Dynasty Travel: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Day 4 (Part 1)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Day 4's itinerary:
Jigokudani Hell Valley (地狱谷) --> Ainu (アイヌ民族) Village --> Asahiyama Zoo --> Asahikawa Ramen Village
Day 4 saw us moving off from Lake Toya into Noboribetsu (登別), which is famous for its hot springs. Our first stop in the morning was Jigokudani also known as "Hell Valley". We were warned on the bus about the sulphur stink by our tour guide Ms Reikko. Shortly after she warned us, we knew we were near and arriving when that sulphur stink hit us even in our tour bus!

When doing my homework prior to the trip, I was already warned that some people may not be able to take the sulphur stink. And since both my mum and I suffer from really sensitive noses, we did think to pack in some masks. Unfortunately, silly us forgot to bring it along. Thankfully, the smell was still bearable even though it did smell a little like rotten eggs.

Jigokudani is a majestic display of sulphurous streams and hot steam vents. Honestly, while walking along the trails, I was desperately trying to recall what I had learnt about volcanic activities just so I could explain a little to my parents.
One of the walking trails in Jigokudani brought us down into the valley where we were able to view some of the sulphur streams and hot stream vents in closer proximity. I later learnt that Jigokudani is also the main source of Noboribetsu's hot springs.
You have to be careful on the wooden walking trail though, especially if you have older folks with you. It can get slippery or you could also trip on one of those wooden strips (ironically) put there for traction. One of our tour group members got injured trying to rescue an elderly Japanese lady from falling. Thankfully, it wasn't anything serious; he declined medical attention and the swelling in his wrist subsided after a few hours.
I was really impressed with the barren majesty of Jigokudani. So were my parents. They felt that with the stink, the heat and the barren vastness, its name of "Hell Valley" was super appropriate. It was again a pity that we could not dwell longer, as I was told by a Japanese that there were geysers, a pool and even a natural hot spring foot-bath further along the walking trail. He had offered to show us the way but we were all disappointed when I had to explain that we already had to head back to our tour bus.
Love the friendliness and graciousness of the Japanese though! 
Next stop of the day, the Ainu Village.
Our tour guide, Ms Reikko, had emphasised that we needed to be prompt leaving Jigokudani as she wanted us to catch the Ainu Cultural show. So again, once we arrived, we were very quickly ushered along by our tour guide and tour leader to a thatched hut where the show was held.
There were at least 3 other tour groups there by the time we were seated; a Korean group, a Thai group and one from Taiwan. Our emcee (picture above), spoke mainly in Japanese which was then translated by the various tour guides. Once in a while though, he would break out into Korean, Thai or Mandarin. I was super impressed when he could crack jokes in these different languages and get all of us to laugh along.
The Ainu are the indigenous people of Northern Japan, and the emcee did an amazing job of trying to explain some aspects of traditional Ainu life. The Cultural Show also depicted traditional Ainu folk dances, songs and mouth harp demonstrations. I admit, I got a little bored towards the end of the show.
As soon as we were out of the thatched hut, I spotted a little café and hurried in before anyone could stop me. We could not tour the village after the Cultural Show as again, we had to rush to the next destination, so I knew I had to be fast at the café. One of my best decision made! The baked/pan-fried pumpkin pancake I ordered was most heavenly! My apologies, no picture as I was being hassled off but it is really not to be missed if you ever get there!
On our way out, we passed by some cages where bears and the Hokkaido Hound was kept. It was explained that these animals were sacred to the Ainu people, hence their presence in the Ainu Village.
However, I thought it was pitiful that these huge animals were confined in cages that I considered small for their size. I don't blame them for being listless, and I was actually a little irritated with the aunties in our tour group who were trying to get their attention. It kind of didn't make sense to me that they were so miserably confined if these were supposed to be sacred animals to the Ainu. In fact, I know of a few friends who probably would not hesitate to call this animal abuse if they had been there with me.
Lunch was at this seafood market-cum-restaurant that's next to the Pacific Ocean. Seriously great view while dining, although I admit, I only realised it much later myself. I was too excited with the market and later my food!
Although it is mainly a seafood place, you can also pick up other produce such as fruits, vegetables and other dried stuff. However, what captivated me the most was the seafood section. I simply love my seafood and my parents knew I was terribly excited to order extra seafood to go along with our meal.
These pictures are merely a small sample of what you can find at the market - king crabs, scallops, prawns, whelks, etc. I was just simply spoilt for choice of fresh seafood!
This basket was what we picked up to add on to our lunch - a king crab, 2 whelks and 2 scallops.
Then I got greedy and added some prawns, hence the need for a second picture! LOL!
Once you are ready with your choices, send your basket to the counter where they will be prepared. Meanwhile, while the chefs wash and chop up your seafood, make your way to the second level which overlooks the ocean, and get ready for a feast!
This was the seafood hotpot that the tour had arranged for us. The hotpot was made all the more exciting when our seafood order was delivered.
I tried all the seafood both sashimi-style and boiled in the hotpot. The seafood was so fresh and sweet! Either way, it was finger-licking good. Suffice to say, I was in a seafood induced coma at the end of our lunch. I didn't think any of us minded though. It was pure seafood heaven, especially for a seafood lover like me!
Tourist Information:
Noboribetsu Tourist Association Official website: http://www.noboribetsu-spa.jp/
Jigokudani Hell Valley
Address: Noboribetsu Onsencho, Noboribetsu 059-0551, Hokkaido
Ainu Village
Address: 2-3-4 Wakakusacho, Shiraoi-gun, Shiraoi-cho 059-0902, Hokkaido
Operating Hours: 8:45 am to 5 pm
Closed from 29 December to 5 January
Entrance fees:  800 yen

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