Noboribetsu, the Orient’s largest spa

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During my annual vacation to the world’s best-kept secret, Sapporo, Japan, I always make sure I allocate one day for a trip to the most relaxing place on Earth, Noboribetsu Hot Spring Onsen (Spa). My last trip there was in April ’04.

After getting the current train station schedule and buying an “S” ticket (about ¥4,040, or $39, round trip) at the international plaza information booth in Sapporo Station, the only thing that remains is to get a good night’s sleep before the special day.

By catching the 8:30 a.m. rapid-transit train, you can be at the hot spring by 10:15 a.m. The local bus (¥330, or $3.20) is timed to pick you up five minutes after the train arrives at the Noboribetsu City stop. The 15-minute bus ride sets the stage for the anticipated event to follow.

When you arrive at the hot spring area, walk up the hill. Halfway up on the left side is a coffee shop where you can have morning coffee and toast for about $4 (no tipping in Japan). This is a remarkable bargain, considering you’re in a big-time tourist area and have no other choices (except a hotel restaurant, which, by its nature, will not offer any deals).

Your destination is the Daithci Takimotokan, the last hotel just before Hell Valley. As a “day user,” you must enter the hotel using the side entrance. There are no signs in English, so I have provided a picture of the sign outside the entrance. The ¥2,000 on the sign indicates the cost to use the facility for the whole day. That translates to about $19.

Once you pay this fee, ask them for the English instructions so that you can follow the acceptable procedure. They also give you a “cover” towel (to be discussed later).

First go to a locker area to put away your valuables. You need a ¥100 coin to release the key for the locker. Keep out some coins for the vending machines upstairs. Then go upstairs to the baths by following the signs.

Upstairs you leave your slippers by the entrance to another group of “open” locker baskets where you put your clothes (and your change for the vending machines). After stripping completely, it is now just you and your “cover” towel. The towel is used to cover up your “nonpublic area.”

As you enter the hot spring spa, go to the left to the wash area. Guests are required to be completely clean before bathing in the pools. They supply all your needs: soap, shampoo and rinse. You remove your towel and, facing a wall, sit on a stool and use a shower hose. Make sure to take your time so the Japanese know you are taking this ritual seriously.

Now it is time to relax. Besides the standard sauna and steam room, there is a rainfall (constant water pouring down so you can let it hit your shoulders, back, etc.). Noboribetsu-Onsen is the only place in the world that has 11 different types of water: sulfur, salt, alum, sodium sulfate, gypsum, magnesium sulfate, melanterite, iron, acidic, sodium bicarbonate and radium. You can also bathe outside, since the men and women are totally separated.

I always take a break after about an hour. My favorite vending machine is their ice cream machine. It produces a vanilla cup of the top name in the world for ice cream (starts with an “H”) for ¥350 ($3.40). Then it’s back to the baths.

By the way, the gift shop in the hotel is outstanding. I bought three separate very colorful, round-ball ornaments, which were gift wrapped to take home in great boxes, for a total of about $60 — very unusual!

When you’re done, you dress and make your way back to the bus and the train station. Once back in your own hotel room, you will be totally relaxed (drained) and glad that you made the effort and took the time to enjoy one of the worlds’ best relaxing spas.

STANLEY OSUR
Hawthorne, NJ

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

During my annual vacation to the world’s best-kept secret, Sapporo, Japan, I always make sure I allocate one day for a trip to the most relaxing place on Earth, Noboribetsu Hot Spring Onsen (Spa). My last trip there was in April ’04.

After getting the current train station schedule and buying an “S” ticket (about ¥4,040, or $39, round trip) at the international plaza information booth in Sapporo Station, the only thing that remains is to get a good night’s sleep before the special day.

By catching the 8:30 a.m. rapid-transit train, you can be at the hot spring by 10:15 a.m. The local bus (¥330, or $3.20) is timed to pick you up five minutes after the train arrives at the Noboribetsu City stop. The 15-minute bus ride sets the stage for the anticipated event to follow.

When you arrive at the hot spring area, walk up the hill. Halfway up on the left side is a coffee shop where you can have morning coffee and toast for about $4 (no tipping in Japan). This is a remarkable bargain, considering you’re in a big-time tourist area and have no other choices (except a hotel restaurant, which, by its nature, will not offer any deals).

Your destination is the Daithci Takimotokan, the last hotel just before Hell Valley. As a “day user,” you must enter the hotel using the side entrance. There are no signs in English, so I have provided a picture of the sign outside the entrance. The ¥2,000 on the sign indicates the cost to use the facility for the whole day. That translates to about $19.

Once you pay this fee, ask them for the English instructions so that you can follow the acceptable procedure. They also give you a “cover” towel (to be discussed later).

First go to a locker area to put away your valuables. You need a ¥100 coin to release the key for the locker. Keep out some coins for the vending machines upstairs. Then go upstairs to the baths by following the signs.

Upstairs you leave your slippers by the entrance to another group of “open” locker baskets where you put your clothes (and your change for the vending machines). After stripping completely, it is now just you and your “cover” towel. The towel is used to cover up your “nonpublic area.”

As you enter the hot spring spa, go to the left to the wash area. Guests are required to be completely clean before bathing in the pools. They supply all your needs: soap, shampoo and rinse. You remove your towel and, facing a wall, sit on a stool and use a shower hose. Make sure to take your time so the Japanese know you are taking this ritual seriously.

Now it is time to relax. Besides the standard sauna and steam room, there is a rainfall (constant water pouring down so you can let it hit your shoulders, back, etc.). Noboribetsu-Onsen is the only place in the world that has 11 different types of water: sulfur, salt, alum, sodium sulfate, gypsum, magnesium sulfate, melanterite, iron, acidic, sodium bicarbonate and radium. You can also bathe outside, since the men and women are totally separated.

I always take a break after about an hour. My favorite vending machine is their ice cream machine. It produces a vanilla cup of the top name in the world for ice cream (starts with an “H”) for ¥350 ($3.40). Then it’s back to the baths.

By the way, the gift shop in the hotel is outstanding. I bought three separate very colorful, round-ball ornaments, which were gift wrapped to take home in great boxes, for a total of about $60 — very unusual!

When you’re done, you dress and make your way back to the bus and the train station. Once back in your own hotel room, you will be totally relaxed (drained) and glad that you made the effort and took the time to enjoy one of the worlds’ best relaxing spas.

STANLEY OSUR
Hawthorne, NJ