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onsen is a free, open air, and mixed hot spring.
It is in a little gorge half way up a cliff. The water is coming right out of the cliff, and a bath has been made in the rock. The water is extremely hot, but there is a bucket so it is possible to mix in some cold river water.
There are no rooms to undress in, nor is there any place to put the clothes, except on the bare rocks.
Kunbetsu onsen is pretty difficult to find. Form Naka-Shibetsu town, take route 224 towards Shari town. After passing the dirt road on the left leading to Kawakita onsen, continue a little further until you see a little parking place on the left side of the road. On the right side there should be a dirt road. Go down this dirt road. After quite some driving on the dirt road, you will reach a point where it looks like the dirt road turns into an ordinary road. The ordinary road will be on your right side, but continue straight ahead on the dirt road past the ordinary road. When you get to a little bridge called Yu-no-bashi turn left and continue until the dirt road ends. Kunbetsu onsen is down in the little gorge on your left.
When I went to Hokkaido on my Harley in the summer of 1995, I did not know about Kunbetsu onsen. Some people whom I met at Tomuraushi onsen told me that there was a hot spring in this area. When I got there I drove around looking for signs saying "Great hot spring. This direction." I never saw a sign like that, so I decided to seek advice from the locals. The village I was driving around in was very small, but I found a little post office. I went inside and saw a clerk who looked like he didn't have anything better to do than give me directions to the hot spring. I asked him if he knew about a free, open air hot spring in this area. He looked very confused, but then suddenly his eyes lit up. He pulled out a copy of a hand drawn map showing how to get to Kunbetsu onsen and gave me directions. I guess it is not the first time someone has asked for directions at that post office.
Only a narrow dirt road leads to the hot spring. It had rained the day I went there, and I did have some difficulties getting there on my Harley. There was only one guy there when I arrived. As I was undressing, he got out and started putting on his clothes. I put in my big toe to try out the water, and it nearly got boiled. The water was so hot I was sure I would never be able to get in. The guy who was now fully dressed showed me were there was a bucket with a rope so I could pull up some cold river water and mix it in. I tried this, but there was a big hole in the bucket. When I finally got the bucket up, the water had run out. The guy helped me, but it was not of much use. I asked the guy to take some photos of me sitting next to the bath pretending to take a bath. When I pulled out my Olympus camera, the guy got very surprised and happy. It turned out that he was working for Olympus, and had been on the team who designed that camera. He had done a good job.
As I had put my clothes back on, another guy showed up and undressed. I told him about the extremely hot water, but he probably just thought I was an ordinary foreigner not used to Japanese HOT springs. I think he changed his mind, because he got out of the hot spring just as fast as he got in. He said something about the real Japanese he was, so he jumped in again and managed to stay for about 2 seconds before he jumped out again red as a boiled lobster.
Apart from the extremely hot water in Kunbetsu onsen I rate this hot spring as one of the best I have ever been to. It is free, open air, mixed, and lies in a beautiful little gorge. I am now trying to get used to extremely hot water with the sole purpose of getting in Kunbetsu onsen next time I am in Hokkaido.
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