- Noboribetsu Onsen is Hokkaido’s premier hot spring town.
- Located in the Noboribetsu Primeval Forest.
- Easy to access via bus.
- Located between Sapporo and Hakodate.
- Direct bus from Sapporo approx. 100 minutes.
- Population around 53,000.
Noboribetsu Onsen is known as one of the the leading hot spring towns in Hokkaido. Catering for everyone from luxury seekers to adventurous types, it has a great mix of attractions.
Noboribetsu Onsen is located in the southwest of the prefecture, surrounded by the virgin forests of Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This location has created nine different kinds of water in the area, containing minerals such as sulfur, salt and iron. This diversity has helped the town to really stand out from all the other hot spring towns in Japan.
Jigokudani – Hell Valley
The most visually impressive scene in Noboribetsu Onsen has to be Hell Valley, also known as Jigokudani. Yellow and gray volcanic gas seeps from the surface of hellish rocks and hot spring water flows up to service the towns hot springs. The valley is 450 meters wide at the mouth of the volcano and produces 3000 liters of hot water per minute. The strong smell of sulfur is not the best smell in the world, but the sight is enough to get huge numbers of people up here taking some amazing pictures.
Hell Valley is a short three minute walk north-west of town and well signposted from here. Along the way visitors can see huge statues of monsters from local stories, a tiny shrine, and can look down directly into the source of the hot spring water at Tessen-Ike. It can get very steamy, so be careful!
Noboribetsu Onsen Attractions
There are a variety of short, scenic hiking and walking routes north of town. They are all colour coded and shown on maps all over town and along the routes, so are very easy to follow.
Most routes eventually take visitors to Oyunuma. This lake of boiling water features bubbling mud at the connecting Oku No Yu and a few scary stories about its history. Many years ago enemies of the local leaders would be thrown into Oyunuma to boil alive! Now it is thankfully just for sightseeing.
Along the way to Oyunuma, there are a host of things to see and do. As you make your way around there are a few observations areas for sights over Oyunuma and Oku No Yu, and everyone stops off at Oyunuma Brook and Footbath. Visitors are free to just have a sit down on the wooden seats, dip their feet in and relax surrounded by the beautiful virgin forests.
After a day of all this activity, many relax in the huge hot spring complex at Dai-ichi Takimotokan. Offering views over Hell Valley, there are about a dozen baths with different temperatures and sizes. They also contain different water types, all with various natural healing properties. Dai-chi Takimotokan is named after Kinzo Takimoto, the man who “discovered” the healing waters when he visited the area in 1858 with his wife looking for a cure for her skin disease.
Another special aspect about Dai-ichi Takimotokan is that visitors can buy and enjoy a beer while relaxing in the hot spring baths. Entry costs 2,000 yen if entering from 9am to 4pm and 1,500 yen if entering 4pm to 6pm. Children are half price. The bathing facilities are open until 9pm. The Dai-ichi Takimotokan is considered one of the very best indoor onsen in Japan due to its unparalleled range of different baths.
The Noboribetsu Manseikaku, Noboribetsu Sekisuitei, Noboribetsu Grand Hotel and the Hotel Yumoto Noboribetsu all allow visitors to use their baths during the day for a fee ranging from about 700-2000 yen.
There is also one public bath (sento) – Sagiriyu Public Bath – with much cheaper entrance fees.
The caldera lake of Toya-ko is 18km to the west of Noboribetsu. On the southern shore of the lake is the hot spring town of Toya Onsen. Nearby are the active volcanoes of Usu-zan and Showa Shin-san – the latter formed by eruptions from 1943-1945. Usu-zan erupted as recently as 2000 forcing the resort to be temporarily evacuated.
Toya-ko, 83m above sea level, never freezes over in winter and is almost perfectly round in shape. Toya-ko is 46km in circumference and 179.2 meters at its deepest point. Nakanoshima, the wooded island at the center of the lake, has a forestry museum on its south west shore, displaying the varied flora and fauna of Hokkaido’s forests.
Toyako Onsen, on the southern shore of the lake, is another famed onsen resort and its waters are said to be good for a variety of ailments including rheumatism and nervous diseases. There are a number of ryokan and minshuku here catering to visitors including the two-star Ikoiso, Pension Ohno, Toya Sun Palace Resort & Spa, The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort and Showa Shinzan Youth Hostel. See here for a full listing of accommodation at Toyako Onsen.
The 34th G8 summit took place at Toya-ko in 2008.
Lake Kuttara is 4km east of Noboribetsu Onsen and can be reached by bus from the spa. The circular lake is 200m above sea level and 260m at its deepest point. The lake is well stocked with fish and the fall colors here are especially beautiful.
Noboribetsu Onsen Accommodation
While there are no real low budget options like hostels in Noboribetsu, there are a variety of traditional ryokan or minshuku for various prices. These are all located in the hot spring town.
The cheapest hotel is Takimoto Inn, which is actually a rather nice deal with a very central location and modern rooms. Those looking for a bit more luxury should enjoy Kashoutei Hanaya, a high-class ryokan with traditional Japanese meals and tatami rooms.
Tourist Information Center
Noboribetsu Onsen’s Tourist Information Center is close to the bus station and has brochures and maps in English and other languages.
Noboribetsu Onsen Tourist Office
60 Noboribetsu Onsen-cho
Tel: 0143 84 3311
Access – Getting To Noboribetsu Onsen
From Sapporo, you can either take a bus or train combined with a local bus. From Sapporo Station, take a Limited Express Hokuto train (75 minutes, 4,480 yen) or Donan Bus (90 minutes, 1,750 yen) all the way to Noboribetsu Station. From here you can take a local bus (10 minutes, 200 yen) to Noboribetsu Onsen.
There is also one daily direct bus from Sapporo (1 hour and 40 minutes, 1,950 yen) with Donan Bus. Tickets are available at Sapporo Station. Be sure to check availability at least the day before, as the direct buses may be sold out on occasion.
From Hakodate, take a Limited Express Hokuto train (2 and a half hours, 6,890 yen) to Noboribetsu Station, then the local bus to (10 minutes, 200 yen) to Noboribetsu Onsen.
From Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu Onsen take a JR Chitose Line for Sapporo and change at the next stop Minami Chitose (3 minutes), then take a Limited Express Super Hokuto train to Noboribetsu Station (41 minutes).
New Chitose Airport south of Sapporo has domestic flights with JAL, ANA and Air Do (a subsidiary of ANA) to Haneda Airport in Tokyo as well as to Akita, Aomori, Nagoya, Osaka (KIX) and Sendai.
There are international flights from New Chitose Airport to Incheon in South Korea with a variety of carriers.
At Chitose Airport there are rent a car offices or taxis for your onward journey. Chitose Airport is about 70km from Noboribetsu Onsen. There is one direct highway bus a day from Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu Onsen leaving at 12 noon and arriving at 1.05pm. Otherwise it is possible to take other buses (Hiyabusa) and change at Shiomizaka or Noboribetsu Higashi IC. Check with the official website for fares and times.
Tomakomai Port has ferry links with Sendai, Nagoya, Hachinohe, Akita, Niigata and Tsuruga. Tomakomai is about 25 minutes by Limited Express to Noboribetsu or around 50 minutes by local train.
Matthew is a blogger and writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He writes for Super Cheap Japan, a travel guide dedicated to budget travel in Japan.