The Japanese islands are volcanic islands. The land is blessed with rich hot springs and there are many places where you can see the actual spring gushing forth. One such place is Iozan mountain, the source of Kawayu Onsen in Hokkdaido. The highlight is undoubtedly its bare rock surface which looks as if painted over with fluorescent yellow. In this grand scale landscape you feel like you’ve escaped the Earth and arrived on a different planet. Enjoy it together with the blessing of the famous hot spring Kawayu Onsen!
Kawayu Onsen is a hot spring town located between Kussharo lake and Mashu lake. The spring water is strongly acidic and thus said to be good for the skin because of its bactericidal effect. If you put a nail and leave it there for 10 days, it will dissolve completely. Exactly because of this reason the water is unfit for circulation pipes and all the hot springs in the town are flowing freely. Kawayu Onsen was announced a “naturally flowing hot spring” in 2004 by Japan Gensen Kakenagashi Onsen Association, thus becoming a truly famous hot spring in the north. Should you happen to drive nearby, be sure to stop just for a short dip, or even just for a footbath.
There is a large roofed footbath in the center of Kawayu Onsen which can be enjoyed also during light rain or snow. It is open 24 hours per day. Behind the footbath, in front of the Kawayu Eco Museum Center you can find a public parking lot that is useful if you want to stop and soak your feet for a while. In the Kawayu Eco Museum Center you can learn more about the town or the walking trails leading to Iozan, so be sure to stop by if you have time.
From Kawayu Onsen to Iozan
What you should definitely do if you have free time is to walk along the nature trails that lead from Kawayu Onsen to Iozan. After a short walk in a forest of spruce trees and white birches typical for northeast Hokkaido, the trail enters the fields of Tsutsujigahara. Just like the name suggests, around mid-June the fields are covered with the white flowers of wild rosemary. Even if you don’t have time to walk, you can still see the seasonal white flowers along the road to Iozan from your car.
Drive from Kawayu Onsen to Iozan and you will notice a gradual change of the landscape, eventually culminating in the view of Iozan mountain’s rocky surface releasing clouds of smoke. In native Ainu language the mountain is called “atosa-nupuri”, where “atosa” means naked and “nupuri” means mountain. In other words, it is known as the Naked Mountain, and there are many other mountains in Hokkaido whose names include “nupuri”, making them sound foreign.
Clouds of smoke and smell of sulfur are drifting in the air. Perhaps it is only Japanese people accustomed to the hot springs culture and some particular tribes who find the smell of sulfur pleasant. That smell, the smoke and the fluorescent yellow spots on the rocky surface look like a danger signal to the rational mind. In fact, it is mainly Japanese and Taiwanese visitors who approach the vents to explore them.
There is also a 50-meter deep trace of a crater known as “the bear trap”, because the Ainu people used to chase and trap bears at that place. At present, Iozan’s summit is closed to visitors, but the yellow rocks can be seen from a close distance.
In the rest house nearby there is an exhibition related to Iozan which you can examine while taking a short rest.
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