Owakudani: The Great Boiling Valley

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Thanks to Bloggiesta, I’ve been motivated to finally finish writing up some of the travel posts that have been wasting away in my drafts folder. I thought I’d start with one of the highlights of my trip to the Hakone area last fall: the “great boiling valley” of Owakudani.

One of the best ways to see Hakone is to do the “round course,” circling the area with five different means of transport (train, cablecar, ropeway, boat and bus), using the Hakone Free Pass. The course starts and ends in Hakone-Yumoto and takes at least a few hours to complete—but if you want to actually enjoy any of the attractions, I’d recommend budgeting most of a day.

One of my favorite parts of the round course was the cable car from Sounzan to Togendai via Owakudani. From the descriptions in various guidebooks, I wasn’t really expecting much, but as soon as we began our descent across the valley, I found the scenery simply breathtaking. We could see the plumes wafting up from below and even the bright yellow marks of sulfur on the ground below, making the whole thing look very dramatic.

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From the station, we followed a little walking trail past a souvenir shop and through some lovely paths surround by steam vents, bubbling pools, and babbling brooks (filled with slight opaque water). The smell of sulfur hung in the air, but it was a cool, crisp fall day, so I didn’t find the smell overwhelming or even unpleasant. (All the same, it might not be a good idea to linger for too too long, lest the fumes get to you.)

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One of the main attractions of Owakudani is its “black eggs”, cooked in the naturally hot sulfuric water. The sulfur blackens the egg shells, and the eggs are said to prolong one’s life by seven years. You can buy a set of six for 500 yen.

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While the outside was black, you’ll probably be relieved to hear that the egg inside tasted just like any other egg—no trace of the sulfur permeated the shell. So, in addition to being a fun gimmick, the eggs were also a tasty snack for us as we wound our way through the Hakone round course. It was also fun to watch them boiling batches of eggs in the sulfuric pools near the top of the main walking trail.

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The suzuki grass was also particularly lovely—it really evoked that feeling of “autumn in Japan.”

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In any case, I think that the guidebook descriptions don’t really do Owakudani justice—if you’re in Hakone, I would definitely recommend taking the time to do the round course and walk around Owakudani. Particularly if the weather is nice, it’s a great excursion. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji. And for the more outdoorsy among you, there are a number of hiking trails that you can take around the mountain. Who knew sulfur could be such fun?

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