I’ve spent a lot of the past week or so driving around Kumamoto prefecture to see the changing leaves. Yes, I am totally be a foliage fanatic – my gluttony for fiery maples and golden ginkgo leaves knows no boundaries this year, it seems. 🙂 All of that driving has taken me through a lot of towns with decorated manhole covers. And I have to say, there are an awful lot of flower-decorated sewers out there. It’s getting to be a bit boring.
Noboribetsu Onsen, on the other hand, really knows how to make a splash (umm, pun somewhat intended) with their design:
Yes, that’s correct – you’re seeing a bear and a demon (oni) sitting together in a hot springs (onsen).
At least the town is playing to its two major tourist draws. One is the – in my opinion, rather deplorable – Noboribetsu Bear Park, where nearly 150 bears live in concrete enclosures and beg for food from visiting tourists. As one who is not terribly fond of zoos to begin with, it wasn’t exactly the happiest of experiences for me, though it provided one of the only opportunities for us to see a Hokkaido brown bear without hitting the wilderness.
The other main draw of the town is much more preferable – the hot springs that are “fueled” by Hokkaido’s volcanic activity. Just outside of town, you can see the “hells”, an arid area of rocks and small pools where steam is constantly released from vents in the ground and the smell of sulfur permeates the air. In keeping with the hells theme, the mascot of the town is the oni and you can find statues of these demons everywhere in town. There is even a daily performance by a mechanical statue that will change from a lord into an oni right before your eyes. My daughter thought it was great. Come in the summertime though and by far the best oni experience is the fireworks performance, where a dozen or so locals dress up as red and blue demons and dance around with massive sparklers. If you’re in town on a Friday or Saturday, it’s not to be missed.