8 Things To Do in Noboribetsu, Japan’s Demon Town

Hell Valley, Noboribetsu

Head to Noboribetsu in Hokkaido for the best bath of your life, a 100% natural river foot bath in a forest, and (if you’re brave enough!) some close encounters of the demonic kind...

Noboribetsu is Japan’s most famous hot spring resort, reputed to have some of the best therapeutic hot spring waters in Japan. In a country that is home to over 3,000 hot springs,  that’s a considerable achievement. The reason for Noboribetsu’s successful hot springs? Jigokudani, or “Hell Valley”, a phenomenal volcanic valley situated just above the town, which is the source of its outstanding thermal waters - and rumoured to be inhabited by “oni”, Japanese ogres or demons! 

To begin your grand tour, hop in a taxi for the 10-minute ride up from Noboribetsu Station to Noboribetsu onsen town. The Noboribetsu Sightseeing Information Center is slapbang in the middle of the town, so makes a great first stop to get your bearings as well as any information you might need for your visit. Then, it’s time for a long, hot soak in the tub...

1) Take a Nice, Hot Bath

Sukayu onsen, AomoriZao Onsen, Yamagata

Noboribetsu’s hot springs boast an incredible eleven different kinds of water to cure all manner of ills and ailments, so it would be rude not to indulge while you’re here. The best way to take the waters is to stay overnight at one of the town’s many ryokan (traditional inns) and hotels which have their own hot spring baths. In that case, head to your hotel to check in and drop your bags before beginning your exploration of the town. 

If you can’t stay overnight, don’t worry. Several of the hotels also open their baths to non-staying guests during the day for anywhere between 700-2000 yen (£4.90-£14.00). For the full experience, head to Daiichi Takimotokan, home of arguably Japan’s best modern indoors hot spring baths, where you can experience a whopping seven of the different kinds of water flowing in Noboribetsu (2000 yen / £14.00). 

Noboribetsu Grand Hotel also offers three kinds of baths, including an impressively large indoor Roman bath with a high, domed ceiling and outdoor baths with beautiful views of a Japanese garden (from 1500 yen / £10.50). For the budget version, hang out with the locals at Sagiriyu Public Bath (420 yen / £3), which has three small bright and attractive indoor baths.

 

2) Go Demon-Spotting

Noboribetsu red demonNoboribetsu blue demon

Once you’re all pink and wrinkly from your bath, dry off and walk off your prawn fingers and toes as you go demon-spotting in Noboribetsu hot spring town. Why demons, you may ask? Well, Hell Valley,  the volcanic valley just above the town (which we will be visiting in just a moment), is so hot that the locals used to believe that only demons could possibly survive in the sweltering temperatures.

But Noboribetsu’s resident demons haven’t just survived - they’ve thrived! At the last count, there were eleven demon statues in nine locations spread throughout the town, starting with the 18-metre tall demon standing guard at the motorway turn-off for Noboribetsu, and the Welcome Demon sitting outside JR Noboribetsu station. 

There are also cute demons for success in business, study and romance dotted around the town, so time to go on a treasure hunt - can you find them all? Demon snaps also make a great addition to your Instagram feed, as you can see from ours here. And if you don’t mind cheating, Daiichi Takimotokan‘s website has a list of them all which you can find here.
 

3) Visit Jigokudani, aka “Hell Valley”

Hell Valley, NoboribetsuHell Valley, Noboribetsu
 
Hell Valley’s cluster of sightseeing spots are Noboribetsu’s main attraction other than its thermal baths, and a must-see for visitors to the town. So once you’ve tracked down all of Noboribetsu’s demon statues, it’s time to head up to Hell Valley to see where they live. But the valley isn’t just the source of the town’s diabolical inhabitants - it’s also the main source of its various different hot spring waters.
 
The valley is a few minutes walk uphill north of the town. Once there, it’s pretty self-explanatory and easy to navigate - just follow the series of wooden walkways for a self-guided tour of the valley’s viewing platforms and other spectacular volcanic sights. Marvel at the otherworldly landscape of yellow and orange volcanic rock, steaming craters and vents, hot-water streams and other plainly visible signs of volcanic activity bubbling just below the surface. 

We’ll be honest though, it takes a special kind of person to enjoy the sulphurous eggy smell permeating the entire valley - pooh! Maybe that’s the real reason why it’s only inhabited by demons - with their supernatural powers, perhaps they’re the only ones who can stand the smell?
 

4) Try a 100% Natural Hot-Water Footbath

 
Natural Footbath, NoboribetsuNatural Footbath, Noboribetsu

 

After Hell Valley, continue your exploration of Noboribetsu’s forested hilltops. From the valley, take a relaxing stroll 30 minutes deeper into the hills along attractive, winding walking trails to reach Oyunuma Pond, an amazing sulphurous hot-water pond. Don’t try dipping your toes in here though - the pond has a surface temperature of around 50 degrees Centigrade!
 
