During summer, there are many festivals taking place all over Japan. The majority of such festivals have a religious or spiritual touch where gods and/or ancestors are honored with the purpose of giving thanks, offering prayers, or appeasing spirits. Do you know that there is an unusual summer festival taking place in Noboribetsu City (登別市), Hokkaido in August which has to do with the wandering spirits and King of Hell?
On the last Saturday and Sunday of August every year, the Noboribetsu Jigoku Festival (登別地獄まつり / Noboribetsu Hell Festival) takes place at the scenic hot spring town of Noboribetsu in Hokkaido. This is supposedly when the Gates of Hell open, and legend has it that the wandering spirits led by the King of Hell will visit Noboribetsu Onsen during these two days.
In accordance with this belief, there is a parade taking place at Gokuraku-dori (極楽通り) leading to Jigokudani (地獄谷) where students from Noboribetsu City Junior High and locals would carry floats with figures of the ghosts and King of Hell and perform ghost dances amid the lively music. Taiko performances and fireworks displays will also be featured on the last night of the festival. Furthermore, visitors may participate in the mass ghost dance taking place in front of the main festival stage for free.
In contrast to its name supposedly inspiring fear of the supernatural world, the festival is filled with joyous events and festivities!
This 2017, the 54th edition of the Noboribetsu Jigoku Festival will be taking place on 26 and 27 August. Back in July 1951, an Onsen Matsuri (温泉祭り) was held to commemorate the occasion of Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園) being awarded the status of national park. Subsequently, this festival was modified to become the Noboribetsu Jigoku Festival, with the first edition held on 4 September 1964.
Following the renewal recommendations of the tourism board in 1963, the content of the festival was redesigned with changes introduced over the years, such as shortening the festival period to two days from 2004 onwards. The sole exception since then was in 2013 when the festival was held for three days and was brought forward to August due to that year being the 50th edition.
In 2014, the popularity of the festival reached new heights with its collaboration with the anime Hozuki’s Coolheadedness (鬼灯の冷徹), bringing a huge number of fans nationwide just to see the anime’s figures featured on the floats make their way around town. The festival has since grown to become the hot spring city’s signature and largest event where as many as 60,000 people participated in the 2016 edition.
While you are in Noboribetsu for the festivities, don’t miss the other attractions that the city has to offer. Besides relaxing in the warm onsen baths, you will notice that there are numerous ghost or devil figures set up at various locations in the area. These include the 18-meter tall ghost figure at the exit of Hokkaido Expressway’s Noboribetsu-Higashi Interchange which weighs 18 tonnes and the three smaller ghost figures made of stone which you pray to for success in business, love, or studies located within the city.
For those wanting to indulge in nature’s blessings and see beautiful scenery, be sure to check out places like Jigokudani, Noboribetsu Genshirin (登別原始林 / Noboribetsu Virgin Forest), the natural footbath at Ooyunuma River (大湯沼川天然足湯), or Lake Kuttara (倶多楽湖).
If you are traveling with children, you will probably be keen to visit theme parks like Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe (登別マリンパークニクス), or get up close and personal with animals at Noboribetsu Bear Park (のぼりべつクマ牧場).
To get to Noboribetsu Onsen, simply alight at JR Noboribetsu Station and take a taxi or bus for 15 minutes. Once you reach the Noboribetsu Bus Terminal, you would need to walk for another 12 minutes. For those who are driving, the place is a 10-minute ride away after you get off from Hokkaido Expressway at the Noboribetsu-Higashi Interchange.
How about making plans this season to visit Noboribetsu and end your summer vacation on a high amid the supernatural beings at the Noboribetsu Jigoku Festival?