By Chris Barnes
Apart from snow and onsens (hot springs), another of the natural gifts that the Niseko area has been blessed with is an abundance of mineral drinking water springs. The many meters of snow that blanket the slopes of Mount Youtei every winter don't all melt away with the warm spring weather, a large portion of it is soaked up by the mountain itself, percolating and filtering through the rock before bursting out of its base some 50 to 100 years after falling as precipitation.
These gushing springs dot the base of the mountain, and like onsens and ski slopes, the locals all have their favorites. For the sheer beauty of its surroundings, this local has picked the springs at Kyogoku as his go-to source of mineral water. Set in the beautiful surrounds of Fukudashii Park, the water flows out of a moss covered outcrop at the base of Mount Youtei at a very impressive rate of 80,000 tonnes a day. The park is 9 kilometers away from Kutchan along route 478 and very easy to spot on the right hand side of the road if coming from that direction.
Open all year round (the spring stays at a constant 10 degrees Celsius, so doesn't freeze in winter) the park is a fun trip for visitors to Niseko. A nice range of outdoor stalls selling tasty local wares line the path from the parking lot down to the springs and many of these sell the all important 20 litre plastic tanks to you to fill to the brim with the delicious tasting water. “Delicious tasting water?” you might quizzically ask, doesn't water taste, well, like water? I used to be skeptical of these claims myself but can really say it does have a really nice, ever so slightly bitter soda water type taste. And in a nation very fond of making lists, Kyogoku water found its way into the illustrious Top 100 tasty waters of Japan list.
The area where the spring emerges from the mountain is beautifully maintained and forms a large lake full of freshwater carp. The lake then flows through a wooded area via a windy stream before emptying into an even larger lake on the outskirts of the park. If you follow the flow of the water you will find your way to the trailhead of one of the hiking courses to the top of Youtei itself, and if you look across the lake to the other side of the road you will spot two more great features that make a visit to the park a great day out. Kyogoku Onsen with its refreshing citrus scented water is a great spot to relax arms and shoulders tired from lugging tanks of water is one, and the other is the fantastic Zaru soba shop that uses the chilly waters to make some very tasty noodles. Throw in the huge children's play area and you have a great place for families to relax (and rehydrate).
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I was born and raised in London, UK and developed the travel bug from a very early age on regular family trips to the English countryside. After graduating from university I worked as a wildlife biologist and was lucky enough to find jobs that let me live for extended periods of time in the Bahamas and Canadian Rockies. I came to Japan on a bit of a whim 8 years ago, expecting a fairly short stay; however, I quickly fell in love with the place and settled down with a beer in hand in Hakodate on the southern tip of Hokkaido. After my son was born I moved to Niseko and have stayed here ever since. Unlike 99% of visitors to this part of Japan I harbor an intense hatred of snow and live for the glorious Hokkaido summers and working on my BBQ skills.