Japan by Motorcycle

Day 9

August 6, 1999


Hell Valley

Hokkaido: Kushiro, Noboribetsu and Muroran

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    I awoke to the crowing of roosters and the passing of a nearby train.  I was in the Mikki House, a "rider house" (or youth hostel), near a town called Onbetsu off of Route 38.Miki House and its proprietor  I exchanged contact information with Hiro; he had told me to contact him when I got near his hometown because he would be home by the time I came to that area.  I packed up and said goodbye to my remaining fellow travelers and got on the road at 8:30.  The lady proprietor kindly saw me off and I stopped to take her picture before moving on with a wave.
    Though it wasn't raining yet, it was overcast and the weather was forecast to rain in varying percentages pretty much all across Hokkaido.  I took an inland route heading west.  There didn't seem to be any point in taking a longer route just to traverse the southern tip.  There was some nice mountainous terrain and roads but it became difficult to enjoy because I ran into a heavy cloudburst around midday.  I came across a new onsen (hot spring) near Hobetsu-cho.  According to the sign, it had opened up just four months before.  Ready for a rest, I stopped to check it out.  Indeed, it was very new-looking and very clean.  It offered nothing unusual but did have a nice rotenburo (outdoor bath) that I imagined would look striking surrounded by snow in the winter.
    Although I hadn't yet seen Hakodate, a major city I had hoped to see, my sore butt and the weather conspired against me and I decided to leave Hokkaido and take a ferry back to Honshu from Muroran.  That way I would also get my lodgings resolved by spending the night on the ferry.
    I worked my way out of the mountains back to the coast and joined Route 235.  I came to Tomakomai -- the port where I had arrived on Hokkaido -- and stopped for lunch at a ramen shop.  After my brief lunch, I continued heading east on Route 36.  About 25 kilometers down the road was an Ainu tourist trap near Shiraoi.  The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido whose populations were decimated in a story similar to that of the Native Americans.
Ainu Tourist Trap    It was indeed a tourist trap but had some interesting displays of how the Ainu had lived.  Bear CubThe sad part is that it's probably not even run by or for the Ainu themselves.  There were some bears kept in cramped pens and a couple of poor bear cubs on short chains.  I hoped that they were at least given a little more space to exercise after hours but I'm sure that that was just wishful thinking.
    I found the hot spring resort town Noboribetsu which was another 20 or so kilometers down the road much more interesting and, more importantly, not at all depressing.  On the contrary, there was some element of adventure (and danger) because the whole town is founded on a volcanically active area.  The volcanic action creates sulphur-laden hot springs which feed its many hotels and is reputed to be very healthy.  In fact there is a fairly large hospital in the town where, I'm sure, much of the treatment consists of taking baths in the natural hot spring water.  There is also a natural formation called Jigokudani or Hell Valley, which indeed looked like it probably wasn't the best place to build a house.  It looked like a blast zone through which ran steaming streams of mineral-laden hot water.
    It was just a short hike to Oyunuma ("Big Hot Water Pond").  After I got there, it became apparent that you can drive right to it but the short hike was worthwhile anyway.  Oyanuma was a small lake of boiling water.  Water temperature, according to the sign, was as hot was 130C (266F).  The water itself was black as if it was full of volcanic soot which it probably was.  There was more smoke or steam coming from the small peak behind it, looking like a little volcano.

Noboribetsu: Hell Valley

Hell Valley

Hell Valley

Hell Valley

Noboribetsu: Oyunuma (Hot Water Lake)

Hot Spring LakeHot Spring Lake

    As I had stopped at an onsen earlier and it was getting late anyway, I didn't stop at any baths in the town.  Much as I would have liked to soak in water that smelled like rotten eggs, I would have to wait for another day.
    It was after 6:30PM by the time I left Noboribetsu and I went straight to Muroran in the fading light of the day.  After securing passageway on the ferry to Aomori, I stopped in a coffee shop at around 8:30PM for dinner and to kill time before the 10:00PM departure.
    This time the ferry was even more crowded than before.  I knew there was a big festival in Aomori going on and that the fireworks would be tomorrow so I guessed that was the reason for the full boat.  As before, the cheapest ticket bought me passage for my motorcycle and the right to sleep on a carpeted floor, assuming I could find a spot of my own.  It was already crowded and I didn't find an ideal place next to a wall as I would have liked.  But I found enough room to lay down without somebody else's feet in my face.  At least by riding the ferry, the issue of where to spend the night was taken out of my hands.  This was goodbye to Hokkaido.

 

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Just The Stats

Day 9

Odometer

Time

Place Weather
Start: 46630 7:30 Rider House near Onbetsu (Hokkaido) Partly Cloudy/Warm
Finish: 47010 20:30 Ferry from Muroran, Hokkaido to Aomori Partly Cloudy/Warm
 
Totals: 380km 12 hrs

Expenses

Gas: 1,500 Food: 2,400
Car Ferry: 7,200 Youth Hostel:
Onsen: 500  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2001

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