Winter in Hokkaido Part 10 – Noboribetsu

(This post is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.)

When we woke up in the morning, this was the view that greeted us from our hotel room.

(sometimes life doesn’t get much better than this)

It was amazing to sit and stare at this majestic view endlessly, watching the little backhoe machines clear the roads, workers standing on the slippery roof slopes shovelling snow, watching little kids run out to play in snow mounds taller than them…

After some breakfast and coffee. time to get going again. We’re going to Noboribetsu today, via Chitose.

We had booked our return bus seats online weeks earlier. But unlike the shuttle bus coming here which is free of charge, the return bus trip isn’t free. And it isn’t cheap either.

So one last look at the wonderful Westin Rusutsu Resort, and the beautiful ski slopes.

The ride back was uneventful, admiring the white scenery and slopes until we reached Chitose.

Chitose is a small town, where the Sapporo airport is located. Most people pass through here en route to their destinations without seeing the town. Our bus dropped us off at the International Terminal of the Airport.

We were supposed to take the 1:30 pm bus to Noboribetsu, since I figured I’d reached about 12:15 pm and not make it for the 12:05 pm bus. There is, unfortunately, only one bus company running this route, with only two buses per day. So it was quite risky. But to my surprise, our bus from Rusutsu arrived at 11:30 am, much earlier than expected. But we had only 30 minutes to buy the bus ticket and catch the bus before it leaves (provided there are still tickets available).

So we formulated our strategy. I got off the bus, ran upstairs and located the Donan Bus ticket counter, while my family waited for our luggage to be unloaded. Let me tell you this, while Shin-Chitose Airport is a very nice airport, it is VERY difficult to navigate! Certain sections of the first floor aren’t interconnected and you need to go through the crowded and confusing second floor full of shops and crowds.

Finally I located the Donan bus counter, got the tickets, but was told the tickets are not reserved – you need to line up at the bus stand. If the bus was full, I would still have to wait for the later bus at 1:30 pm…. or the following day, if that bus was also full. I had only 10 minutes left, so I ran back upstairs to locate my family with the luggage. I remember I came up from the stairs near the Pokémon centre… Thankfully, I found them easily. Then, together with our luggage, we rushed downstairs again and go outside… Finally, we made it to the bus stand! Thankfully, there were only a handful of people in the queue, YES! We’re going to make it to Noboribetsu earlier than expected! We even had some spare time to visit the toilet and shop for snacks at… where else, Lawson.

(This is the Noboribetsu bus stand)

Finally, the bus came and we boarded it. The website noted that the trip would take about 75 minutes, but it actual took about 50 minutes to reach Noboribetsu bus station.

(This is the bus station)

Noboribetsu is a very small tourist town. It literally is just one street, lined with restaurants and souvenir shops catering to people coming for their natural hot spring onsens. If you are not staying the night, you can visit the public onsen. That is, if you are comfortable getting stark naked with total strangers. Beyond the onsen, this town has a few other attractions, which we will see later.

This was our hotel, Manseikaku. Conveniently, located just across the road from the bus station.

It was too early to check in, so we deposited our bags (and got some free hot green tea to drink). Time to get some food.

(this is the main street of the town)

Noboribetsu has a specialty, enma yakisoba – spicy yakisoba noodles mixed with local ingredients. We weren’t fans of spicy food, so we tried something else. This was our lunch spot.

We had the shoyu ramen, gyoza and pork belly yakitori. The interesting about this shop is that the 2 chefs were very old men. Even the servers and assistant chef were middle-age women.

The restaurant was really small, about 4 normal tables and 4 tables with floor seating. It seemed popular with tourists.

The attraction in this town is the natural hot springs powered by volcanic activity nearby, so the water is rich in minerals, but has that sulphuric tinge.

(The local legend link it with demon activity)

A short walk from the centre of town is Jigokudani, or Hell Valley. Jigokudani is a spectacular valley which displays hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity. It is a main source of Noboribetsu’s hot spring waters. There are many paths around the area, where you walk right next to the vents, or walk further up to a hot foot bath.

Climb a little up the slope and you can see a lake of hot water steaming up from the snow.

(from this pic you can see the bench totally buried in the snow)

We didn’t walk the whole circuit to the foot bath (where you can dip your bare feet into the warm water) as the climb was quite treacherous in the slippery snow and ice.

So we went back down to town and stopped by a cafe to warm up with some coffee and ice-cream.

We also did a bit of souvenir shopping since there were so many of shops here. Oh look! It’s my name again! Too bad it costs more than RM80.

After that, at about 4pm, we though we could make it up to Bear Mountain. But just as we were about to go up the stairs, a few Chinese tourists coming down told us that the cable car station was already closed for the day. Oh well, we will try again tomorrow morning.

Time to check into our hotel.

Manseikaku is a ryokan style hotel, so this is as big (or small) as our room gets. Just one living / bedroom. To sleep, move aside the table and spread out the mattress on the tatami. Well, its not Westin Rusutsu Resort, that’s for sure. But if you’re planning to experience traditional style ryokan, this is as close as you would get.

(this is the wonderful view from my hotel room)

Tonight, we’re having dinner at the hotel, before going to their onsen. Dinner is something really special here at the hotel. Both meals that we ate here was really the highlight of our stay here. You have dinner at an appointed time (there are 3 slots to choose from), and they have a large buffet of traditional Japanese food (sushi, sashimi, chawan mushi, soba, curry rice, tempura, etc) and international food. It was a great way for us to try out many different food that we did not otherwise have the opportunity to try here in Japan.

(They provide a neat tray for you to separate different kinds of food)

(you mix different kinds of meat and vegetables, add miso soup, then boil it yourself using a match and portable fuel cake)

After our satisfying dinner, time to try the outdoor onsen. The trick is to go early, when there isn’t anyone there… Well, of course we didn’t take any pictures there. But it was a great experience. Then a good night’s sleep.

Next – Bear Mountain

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