Kawayu onsen   川湯温泉

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An ashiyu (foot bath) in Kawayu river

A souvenir shop selling carved wooden items in Kawayu Onsen

A carved wooden bear from Hokkaido

Street lamps that look like birch tree trunks in Kawayu Onsen

Sulfurous beauty in Hokkaido

For explorers, or just those tired of the urban jungle, Kawayu Onsen is the place to go to heal the body and spirit alike. Whether visiting in summer or winter, you'll leave with great memories - in your mind as well as your suitcase!

Kawayu Onsen is located on Hokkaido Island, in Akan Mashu National Park between Kussharo Lake and Mashu Lake. Careful - there is also a Kawayu Onsen in Wakayama prefecture, where a natural hot spring flows into the Kumano River, don't confuse the two, because the climates are very different!

Discover: Akan Mashu National Park

Sulphurous Kawayu

Kawayu means "hot river" in the Ainu language. And indeed, in Hokkaido's Kawayu Onsen, a river of hot water runs through the village. Don't be fooled, this charming little stream isn't as innocent as it looks! The water is very acidic, with a pH of 1.7, which can dissolve a nail in just 2 weeks. So don't get careless when bathing, even if this water is very effective for skin conditions. Don't forget to remove all jewellery, gold or silver, which can quickly change color due to oxidation. This is because the river water comes from nearby volcano Iozan, located 2.5km away.

Sulfur mining took place here from the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912) until 1963. In 1930, the JR Senmo railway line passed by and Kawayu Station was opened (now Kawayu Onsen Station). In 1934, the Akan National Park was named, which then became Akan-Mashu. Today it has become a starting point for local tourism, attracting people all year round. Previously, because of the large amount of snow, the tourist season was only possible in summer, but visitors are now welcome all year round.

A sulphurous fumarole at Mt Io.

Welcoming Kawayu

At the heart of this spa town, a dozen accommodations await you, along with restaurants and souvenir shops that aren't to be missed, as the local crafts are beautiful. The works of carved wood are remarkable, and you'll definitely want to take something home with you, even just a simple wooden cup or spoon. Or splash out on wooden bead jewellery, an Ainu mask or a Hokkaido bear figure.

To learn more about the region and its customs, we recommend visiting the Kawayu Eco Museum (open from 8am to 5pm, closed on Wednesdays). Also housing the tourist office, you will find all the information you need there. If you're interested in hiking to Mount Iozan, activities on Lake Kussharo, the opportunity to meet the famous Japanese tancho (red-crowned cranes), or rent equipment (boots, windbreaker, snowshoes...) you're in the right place.

In summer, the greenery is very pleasant and the natural scenery is beautiful. In winter, the area is famous for the phenomenon of "Diamond Dust", ice crystals that flutter and sparkle in clean air when the temperature is below -10°c.

Waiting for the train...

It's annoying to miss a train of course, but sometimes it's possible to find an upside. In Kawayu Onsen station, this is the case. And even if you're lost in the middle of the countryside, you could probably spend hours meditating in this calm space in the midst of the incredible nature surrounding you. It's not advisable to miss too many trains here though, because only 6 per day go to Kushiro, and 5 in the opposite direction to Abashiri.

A train arriving at Kawayu Onsen station

The small station is unmanned, but it's home to an historic treasure, the former imperial family's reception hall, dating back to 1936. The atmosphere of the period is immediately obvious when you enter and is delightful, especially in such an unexpected place. It has been kept in good shape by becoming the Orchard Grass Café, where you can take the time to live to the rhythm of the air of Hokkaido. And there's even an ashiyu in the station to warm your feet on cold winter days.

There are definitely worse places to wait for a train...

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