Aptly called Hell Valley or Jigokudani in Japanese for the landscape that resembles the underworld realm, the area has century-old heavenly onsen resorts (collectively called Noboribetsu Onsen, which is Hokkaido’s most renowned onsen and boasts a wide range of 11 highly effective hot spring water types, earning the nickname Department Store of Onsen) and shopping area called Paradise Street (Hakuraku Dori Shotengai) as the reception though. Still, you will know whose territory you are stepping into with the demon statues lurking around.
Mostly cute rather than threatening, these demons (oni in Japanese) are Noboribetsu’s benevolent guardians though. The statues aren’t only for aesthetic purposes. Some of them are believed to listen to your prayers, from academic blessings and business prosperity to love. This particular oni called Yukake Demon grants health-related wishes, exactly what the world needs now…
Among all the demons, we can’t not pay a visit to Enma, the King of Hell who, according to Japanese Buddhist lore, will judge whether your souls will be sent to heaven or hell based on your karma. Enshrined at Enmado or Enma Shrine, the statue of Enma appears not too different from human. If you arrive at “Judgement Time”, stay a while to watch the lord of hell come to life and “transform”.
When in Noboribetsu, all of us will want to head to hell (valley) though.
When you see the red oni and the blue oni and the Praying Demon Shrine, that means you have arrived at the actual Jigokudani Hell Valley area.
It probably depends on your cultural background and/or where you learn about the concepts of hell, but as a Thai person, I tend to associate hell with red and black and fire. The view before my eyes didn’t look quite like hell in my imagination though.
Albeit still desolate-looking with traces of volcanic eruptions everywhere, Jigokudani might be closer to what hell would look like if parts of it ever freeze. Perhaps because of the white and grey patches all over the rocky valley. The perpetual steam and fumes, waters bubbling out of the earth, lush green trees, and the blue sky give some life to the otherwise eerie-looking land though. These contradictions are beautiful and actually, Noboribetsu Onsen owes its rich variety and abundance of healing waters to Jigokudani Hell Valley.
And what a convenient hell it is. We guests can easily walk on the wooden boardwalk that cuts across the valley for a closer look at the unique volcanic landscape.
Fuming with an unbothered face…
At the end of the wooden walkway, we can enter the wooded path that feels like a different world from before. There are some steps and slopes, but the journey will eventually lead us to another otherworldly view: Oyunuma Pond with volcanic plume-covered Mount Hiyori in the background. Also born from volcanic eruptions, the seething Oyunuma Pond exhaling white mist is a look but don’t touch experience, what with its boiling sulfurous water.
For fellow Pokemon fans, the location of Twinleaf Town (or in Japanese, Futaba Town) in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum mirrors Noboribetsu. Design-wise, I can’t recognize similarities (unless we talk about how green Twinleaf Town is and compare it to the trees in Jigokudani Hell Valley). I have been to other Hokkaido attractions that more obviously inspired Sinnoh locations, but I think it is still good to point out Twinleaf Town location in case other fans are interested in DPPt‘s town of beginning.
That being said, Noboribetsu makes for a very interesting day trip from Sapporo for everyone thanks to the views that are hard to come by, particularly Jigokudani Hell Valley and Oyunuma Pond. As Noboribetsu is part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, consider adding the nearby Lake Toya to your itinerary too. If you aren’t tight on budget and short on time, you should stay overnight in Toyako Onsen or Noboribetsu for relaxing hot spring bath. I introduced the fireworks in Lake Toya area already in my Lake Toya article, but Noboribetsu has its own nightly highlight too. Once the sun goes down, the wooden promenade in Jigokudani Hell Valley is ablaze with Demon Fire Road Illusion (Onibi no Michi). Decisions, decisions…
When to visit: Enma is always there at his shrine, but the King of Hell will reveal his real face only during “Judgement Time”: 10am, 1pm, 3pm, 8pm, and 9pm.
How to get there: If you want to travel from Sapporo, take the Limited Express Hokuto or Limited Express Suzuran train from JR Sapporo Station to Noboribetsu Station. Then ride Donan Bus to Noboribetsu Onsen Bus Terminal (Check Donan Bus schedule is here). Jigokudani Hell Valley is about ten minutes away on foot and Enma Shrine is located on the way there.
If you want to visit Lake Toya in the morning like I did, you can travel from Toya Station to Noboribetsu Station by riding the Limited Express Hokuto, Limited Express Suzuran, or JR Muroran train.
Jigokudani Hell Valley
When to visit: You can visit anytime, but the place is lit up only until 11pm (and while the valley can be visited in any season, June to July are time for Oni Hanabi Demon Fireworks and October in Noboribetsu means stunning red foliage).
How to get there: Around ten-minute walk from Noboribetsu Onsen Bus Station.
When to visit: You can visit anytime, but it is better to come during the day.
How to get there: About 30-minute walk from the entrance to Jigokudani Hell Valley.