Time for more Japan!
While my group was in Sapporo, we took a break from city life to go to… well, another city.
This city, known as 登別市 (Noboribetsu-shi, or Noboribetsu City) isn’t very big– the estimated population is around 50,000 or so. It is famous, though, in Hokkaido. First, it’s part of 支笏洞爺国立公園 (Shikotsu Touya Kokuritsu Kouen, aka Shikotsu-Tōya National Park) which is famous for its beautiful mountains and volcanic calderas. Second, volcanic activity means volcanic hot springs– and, accordingly, 温泉: onsen.
The term onsen, as I understand it, literally translates to hot springs. It can also refer to the resorts and hotels built around those onsen. Japan is a volcanically active country, so there are lots of spots for people to build these resorts– and they might as well, since onsen are popular in Japan.
And we were going to find out why.
Our amazing and awesome sensei scheduled us to stay at Noboribetsu for a night! In an onsen, of course. We were all pretty psyched– at this point, we had been taking classes, meeting with conversation partners, and running around Sapporo nonstop! Even in Japan, we were ready for a break.
However, before I go on, I should say this about onsen:
Oh. Okay. What are there, then?
Yup. The Japanese usually go to their hot springs totally in the nude, not unlike Germans and their saunas. We were all aware of this. How did this make us feel?
America is, for some reason, a nude–fearing country, so none of us were used to, well, being naked in front of others. In addition, the Japanese are polite. Accordingly, we had a lot of bath house etiquette to learn before our excursion.
This, more or less, is the lesson we received from our sensei. Despite our nervousness, we were still excited! I mean, every single manga has at least one hot springs scene, right? And, out of 18 kids, I’m pretty sure only two or three kids weren’t into manga/anime… so… that was that.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Before we got into any sort of onsen, we decided to tour the natural wonders of Noboribetsu’s volcanic landscape. More specifically, we took a hike around Jigoku-Dani, also known as
The valley is home to a number of volcanic lakes and streams, leading to stunning scenery like this:
And that steam is no joke! The water was scalding– too hot to the touch.
Though we didn’t get to bathe in the lakes, we did get to enjoy some of the naturally-heated water. Our group took a hike through the forest, where we encountered this:
And, naturally, we took the chance to enjoy it!
I could go on and on about our hotel, too. The traditional rooms with its sliding doors, low tables, and tatami mats. The luscious, Japanese-style futons. The open buffet with all-you-can-eat crab and miso soup and much, much more. Most importantly, there was an arcade in the basement with a giant Pikachu.
But instead, I’m going to skip to the best part: the onsen.
We went in there at night, which was no problem– the baths open early and close late. There were two separate baths, one for women, and one for men. There’s an indoor section, with a number of different pools set at varying temperatures. We ventured there first.
After puttering around there for a while, we noticed people were walking in from the outside. Meaning there was an outside. We decided to venture outside.
And it was…
Photography typically isn’t allowed in onsen, for obvious reasons. I’ll try to make do with description: the onsen was softly lit, surrounded by graceful trees and rocks. It was drizzling gently outside, a nice cool contrast to the steaming water. There were well-placed boulders sticking out of the pools, serving both as organic ornament and a place to lounge. And, before I forget: there was a water slide.
Three hours later, we were still there. And then, after staying up late, some of us woke up early to go again before we had to leave the hotel. Because it was just so… relaxing! Or, as the Japanese would say, 気持ちいい! (Kimochii— feels good!)
It’s like any new experience– it may be uncomfortable at first, but you can have a great time if you just put yourself out there!
Literally this time.
So that night, I cozied up in my (hotel-provided) yukata…
…and fell into one of the deepest, most satisfying sleeps I’ve ever had.
I’d do it again anyday.