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Road Tripping Hokkaido in the Winter

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In my 7 years of travelling Japan, I’ve been fortunate to visit 40 of the country’s 47 prefectures, travelling from freezing Hokkaido to the turquoise seas that lap the shores of Okinawa. These are the memories, moments and experiences that I frequently find myself going back to; the ones that put a smile on a face that is typically riddled with cynicism and despair. Hopefully they’ll give you some fresh ideas and inspire you to go off the beaten path and experience Japan your own way. Memories travelling Japan is an ongoing series.

Road Tripping Hokkaido in the Winter | Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

You can’t quite beat the sensation of relaxing in a hot spring in winter, soaking beneath the steam with the icy breeze blowing against your face and forcing you to sink deeper beneath the water.

There are many fantastic hot springs in Japan; from Beppu in Kyushu to Kusatsu in Gunma. But for my money, Noboribetsu in Hokkaido steals the crown for being the most impressive.

I’ve only been once during a long road trip across the island of Hokkaido, from the port town of Hakodate in the south, to the landlocked hills of Furano in the north.

Slap bang in the middle of our road trip was the town of Noboribetsu, with a dozen palatial hotels each with hundreds of rooms, piping up the steaming mineral water from below for thousands of tourists to bathe in throughout the day.

As you arrive in the town your attention is instantly drawn to a cloud of steam billowing from a nearby mountainside - albeit at ground level. It’s as if somebody stole the clouds and brought them down to earth.

Turning the corner reveals the source of the steam; the enormous Jigokudani Valley - quite literally “Hell’s Valley” - where 10,000 tons of naturally flowing hot water, burst out from the earth EVERY SINGLE DAY, from the cluster of erupting geysers.

And yet, my favourite thing about Noboribetsu is the sense of adventure and discovery; for example if you walk for 20 minutes along the mountain path you reach Oyunuma Lake, where the surface of the water is 50 degrees celsius and the crowds are few.

I fondly recall getting lost in a forest and stumbling across a hot spring foot-bath, with the gushing water naturally winding it’s way through the trees. I didn’t hesitate to perch myself down on a log and submerge my feet in the soothing current, quickly feeling as though I was in some sort of travel commercial for Hokkaido.

For that memory alone - sitting in the forest, feet in the warm water on a cold winter’s day, with the steam rising through the air, to the peaceful sound of trickling water - Noboribetsu makes the list.

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