Noboribetsu is a town which is also part of the wide Shikotsu-Toya National Park and is one of the prime tourist spots in Hokkaido for domestic tourists. The reason for this is that Noboribetsu is known for its onsen or hot springs and part of the area around the town is called Hell Valley thanks to the bubbling hot waters.
There are some 11 different kinds of springs here that are famous for their high sulfur and iron content and you can relax and unwind in the onsen here which are said to also have healing properties for a range of ailments.
As well as the hot springs you can also enjoy some delicious food here as well as check out other attractions close by like lakes and theme parks. The town is also known for its demon statues so you can have fun tracking these down as you explore.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Noboribetsu…
1. Try the ramen
If you want to try one of the signature dishes in Noboribetsu then you need to try the ramen which is also known as ‘jigokudani’ noodles.
The best place to try the ramen is at famous ramen shop Aji no Daio which serves this dish with differing levels of heat and you can choose from 1-10 on the spiciness scale.
Be warned however that the noodles are not for the faint hearted so make sure you start off slowly if you are not used to eating huge amounts of chili.
2. Explore Noboribetsu Park Service Center
Many people visit Noboribetsu Park Service Center when they are on their way into the wider Jigokudani area and you will find a gorgeous wooden house here which also operates as a service center.
This is the place to learn more about this part of Hokkaido and they also have videos about the geology and topography of the region.
They also have a few dioramas of the wildlife that you can expect to see on a hike around Jigokudani and you can also rent hiking equipment from here such as boots for the rainy season.
3. Check out the demon statues
Noboribetsu is known for its demonic names like Hell Valley but it is also known for its actual demons.
There are demon statues all over town and you will find some eleven different statues here.
The demons all have different meanings and functions and some of them are used as good luck effigies for marriage, prosperity and even exam luck.
One of the best things to do is go for a walk and see if you can spot them all.
4. Visit Kuttara-ko
One of the best places to take in the views around Noboribetsu is by taking a trip to Kuttara-ko which is a famous lookout point.
To get here you need to travel along a scenic mountain road and once there you will find a gorgeous caldera lake.
If you are looking for a nice day trip outside of Noboribetsu proper then it is a good idea to hire a car and head up to the Kuttara-ko lookout point.
5. Try the onsen
Many domestic tourists come to Noboribetsu to try out the famed hot springs here.
These are Japanese onsen and you will find hot springs resorts all over the city.
Also of note is Dai-Ichi Takimotokan which is one of the largest spas not just in Japan but in all of Asia.
With that in mind you can come here for the day and try out one of the 29 baths that the facility boasts.
It is also open 24 hours a day which means that you can bathe around the clock if you want to.
6. Shop for souvenirs
As you would expect from a town which is known for its demon folklore, the main souvenirs that people shop for here include statues of demons and other demon related memorabilia.
As well as the demon effigies, you can also buy other classic souvenirs such as bath salts as Noboribetsu is primarily a town known for its baths and spas.
These make great gifts to take home and you can soak in your bathe at home and imagine you are back in Hokkaido.
7. Noboribetsu Date Jidai Village
If you want to learn more about the Edo Period in Japan then you need to head to Noboribetsu Date Jidai Village which is a theme park dedicated to this part of the country’s history.
Here you will find a range of attractions such as a live show and you can also walk around the village which has models of Edo houses and feel as if you have stepped back in time.
To really get in the mood you can also dress up in period garb and put on an outfit that makes your look like a samurai or a ninja.
8. Check out the demon festivals
There are a number of festivals here which are an ode to the demon culture in Noboribetsu.
One of these is the Noboribetsu Hell Festival which takes place every August and is it is believed that the doors of Hell open at this time and the King of Hell, names Yamam comes out and brings with him an army of yukijin which are demons.
To scare off the demons the people of Noboribetsu take to the streets and there are colorful parades, firework shows and communal dance competitions.
There is also another festival held from June to August which takes place on the Demon’s Fire Footpath and you can watch as locals set off handheld fireworks to chase away the demons said to lurk here.
9. Visit Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE
Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE is a complex that is made up of a model castle as well as a large aquarium.
The castle is said to be modeled on one in Denmark and you can check out the signature attraction here which is called the Crystal Tower and is actually a water tank that towers to a height of 8 meters.
The aquarium is said to house over 20,000 marine creatures and makes up some 400 species including dolphins and sea lions.
As well as the castle and aquarium you will also find an amusement park here which is called NIXEland and this has a number of rides for smaller children as well as a large Ferris wheel.
10. Meet the bears at the Bear Farm
If you want to check out some of the wildlife in Noboribetsu then you can head to the Bear Farm which, as the name suggests, has some 160 bears who live on the property.
One thing visitors may wish to note however is that the enclosures that the bears live in are rather small and you may decide to give this a miss on those grounds.
Despite this the Bear Farm is a very popular attraction in Noboribetsu and visitors can feed the bears and also enjoy a cable car ride over the facility which also lets you take in the amazing panoramas around Noboribetsu.
11. Check out Oyunuma River
Oyunuma River is one of the most famous natural attractions in Noboribetsu as the river is made up of sulfur which bubbles into the water and heats it to 130 degrees.
People come here to check out the amazing colors of the water which is green and grey according to the weather conditions and season and you can check out how the volcanic activity here has caused this amazing natural phenomenon.
A little further along the river there are some places where you can soak your feet in the (cooler) waters although this is subject to change as temperatures fluctuate throughout the year so make sure you check that it is safe to do so first.
12. Learn about Ainu music
The Ainu are the indigenous community that lives in the northern part of Japan and if you want to know more about them then you can visit the Shiraoi Ainu Museum which is dedicated to telling the story of their traditional instruments, songs and dance rituals.
This is also an open air museum and you will find models of old Ainu homes which are also located along the pretty shores of Lake Poroto.
As you would expect there are also musical concerts held here throughout the day and this is one of the best places to come if you are a music lover and want to know more about the unique culture in this part of Hokkaido.
13. Try the noodles
There is nothing better than trying the local food in Noboribetsu and you one of the dishes that you mustn’t miss on a trip here is Enma Yakisoba which is a kind of a fried noodle dish which takes its name from King Enma which is also called the Demon King.
The Japanese believe that he is the ruler of Hell and the dish is extremely spicy in an ode to its demonic namesake.
The dish uses flat noodles called yakisoba which are different from ramen and which are made with wheat flour that is sourced from Hokkaido and the sauce is a spicy mix of other local ingredients like chili.
14. Take a trip to Lake Toya
If you want to get outside of Noboribetsu for the day then you can head to Lake Toya which is located inside the wider Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
Here you will find the glassy lake which also allows you the chance to go fishing here, or you can also camp in the park.
Located around the lake you will find some traditional Japanese hot springs and you can also take in Mount Usu which is an active volcano that erupted as recently as 2000.
15. Explore Jigoku-dani
The big draw in Noboribetsu is Jigoku-dani which is the reason that many people come here.
This part of town, just outside the center is known for its rocks that are colored red as well as sulfurous gases which explode from the ground and bubble up in the form of gassy vents.
This part of town is known, rather alarmingly, as Hell Valley in English as it is said to mimic the landscapes of Hell.
There are a number of wooden promenades here that let you walk around in safety and check out all the sights and the clouds of steam and gas that erupt all around you.