All you need to know about Japan’s ‘Hell Valley’
LOCATED right above the town of Noboribetsu in Hokkaido, Japan is a dramatic smoking crater with boiling sulfuric hot springs and volcanic steam plumes.
To the Japanese, it is known as Jigokudani, which means “Hell Valley” in English.
Created by a volcanic eruption 20,000 years ago, the 24-acre crater is home to more than a handful of steam vents, geysers, and boiling lakes. Its dark name comes from the blasted primordial caldera so infernal and reeking of sulfur that gave it the reputation of being a “gateway to hell”.
Legend has it that it is so hot that the locals used to believe only demonic inhabitants could possibly survive in the sweltering temperatures. This is evident from the yukijin (demon) statues scattered throughout the Noboribetsu town.
But visiting Hell Valley, just a couple of minutes’ walk uphill north of Noboribetsu, is not as scary or torturous as it sounds. In fact, there is a cluster of unique sightseeing spots which you (and your social media feed) will love.
Explore Hell Valley via an eight-kilometer network of wooden boardwalks which run through the park, stopping only to feast your eyes on the surrounding lush, ancient forests and snowcapped peaks. Remember to whip out your camera as these moments are not to be missed.
Navigating through the valley is easy and it affords you the opportunity to get up close and personal with spectacular volcanic sights. These are the views which will have you transported to another, otherworldly world of yellow and orange volcanic rock, hissing vents, and steaming craters.
Then, treat your tired feet to a relaxing, 100 percent natural foot bath in the Oyunuma River, a warm river which meanders through the forest. It is these hot waters which flow down to feed the baths in the resort town of Noboribetsu, but you get first dibs, literally.
In fact, this is what made the town of Noboribetsu what it is today, a “hot spring supermarket” boasting a plethora of baths with different kinds of mineral thermal waters.
Also worth visiting is the Shinto shrine dedicated to Enma or Yama, the King of Hell. If you happen to be visiting in August, be sure to catch the annual Noboribetsu Jigoku Matsuri, also known as the annual Hell Festival, which sees the door to hell opened.
Streets will be buzzing with activities, from lively parades to energetic folk dance performances, and dazzling fireworks displays.