For that promised footbath, keep your shoes and socks on and head to nearby Oyunuma River Natural Footbath. From Oyunuma Pond, the Oyunuma River, an equally amazing hot-water river, meanders through the forest, steaming gently as it goes. For now, keep your footwear firmly on, and continue your stroll on the purpose-built walkway along the river as it flows among the trees for almost a kilometre. When your feet get weary, take a seat and enjoy a heavenly 100% natural hot-water footbath. All together now - aaah!

 

5) Watch Demons Play with Fireworks

Noboribetsu Tourist AssociationNoboribetsu Tourist Association

Don’t try this at home! We recommend you leave it up to the professionals - who happen to be “yukijin”, masked demons who are the protective guardians of the hot springs at Noboribetsu. Witness their dazzling and daring performance with giant handheld fireworks at the Demon’s Fire Footpath in Hell Valley. It takes place every Thursday and Friday between June and August from 8:30pm and is free to watch from a safe distance at Hell Valley’s observation platform. 

If you're visiting in August, you can go one better - the annual Noboribetsu Hell Festival (Noboribetsu Jigoku Matsuri) sees the door to “hell” opened and Enma or Yama, the king of hell, emerge with his army of yukijin to temporarily take over the town for the weekend. Cue lively street parades, energetic folk dance performances, and fireworks displays.

6) Transform into a Ninja or Oiran (Courtesan)

Date Historical VillageDate Historical Village

 

Step back in time at Date Historical Village (Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura), a history theme park highlighting Japan’s feudal Edo Period (1603-1868). The theme park is home to a life-size replica of a traditional Edo period town, including gate, merchant street, fire watchtower, houses and shrine. Rent a costume for the day and dress up as a peasant, ninja or oiran (courtesan), symbolic characters of the Edo Period, at Utsuroikan. Then stroll the streets on a photo shoot in the traditional Edo townscape as you imagine that you’ve slipped back in time.
 
While you’re there, check out one of the village’s fabulous live shows: relive the exciting times of the ninja at an action-packed show at Kasumi Ninja House; be enthralled by the combination of comedy and dazzling samurai swordplay at the Samurai Show (winter only); and marvel at the ornate costumes in the Oiran show (oiran were the top-ranked courtesans in Yoshiwara, the official Edo-era pleasure district). 

Date Historical Village is just 10 minutes by car from Noboribetsu Station, so makes a great first or last visit on your way into or out of Noboribetsu hot spring town (2900 yen / £20.30 for adults). So does Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE, which is just 2 minutes walk from Noboribetsu Station. Here you can watch dolphin, penguin and even sardine shows, and feed or take a selfie with a smiling seal lion (2450 yen / £17.20 for adults).
 

7) Make Music with the Ainu

 

Shiraoi Ainu MuseumShiraoi Ainu Museum

Join members of the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan, for a song and dance session of traditional Ainu music at the Shiraoi Ainu Museum (800 yen / £5.60) in neighbouring Shiraoi, a 10-20 minute journey by train or 25 minutes by road northeast of Noboribetsu.
 
Also known as Porotokotan, meaning “large lakeside village” in the Ainu language, the museum does exactly what it says on the tin. The open-air museum consists of a replica Ainu village of five thatched houses on the shores of Lake Poroto, with each of the houses demonstrating a different aspect of Ainu culture or lifestyle. 

Lap up the ancient rhythms and sounds of Ainu musical culture at a free hourly performance of Ainu songs, folk dances, and mouth harp demonstrations held in one of the houses. One of the folk dances - traditionally performed to send off the spirits of dead bears - was designated as a UNESCO intangible cultural property in 2009. Speaking of bears, you can see some Hokkaido brown bears, as well as Ainu hunting dogs, kept at the museum. 

There is plenty to do at Porotokan, so plan to spend a few hours here. Learn about Ainu herbology in the botanical garden, which grows around 60 types of plants traditionally used by the Ainu for food and medicine; try your hand at a handicraft workshop, making Ainu woodcarving, embroidery, music or cuisine; and browse for buys of traditional Ainu crafts in the shops outside the museum’s gates.

8)  Slurp on Super Spicy Noodles

Noodles, NoboribetsuJapanese meal, Noboribetsu

It’s never a waste of time to try the local food when you’re on holiday, especially if you’re in an area that’s more off the beaten track - often it gives you the chance to discover lesser-known local foods that aren’t available in the big cities and urban areas. Japan is no exception, nor is its northern island of Hokkaido - just check out these tasty local dishes that our photographer found when he ventured into the wilds of Japan’s demon town.

In keeping with its demon theme, Noboribetsu has a signature dish that’s tasty as hell - but might just be too hot for you to handle! Enma Yakisoba is a type of yakisoba (fried noodle) dish unique to Noboribetsu, named after Great King Enma, the demon king and ruler of hell according to Japanese mythology. 

The spiced up noodle dish was invented by the town as a way to support local food products and industry. To qualify as Enma Yakisoba, the town requires that it must: (1) use flat noodles made from Hokkaido wheat flour, (2) use local ingredients for the topping, and (3) use the town’s secret spicy sauce. Enma Yakisoba isn’t only unique - it’s devilishly delicious!

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