Within Japan, Hokkaido is known for its unique, vast natural landscape. Fittingly, there are also numerous Onsen (Japanese hot springs) equally unique – ranging from outdoor baths where you can enjoy spectacular views, spots that will make you feel like a local, all the way to Onsen that features unique spring qualities found nowhere else. In this article, we will introduce 8 Onsen facilities, covering the entire area of Hokkaido, from North to South, East to West. To help us with this selection, we have enlisted the help of a local Onsen expert.
Photo: The snowy winter scene at Niseko Yumoto Onsen Yukichichibu. While the amount of people allowed to enter at a time is limited, it is definitely worth the wait!
Hokkaido is an Onsen paradise, where you can enjoy a bath while taking in beautiful natural surroundings or a dip in water that features truly unique properties. We will attempt to cover this excellent array of facilities, including those that feature a large variety of spring qualities in addition to small Onsen beloved by locals. Providing us with our selection is Sato Tsutomu, one of only 5 Onsen Sommelier Instructors in Japan. These Instructors hold classes and appear in seminars, including providing lectures for the roughly 20,000 people in Japan holding the Onsen Sommelier qualification. This qualification is given to those passing the corresponding test given by the Onsen Sommelier Association and indicates thorough knowledge about everything to do with Japanese hot springs, from proper bathing manner to the mineral qualities of the bathwater. As an Instructor, Sato is considered one of the leading Onsen experts in Japan.
The first facility we want to introduce, Toyotomi Onsen Fureai Center, is located about a 10-minute drive from Toyotomi Town in Northern Hokkaido. Sato explains: “The water here has extremely unique properties, as it includes petroleum components that have an excellent moisturizing effect. It is said to be highly effective in curing skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, with some doctors even recommending it as a form of medical treatment. As such, it attracts a large number of visitors from all over Japan.”
The next spot on our list brings us to Southern Hokkaido. Shiriuchi Onsen Utopia Warakuen is located about 1-hour by car from Hakodate City, and is known for being the oldest Onsen facility in Hokkaido, boasting a history of over 800 years. Featuring water properties known as one of the “three beauties of the spring” in Japan, the hydrogen carbonate spring has the effect of removing dead skin cells. Moving along, Noboribetsu Onsen Dai-ichi Takimotokan, located a 20-minute drive from Noboribetsu City, features 35 baths as part of a massive 5000 square meter facility. Furthermore, here you can enjoy 5 separate spring qualities at once. “Outfitted with massive panoramic glass, you can enjoy an incredible view while taking your bath – regardless of the season. However, I particularly recommend visiting in the middle of October, when the fall foliage is at its peak. Combined with the snow nestled atop the nearby mountains, it makes for a spectacular view” says Sato. A relaxing bath while enjoying a breathtaking view – here you will have the perfect Onsen experience.
For our next showcase, we go to Niseko Town in Central Hokkaido. About 20 minutes from the town’s center lies Niseko Yumoto Onsen Yukichichibu, which also features one of the aforementioned “three beauties of the spring”, being a sulfur spring. “With nearby Ooyunuma as its source, the Onsen has gray mud-like bathwater containing a skin-beautifying property called fango. Furthermore, sulfur springs break down melanin and are therefore said to have the effect of whitening the skin”, explains Sato. The women’s outside bath has a special tub storing the mud, where you can also enjoy clay packs. Our next stop, Yumoto Yukomanso, is located about 40 minutes by car from Biei Town. The water at this Onsen comes from 5 separate sources and thus features excellent spring quality. Being inside the national park at the foot of Daisetsuzan, you can enjoy a large variety of alpine plants in and around the facility.
Finally, we head to Hokkaido’s East. At about a 20-minute drive from Obihiro City, Tokachigawa Onsen Sasai Hotel features a so-called “moor hot spring”, which is technically an alkaline spring that includes hummus derived from plants. “Registered as a Hokkaido Heritage, this Onsen features natural moisturizing properties”, adds Sato. Moving on, Shiobetsu Tsurutsuru Onsen is also known for its skin-beautifying properties, featuring a pH of 9.5, among the highest in Hokkaido. It is located about 50 minutes by car from Kitami City. “The word “tsurutsuru” in Japanese refers to silky smooth skin, which is what you can expect after a dip at this Onsen!” says Sato. On the other hand of the spectrum, the water at Kinkiyu Hotel’s hot spring has a pH of 1.73 and is strongly acidic – so strong, in fact, that a nail is said to melt and disappear if it soaks in the water for 2 weeks. The facility is located about 1 hour from Abashiri City and is known for its disinfecting spring quality.
The 8 total Onsen we introduced in this article will take you through the vast land of Hokkaido. Wherever you may be traveling to within Hokkaido, be sure to refer to our guide to find the perfect facility for you to relax in – whether you care about certain spring qualities or want that perfect view while taking a bath.
Born in 1964 in Tokyo, he is the only Onsen Sommelier Instructor currently residing in Hokkaido. He is one of only 5 Instructors in Japan and is thus licensed to hold seminars and award qualifications for the Onsen Sommelier Association. A frequent television and radio guest in Hokkaido, he is also known by his nickname “Tom-san”.