsen hall into the cold outdoors. I had to muster up my courage and take care not to slip and fall on the icy surfaces while running into the water. There are two outdoor pools, one much bigger than the other (but also further). Definitely worth a try; while soaking in the hot water, it is absolutely surreal to have snowflakes floating down on you and melting just before it reaches the hot vapour from the pool.
Some things to take note: if you have tattoos of any sort, you might be disallowed to enter the onsen as tattoos are viewed as a mark of yakuzas (triad gang members) in Japan. You may request for a plaster to cover up your tattoo if it isn’t too large, but do be prepared to be turned away. Also, no clothing is allowed in the onsen hall and you are only given a small towel. It takes a while but you get over the initial awkwardness and learn to enjoy the hot springs. Last but not least, try the horse shampoo and conditioner provided at the shower stalls after the onsen! They work wonders and my hair was unbelievably smooth for days.
We only stayed a day in this town and spent most of the time in our hotel. There are many various activities you can do around the town as well, but we wanted to rest and relax from the cold bitter temperatures, before our next stop to Sapporo. Do visit this town if you have the time!