(Hokkaido part III)
From Sapporo one has easy access to the south-western part of the island, which is the most densely populated part of Hokkaido. Here there are some beautiful places to visit, inside a circle of two-three hours drive. During my Hokkaido trip I was based in Sapporo all three weeks. This means lots of driving to be able to see other places. Instaed of doing what I did, I would recommend though the visitor to move around and every 2-3 days to stay at a different place.
In this page I will try to give some interesting information of the places I visited outside Sapporo and its suburbia.
The Jozankei Onsen is the closest attraction to Sapporo and an easy to do day trip. Jozankei Onsen, a small village that owes its existence to the hot springs of the area, is built in a gorge formed by Toyohira River, some 40 kilometers on the southwest of Sapporo. Toyohira River is the main river that runs thru central Sapporo and a tributary of the Ishikari River. There are 56 hot springs in the Jozankei spa resort. Most of them are concentrated in the vicinity of Tsukimibashi bridge and Takayamabasi bridge of the Toyohira river running the spa resort areas. Hot spring is abundantly gushing out from crannies of bedrocks in the riverbank and in the bottom of the river.
At first glance, Jozankei Onsen looks unattractive to foreign visitors. The picturesque gorge is overwhelmed by huge and ugly hotels located into the lavish green of the Sapporo landscape. These are onsen ryokan (hotels with hot spring baths) that attract mainly the people from Sapporo because of its proximity. Japanese are obsessed with onsen, which gives Jozankai its popularity. But after a little stroll in the area you really feel its serenity and unusual beauty. Visit the area around autumn to enjoy fall foliage colors.
The history of Jozankei Onsen
The history of Jozankei Hot Springs dates back to 1866, when Miizumi Jozan, an ascetic monk, discovered the hot springs and opened a healing spa in upper Toyohira River. Jozan cut through the forest to develop the land and put a great amount of work into bringing injured and sick people to the spa for healing. Eventually his enthusiasm led up to building bridges and roads, and little by little the spa’s reputation spread out. When the industry of mining and lumbering arose, and many workers arrived into the area, restaurants and shops started to increase in number. In 1918, Toyoha Mine opened and Jozankei Railroad was laid, crossing 29.9km between Shiroishi village and Jozankei. Thereafter, the area, blessed with splendid nature and bountiful waters continued to grow into one of the finest hot spring spas in Hokkaido.
The Kappa legend
Walking around the area, visitors will notice many statues dedicated to a mythical creature, Kappa. Fairy tale kappa statues which are seen everywhere in the hot spring town are based on ideas given by residents of Sapporo and made by sculptors from both inside and outside of Hokkaido. A kappa (river-child) is an amphibious yōkai demon found in traditional Japanese folklore. They are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their backs. A depression on its head, called its "dish" (sara), retains water, and if this is damaged or its liquid is lost (either through spilling or drying up), the kappa is severely weakened. Kappon (a childish looking kappa) is the mascot of Jozankei Onsen.
There is a “legend of Kappa” in Jozankei hot springs, and here is its origins: Until the Choshiguchi hydroelectric power plant was built in 1908, the water flow of the Toyohira River was big enough to wash out logs (for straight-grained boards) of the interior of the mountain down the river. There were also many big river fishes inhabited everywhere in the deep channels. Around that time, there was a young boy, named a Mr. Seyama, who was working for road works. When he was fishing by one of the deep pools of the river, all of a sudden, he was sucked down into the bottom of the river, even though he did not miss his footing. Villagers who were working to wash out the logs down the river saw the boy being sucked into the river, and immediately jumped into the river to try to rescue him. But the river was so deep that they could not rescue him, and at the end the days passed without being able to find the boy. A year later, on the night of the first memorial service for the boy, the young boy appeared in his father’s dream and said, “I am living happily with a water goblin wife and a child.” The most handsome boy in the village was probably charmed by the goblin wife living in the river. Since then, the area has been called as the goblin’s pool, and there has been no one who goes missing.
Iwato Kannon-do Temple
Iwato Kannon-do Temple  is a solemn space with 33 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The Iwato Kannon-do is dedicated to the spirits of many people who gave their lives to the construction of the highway connecting Otaru and Jozankei, the second toll road in Japan, and was built also to pray for traffic safety. Once a year, the “Iwato Kannon-do Festival” is held here, attracting a lot of spectators.
Enter the little red-roofed temple and at the right-back corner of it open a door to enter the cave (rather a long narrow corridor) with the statues of Kannon. There is also an adjacent to the temple room where the visitor can see old photographs of Jōzankei on display.
Just next to Iwato Kannon-do Temple there is a small covered hot spring. This is the Hot Water of Longevity and Health of the Foot Massage . Here you can enjoy a footbath and get healthy. Massaging soles of your feet with pebbles at the bottom of the bathtub makes your body warm.
Between Hot Water of Longevity and the temple starts a trail going up to Mt.Asahidake (598m).
It is time to have a revitalizing tea/coffee and a tasty flaky pastry. Just some meters down on the main road leading to Tsukimi bridge there is the cozy "J・glacee" café . The perfect place to rest while looking out of the window people passing by. I recommend a strong cup of coffee and a delicious apple pie topped with a scoop of the famous Hokkaido ice cream.
Futami Jozan Road
Walk a block down the main street and turn right towards Futami Park  located on the north bank of the Toyohira river and the Futami Jozan Trail . Futami Jozan trail is a natural walking path that starts at Futami Park and after passing over the bright red suspension bridge (Futami Tsuribashi suspension bridge)  continues on the southern bank. “Kappa buchi” , a big green Kappa statue, welcomes the visitor at the beginning of the trail in Futami park. The walking trail is closed for winter.
Jozankei Gensen Park
Come back to the main road. Going south on the main town road and after crossing Tsukimi bridge , which offers wonderful vistas all over the gorge, the visitor sees Jozan Gensen Park  on his left hand. The park was opened to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Miizumi Jozan, the founder of Jozankei Hot Springs. In the park, there is a statue of the founder along with foot spas and places where you can boil eggs in the water of the Jozankei hot springs (Onsen Tamago Hot Springs).