Meet your demons at Jigokudani

After the snowy days in around Furano we made a short side trip to Noboribetsu. The Jigokudani (hell valley) is a famous destination for tourists and even though I despise crowded places we couldn’t help but visiting this magical place a second time. We spent the night at the same minshuku as two years ago which is lovely I think. I’m not quite sure the Obachan running the place remembered us but she makes us feel at home.

“Are you taking pictures of me?”

Minshuku are small family run bed and breakfasts. I love staying at Japanese style inns because it feels so homely.
You can read about the last time we’ve stayed at this minshuku in my other blog post here: A night at a Minshuku
The best thing about this place is the hot tub right in front of the ocean. Sitting in the steaming pool while watching the sun rise or set at the horizon is seriously one of the reasons I came back. Sure there are many onsen offering a lovely view but here you can share it with your partner or travel buddy because the guests of the minshuku may use it privately.

mairusunrise chineyukata

We enjoyed a hot bath before going to bed late that night and had breakfast at 7am the next day. Breakfast consisted of rice and miso soup but also many small dishes with fish and vegetables and also a fried egg and ham. We finished every little bit of it and it was delicious. The sizzling shiitake mushrooms in burning pots were the highlight though.

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Even though there were tour buses arriving like wave after wave we managed to get rid of most of the visitors along the way. I just realized that may sound like we’ve killed them but nope. They just didn’t went to check out everything and many just stuck with the main attraction. Even if there wasn’t a lot of snow it was freezing and many people weren’t exactly wearing the right type of shoes to walk the frozen ground. But not even the right shoes would have kept you from slipping sometimes.. But if you made it through some of the trail you’d get rewarded with a nice steaming river to soak your feet in, the Oyunumagawa.

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Oyunumagawa foot onsen

Depending on which way you take you’ll encounter one but probably more demons (oni) along your path. They’re supposed to keep away bad spirits and show you the way among many other things. I was actually quite scared and didn’t want to stand right next to them when we spotted them. So maybe I’m a bad spirit? I’m not sure what it is but I also have it with people in mascot costumes and large figures in general. Disneyland would be a nightmare for me. If a giant Mickey Mouse was to walk towards me I’d run.

trying to pull myself together but totally losing it in front of the oni

Even if the scene was a parent and child demon holding hands, everything about those statues shocked me. I’m not easily scared I think, especially not by such irrational fears, but it’s kind of interesting what impact those mascots have on me. Facing ones fears is always a good thing or so I’ve been told by I don’t remember who, so I tried and tried and finally I was feeling eased enough to not feel look scared anymore. Let’s face it, I’m just not the mascot person but eventually I was even able to sit on the lap of one of the oni at the praying demon shrine. Do you have any irrational fears?

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Did it! I overcame my fear. This Oni looks much friendlier though..

There’s many fascinating phenomena around hell valley such as strange ice crystals, different colored ponds and.. yeah. It may doesn’t sound interesting at all but I really love that stuff. In the picture above for example there’s a tree with ice brim. I kept wondering why it had this ice brim although it was standing right above hot steam. But that’s exactly the point, it’s the hot steam that through Deposition (a phase transition) gets solid and in this case forms ice crystals on the branches of the trees right above the hot ponds. And then there’s obviously all the stunning colors during the different seasons. The colors of the rocks vary from red and orange tones to black and gray tones with bright green or yellow spots from the moss and sulphur.

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Hell valley is definitely worth a visit or two. That is if you can stand the stinging fumes of sulphur everywhere. It was shortly after noon when we hit the road again and stopped at a Kaitenzushi place near the highway. I’m probably repeating myself here but Hokkaido has such great Sushi. The fish and seafood is incredibly fresh and the portions are huge. Also, they serve chunks of kani (crab) in standard miso soup which give it a deep flavour.

hotatenigiri salmonigiri
Hotate and salmon nigirizushi

Next we’ll be heading towards Sapporo and snow once again before finally reaching Otaru.
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