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Sounkyo Onsen

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Ryusei Waterfalls

Sōunkyō Onsen (層雲峡温泉) [1] is a hot spring resort nestled in the Sōun Gorge (層雲峡 Sōun-kyō) of the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan. It is in the municipal area of Kamikawa town (上川町).

Understand[edit]

Given its location deep in a national park and a name meaning Cloudy Gorge, for many visitors the actual Sounkyo Onsen is a disappointment. The curse of development is indeed evident: the modern town with its multi-storey concrete hotels is an eyesore, and the endless procession of tour groups through the gorge itself doesn't exactly enhance the wonders of nature.

That said, with lowered expectations Sounkyo Onsen does fulfill what it promises: it's first and foremost a hot spring resort, with cool mountain air and steam rising from the vents in the streets, and it's an excellent base for starting (or, better yet, ending) treks through the national park. Much of the center of the town has also been recently landscaped with a fairly pleasant, mildly Swiss-flavored touch.

Get in[edit]

By bus[edit]

The only means of public transport into the gorge is bus or car. Departures to the nearest major city Asahikawa (taking 2 hours, Y1950) and Kamikawa train station(30 minutes, Y800) are fairly frequent.

Get around[edit]

Sounkyo Onsen and its nearby attractions are best covered on foot, although you might want to rent a bicycle for visiting the gorge itself. A cable car runs most of the way up neighboring Mount Kurodake.

See[edit][add listing]

Sounkyo Onsen is known and named after the nearby gorge, which runs for 24 kilometers along the Ishikari River and features some pretty waterfalls and interesting lava formations. The gorge is located to the east of town, an easy walk or bike trip of a few kilometers along a disused highway. Entry is free, so head here early in the morning to beat the tour bus brigade... or just head further down into the gorge, past the few falls frequented by everybody.

  • Ginga Waterfall (銀河の滝 Ginga-no-taki), "Milky Way Falls", is a series of thin, silvery rivulets cascading down the mountainside.
  • Ryusei Waterfall (流星の滝 Ryusei-no-taki), literally "Shooting Star Falls", is a powerful fall seemingly bursting out of solid rock.
  • The gorge has a number of lava tubes and other odd rock formations, many of which look not a little like concrete. Best known are the aptly named Big Box (大箱 Obako) and Small Box (小箱 Kobako), although the path near them is often closed after rain due to the danger of landslides.

Do[edit][add listing]

Hiking[edit]

Curious deer in autumn colors

Sounkyo Onsen is a popular starting point for hikes into the Daisetsuzan National Park. Be sure to stop off at the Visitor Center, next to the cable car station, before heading up.

  • Mount Kurodake (黒岳, 1984m), or "Black Peak", is located immediately to the south of town. For ¥950/1750 one-way/return a cable car takes you from Sounkyo Onsen to the Fifth Station (五合目), while a chair lift will carry you up to the Seventh Station (七合目) at 1740 meters for ¥400/600 one-way/return. From here it's 244 meters vertical and 1.7 kilometers horizontal to the summit. In autumn there is some fairly spectacular autumn foliage to be seen here and you may even spot a deer or two. From the summit, which is watched over by what must surely be one of Japan's most bizarrely placed police boxes, trails to other mountains lead in a number of directions.

Skiing[edit]

  • In wintertime, the Kurodake chair lift serves its original purpose of ferrying skiers up the mountain. Five trips is ¥1,800, while a day pass is ¥3,600.

Hot springs[edit]

If hiking or skiing sounds like too much hard work, try resting your weary bones in one of the many hot springs in town.

  • Kurodake-no-Yu (黒岳の湯) is probably the best of the bunch: a three-story edifice in the center of town, featuring an outdoor rotenburo (suitably protected from prying eyes), an inside bath, a sauna, a (tiny) cold pool and a relaxation room with cold Hokutō Tōgen for sale. All this (excluding the beer) costs ¥600, and if you're staying at the youth hostel you'll get a coupon for ¥100 off.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Eat & Drink[edit]

There are a number of basic restaurants in town.

  • Ajikko Ramen (味っ子ラーメン), in the center of town, serves up a pretty good bowl of noodles. Try their artery-clogging Hokkaido speciality butter ramen!
  • The local microbrew, Hokutō Kōgen Beer (北斗高原ビール), is the perfect thirst-quencher after lolling about in hot water for an hour or two.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There is no shortage of fancy hot spring accommodation in towns, but fortunately there's one pretty good budget option as well.

Budget[edit]

  • Sounkyo Youth Hostel (層雲峡ユースホステル). Tel. 016-58-53418, [2]. A popular youth hostel perched above the main town, a 5-minute walk up a winding road from the ropeway station. A bed for the night costs ¥2,940. Open only from June 1st to October 31st!

Stay safe[edit]

While there are bears in the surrounding Daisetsuzan National Park, they're generally smart enough to stay far away from town.



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