Hokkaido Day 8 (Noboribetsu) (21 Feb 17) – Visiting Noboribetsu Jigokudani the Hell Valley and The Bears

The snow-covered Jigokudani

A Visit to Jigokudani

We headed for Jigokudani immediately after breakfast, wanted to see the famed Hell Valley as we missed out on it due to the heavier than we thought snowstorm the night before. It is a good thing to visit it early before busloads of tour groups arrive, making taking pictures tough. There are several paths to take at Jigokudani. Only Jigokudani was opened during winter (the other paths are Oyunuma Pathway No.1 and No.2, Funamiyama Pathway No.1 and No.2). The Jigokudani Pathway is about 570m and would take 10 mins to complete (without all the stops for photo). Jigokudani Pathway took us down to the valley floor where the source of a crater formed by an explosion some 20,000 years ago being the U-turn point. There are 2 ways one can take on the Jigokudani Pathway, my friend and I took the path that brought us to the down to the valley and turned back to continue the path that took us to a viewpoint that overlooks at the Hell Valley. We were walking carefully down to the valley floor as the ground was covered with ice, we came across a small shrine, a short detour from the path.
Walking from our hotel to Jigokudani
Me at the entrance of Jigokudani
Daimoku-Ishi, a natural stone with sutra inscribed on it in black in by a priest
Me in front of Daimoku-Ishi
View of Jigokudani from the second lookout
Taking a wefie of our first glance of Jigokudani at the second lookout
Nata-Zukuri Kannon, a Goddess of Mercy inside some shrine near the second lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani
Jigokudani with steam sprout from one of the holes
Me at Jigokudani
A model of Jigokudani
Noboribetsu Jigokudani
Jigokudani viewed from Jigokudani Pathway
Yakushi-Nyorai, a small shrine at the start of Jigokudani Pathway
There are 2 paths on Jigokudani Pathway, we took the lower path. But they ended up in the same place
Yakushi-Nyorai close up

As we were walking along the pathway, a stretch of wooden walking, extending from the path into the valley floor. Walking down at the Jigokudani valley floor feels like walking in another planet, a valley with no form of life and steams sprouting out occasionally from holes on the ground and puddles of boiling greyish water scattering all over the ground. The mountains around us are bare with earth brown and red, covered with a thin sheet of snow at parts of the mountain. Temperatures of water here can reach as high as 88℃. At the end of the wooden walkway at the valley floor is a loop surrounding Tessen-Ike, a geyser with greywater, boiling by the forces of nature. As I look up behind the mountain that is nearest to us, steams constantly racing to the sky creating a think white blanket. The view here is more spectacular rather than dangerous as we were well protected by the railings on the walkway. As more tourists arrive, my friend and I headed back to the detour point and got back on track. The path snakes up the hill, although this area of the path is covered in thick snow, the stairs that lead us up the hill is still apparent. Threading carefully upwards, the steam from the valley floor was still gashing out from the ground, the scenery is breathtaking.

Jigokudani valley view from the valley floor
The snow from last night
Steam is constantly blowing from the ground that gave Jigokudani the hellish look
Steam in Jigokudani
The steam gave me the impression that the surrounding is hot
Me with Jigokudani in the background
The way to Tessen-Ike, a geyser located in the centre of Jigokudani
The valley floor looks bare without the existence of plants
Me on the valley floor
My friend on the valley floor
There are streams of hot boiling water running in parts of the Jigokudani valley floor
Jigokudani Valley floor
This stream is the source of the steam
A hot stream on the valley floor of Jigokudani
Tessen-Ike, a geyser in the centre of Jigokudani Valley
More steam coming from behind the hill in Jigokudani
The snow doesn’t seem to cool down the steam in Jigokudani
A hot stream in Jigokudani valley

The path led us to a point where we can see the detoured path that led us down to the valley floor. Standing at the Haridashi Lookout, taking in the awesome view of the valley, I felt a sense of peace partly due to the lack of crowd here. The viewpoint offered us a glimpse of the power of the explosion that made Jigokudani what it is today. There is thick snow at the viewpoint and its surrounding. This is a perfect spot for photographs. As we were completing the Jigokudani Pathway loop back to the entrance of Jigokudani, we came across a sign in front of a pathway. This pathway the Oyunuma Pathway which is closed during the winter season. My friend and I then followed the path through the thick snow which led us back to the entrance of Jigokudani.

