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If you want to see how many Japanese people prefer to relax and vacation on the cheap, this is the place to go. Noboribetsu Onsen is Hokkaido's most famous spa. The town claims that some 34,300 gallons of geothermally heated water are pumped out every hour, making it the most prodigious hot spring in Asia. Not a quaint little hot-spring town, Noboribetsu caters to Japanese-style onsen tourism (i.e.,
soak, eat, soak, get drunk, soak, carouse, canoodle, soak), meaning services are limited once you step outside your hotel. The hotels are good, but the town is basically tourist shops; come here expecting good hot water and conveyer-belt-style Japanese service.
Nibutani is one of the last places in Hokkaido with a sizable Ainu population—or at least part Ainu, as few pure-blooded Ainu are left. The...