Jigoku Festival (Hell Festival)

DatesLast weekend of August
Contactphone 0143-84-3311
NotesFree parking available
Demon floats
Taiko performance
Demon costume parade
To stay overnight at Noboribetsu onsen , book early.
Location /
Getting There
15 minute bus ride from JR Noboribetsu station
1 hour 30 minute drive from Sapporo

“Yukijin” masked demon

The town of Noboribetsu is famous for its hot spring waters. These waters spring from a rocky, barren, volcanic valley known as “Hell Valley” (Jigokudani) located just north of the onsens. This valley is said to be the gateway to hell and is inhabited by demons. Every summer the door to “hell” is opened with the Jigoku Festival. This festival was first held in 1964 and has continued annually ever since. This lively event, has a fantastic atmosphere and runs over the last weekend of August. At the Jigoku Festival witness the numerous demon floats, dances, the taiko drum performance, the fireworks and the array of costumes worn by locals and tourists alike. The festival sees Enma or Yama (the King of Hell), a giant blue and red ogre, and “yukijin”, masked demons who are the protective guardians of the hot springs, emerge to prowl the streets of Noboribetsu for one weekend.

The iconic center piece of this festival is the giant Demon Mikoshi Gokuraku (shrine) which is a giant demon face upon which stands the demon king. As it proceeds down the street, smoke pours from its mouth and the eyes light up, as it spews forth golden ribbons. A truly impressive sight! Ogre shrines of ‘Enma’ precede the demon shrine and are carried by school kids. Masked ogres dance in groups in honour of the demon king’s visit and local folks perform for the crowds. A colorful fireworks show on the final night, bids the demon king’s farewell until the following year.

The locals really get involved with this festival. There is a huge dance parade in the evening, not only for the locals but for the spectators to join in as well! If you can’t make it, you can still have a demonic encounter at the Demon’s Fireworks ceremony, which is held at Jigokudani Observatory every Thursday and Friday from 20:30. Masked demons carry handheld fireworks – 10-metre high erupting columns of fire reminiscent of Hell Valley’s erupting steam vents and geysers – along the town’s demon footpath.

To get to the festival, you can take the JR train to Noboribetsu. From there it’s a short bus ride to Noboribetsu hot spring. It’s about a 15 minute ride and costs ¥340. Buses run every 15 to 20 minutes, starting at 6:10 and run until 21:15. Trains from Sapporo to Noboribetsu take just over an hour and cost ¥4160 for a round trip. Trains from Sapporo run from 6:36 to 22:00. Trains from Noboribetsu to Sapporo run from 7:26 to 21:47. If you have access to transport, then it’s about a one and a half hour drive. Free parking is available.

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Hokkaido Guide contributor and editor. Keen photographer with a love of travel, the great outdoors and all things Hokkaido, Japan. Matt Holloway is a professional photographer and holds exhibitions around Sapporo, Hokkaido and Sydney Australia.