定山渓 Jozankei – Onsen Day Trip

Apart from our first night at Chitose Airport, we hadn’t been to an onsen during the month in Hokkaido. We had discovered that there was a nearby onsen resort town called Jozankei (定山渓). The first time we heard about this place was through the lovely green mascot below.

the Jozankei kappa mascot

That cute green mascot, my friends, is a kappa. Kappas are supernatural frogs of Japanese folklore. This particular kappa is using her powers of cuteness to reel in customers to the Jozankei onsen area. Just look at the wooden tub that she has to carry around with her to protect her modesty.

We were thinking of going to a different onsen resort town near Sapporo called Noboribetsu.  However, going out to Noboribetsu involved an overnight stay if we really wanted to fully experience the town. Also, this being our last week in Sapporo, our budget was not accommodating another overnight stay elsewhere.

On board the Jotetsu bus to Jozankei

Jozankei is accessible by public transit out of Sapporo Station. The Chuo Bus terminal is attached to the JR Station and a bus there goes straight up to Jozankei in about 60 minutes.  The bus is called the Kappa Bus Liner. We bought a special ticket that packaged the price of the bus ride and admission to one of the many onsens in Jozankei. We bought the ticket at the ticket window at the bus station. The bus we took was a regular city bus with regular seating. No cushy seats on the ride up. It was also a bit of milk run heading up to the mountain area of Jozankei.

When we arrived at Jozankei, we got off at the second last stop on the bus route and walked over to the Yunohana Onsen. This was the onsen we had picked out from the list of onsens that participated in the Kappa Bus Liner special. It was a large two storey building that backed onto the mountainside behind it. It had a giant, sloping roof that dominated the building.

Yunohana Onsen

Outside the giant onsen, we were greeted by a statue family of otters. Papa and Mama otter are both holding towels over key parts. Papa’s towel says welcome and Mama’s towel says thank you. Poor Baby otter had the dismal misfortune of having a sticker bearing the Jozankei name all over it slapped on below her belly.

Papa, Mama, and Baby Otter onsen mascots

Just like all onsens, there are men and women’s sections. We first had to deposit our shoes into shoe lockers near the front door. Then we checked in and grabbed our onsen garb, a plain and simple light green frock for the men and a light pink one for the women. In the men’s section, there was the changing area before heading all nude into the bathing area. In the indoor section, there was the bathing/shower stalls, the sauna, the steam room, a very hot soaking bath, a jet, whirlpool bath, a super cold bath, and a sitting area with hot water streaming down the back of the seats. There was also the outdoor section. There was a view of the mountain that the onsen backed upon. Outside, there was a shallow kid-friendly soaker tub, two very hot soaker baths surrounded by rocks, and a “sleeping” bath where one could rest inside a cool and dark room with heads just out of the water. There were also two big cauldrons, as I call them, that individuals could monopolize and soak their worries away.

The relax hall at Yunohana Onsen

After about an hour or so of soaking in the onsen, the wife and I met up in the large common area on the second floor. The relax hall, as it was called, was very large and explained what was hiding under the gigantic roof. There were tables for dozens of people to relax at. There were no chairs available. Everyone just sat on the floor. TV’s were lined up by the windows for people who wanted to watch the news or some other TV program. Some people were just laying down on the floor on napping. Others were munching on food that could be purchased from the kitchen that was a part of the relax hall. Off to one end, were private relaxation rooms for rent. There were also massages available for an extra charge in one of the rooms.

My wife and I probably spent an hour in the relax room just chatting or dozing off. It’s a wonderful feeling to have the heat of the onsen almost radiating from one’s body while in a cool room. The feeling is just very conducive to napping.

Lobby and snack area of Yunohana Onsen

After the rest, we headed back into our respective sides for another session of soaking. That was about another hour. So after about 3 hours, it was time to depart. We had to go and catch the next Kappa Bus Liner back into Sapporo. As we were leaving we spotted a different bus parked outside the onsen. This was the Yunohana Onsen free shuttle bus. Apparently, this bus went to one of the Sapporo Subway Stations. Maybe this would have been the cheaper way up to Jozankei. I’m not sure. I’d have to do the math over again. However, there’s no mistaking this bus with the cute little otter mascot splashed all over the side.

Yunohana Onsen shuttle bus

We had already paid for the Kappa Bus Liner. So we walked over to the Jotetsu Bus loop. When we checked the schedule, we found out that the next bus coming was actually the express bus back into Sapporo. Lucky us. No milk run on the way back into town.

Jotetsu bus loop in Jozankei

“Jozankei shako mae” – literally means “in front of the Jozankei depot”

Our bus finally arrived. Aha! It wasn’t the regular Jotetsu city bus taking us back. It was more of a highway coach decorated with Kappa Bus Liner adwrap. The seats inside were also highway coach style with headrests sporting the Kappa Bus Liner mascot (none other than a cartoon kappa).

the Kappa Bus Liner express bus

Kappa Bus Liner seats

The whole ride down back into Sapporo, I think there were less than 10 of us on the bus. I could have had two seats to myself easily. Funny enough, there was a young family of four on the bus with us and they were speaking Cantonese. What a small world it is when travelling?

the kappa wishing fountain in Jozankei

On the way down, we passed by the kappa wishing fountain where people can, not only take pictures with the two stone kappa spewing water, but also make a wish. Our wish was pretty much fulfilled in visiting Jozankei and spending a few hours in a hot, relaxing onsen.

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