On our way to Haridashi Lookout. This kinda looks like a peak of a very tall mountain
Me on the pathway to Haridashi Lookout
View of Jigokudani Valley from Haridashi Lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani from Haridashi Lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani from Haridashi Lookout
My friend sitting on the snow in Haridashi Lookout
My friend on the Jigokudani Pathway

Feeding the Bears in Noboribetsu Bear Park

It is already past noon by the time we reached the entrance to Jigokudani. We headed back to the hotel to grab battery for my camera, which went flat due to the cold weather. We did not originally plan to visit the Noboribetsu Bear Park, however, we couldn’t resist the call to visit the Bear Park walking past it a few times when we were strolling along the main street of Gokuraku Shopping Street of Noboribetsu Onsen. Noboribetsu Bear Park entrance is sitting on top of a hill next to the Gokuraku Shopping Street, one can’t miss the pink colour building overlooking Noboribetsu Onsen. To get to Noboribetsu Bear Park, we walked along a street located in the middle of Gokuraku Shopping Street, opposite the only 7-Eleven in Noboribetsu Onsen, that led us up the pink building sitting on top of the hill. This is the entrance and the gateway to Noboribetsu Bear Park. We got our tickets in this building and took a gondola up Shihorei, or Bear Mountain according to the locals. The bear park itself is sitting on top of a mountain, some 550m tall.

The pink building is the ropeway station and ticketing counter for accessing Noboribetsu Bear Park
An old school gondola that has been phased out
We are going to visit the bears

The gondola ride up to Noboribetsu Bear Park is an attraction itself. As the gondola ascends up to the summit of Bear Mountain, the entire Noboribetsu Onsen slowly comes into sight. The more the gondola ascends towards the summit station, the more of the surroundings can be seen. Near the summit station, I can see the mountain ranges that seem to protect Noboribetsu Onsen and the road leading to Noboribetsu Onsen. Arriving at the summit station, the first thing that caught my attention is the shed that houses a small race track. At the time of our visit, there is a duck race on-going, where visitors can bet on. Winners will get a souvenir from the bear park.

Riding the gondola up to Bear Mountain
We could see the entire Noboribetsu Onsen as we ascend on the gondola
Noboribetsu Onsen seen on the gondola
Noboribetsu Onsen seen on the gondola
We could see the path that leads to Noboribetsu Onsen
Riding a sledge pulled by a bear
The entrance of Noboribetsu Bear Park on Bear Mountain
Duck race!

There are 2 bear farms on the left from the exit of the gondola station. We headed for the first bear farm, which houses male bears. There is a tunnel that says “Human Cage” beside the stairs that leads to the open observatory for this farm. After buying a packet of biscuits, my friend and I entered the “Human Cage”. This is where we can face to face with the Hokkaido Brown Bear, which is worshipped by the local Ainu people as a god. The only thing that separates us from the bear is a panel of glass. There is a metal rod that allowed my friend to push a piece of biscuit through to feed the bears. As the bears seem inactive, we wanted to head to the open area to feed the brown bears from the top. However as we exited the “Human Cage” tunnel, we saw a flock of crows at the railings and decided to head for the second farm.

Coming face to face with the Hokkaido Brown Bear in the “Human Cage”
My friend posing with a Hokkaido Brown Bear
My friend feeding the Hokkaido Brown Bear through a feeding device
Hokkaido Brown Bear waiting patiently for my friend to insert the food into the feeding device

The second farm is where the female bears are being housed. Unlike their male counterparts, these female bears are more active. They did stunts and begged visitors for a piece of feed. As there is a murder of crows around, waiting to snatch the feeds from the bears, we were very careful not to let that happen by throwing the biscuit very close to the bears. At times, we managed to land the biscuit directly into the mouth of the bears (hope it is not too painful for them).

The female bears in the second farm snatching food that we threw down into the enclosure
My friend feeding the bears in the second farm
A female bear begging for food
Female Brown Bears in the second farm
Me feeding the brown bears
Brown bears in the second farm
Brown bears waiting for their snack
The bear on the right is begging for food
Bears in Noboribetsu Bear Park
My friend feeding bears
There is a 3-storey building at Noboribetsu Bear Park. The first floor is a cafeteria, while the second floor is a Bear Museum that educates visitors on the Brown bears, from their evolution to their autonomy to their close cousins living all over the world. There are some preserved bears carcasses in the museum allowing us to take a closer look at a bear. On the third floor is a lookout that provided great views of Lake Kuttara and a panoramic view of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. However, it was closed during our visit.
A preserved brown bear in the Bear Museum
Artefacts on display in the Bear Museum
Skeleton of a bear
My friend looking at a brown bear
Me with a brown bear in the Bear Museum in Noboribetsu Bear Park
My friend posing with a brown bear in the Bear Museum
View of Lake Kuttara
As the Bear Park was about to close, my friend and I headed back to the gondola station for our ride down to Noboribetsu Onsen. We spent the rest of the night having dinner and a good soak in the onsen.
Time for dinner
Sashimi and Chawanmushi
Egg yolk sauce in prawns
Snow crab and octopus
Dinner time
Dessert at the end of dinner

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