Visit Owakudani and eat black eggs from the volcanic sulfur springs, and see the beautiful lake and mountainside of Hakone!
“Great Boiling Valley”
Around 3000 years ago, a volcano exploded, exposing the Owakudani valley. To this day it is an active volcanic zone with hot vents and sulfurous fumes, and the yellow sulfur coats the entire slope in some areas!
Before you see the mountain, though, you need to climb it! You can drive it if you like sitting in traffic on curvy roads for hours, or hike it if you feel especially adventurous, but most people will take the ropeway from either Togendai or Gora Station. The added bonus of the gondolas is you get amazing views of the mountain – and the lake, too, if you travel via Togendai!
Once you exit the ropeway at Owakudani (don’t misplace your return ticket!!!), you are faced with an otherworldly landscape: steam hissing from the earth, brimstone coating terraces and tunnels, and what looks like a brown moonscape everywhere else. For those sensitive to odors, note that the smell was not strong when we visited.
The tunnels and terraces are not part of a sulfur mining operation. Because the volcanic activity breaks up the bedrock so much, dangerous landslides happen regularly in the area. After losing several people in 1910, they started boring holes and terracing the mountainside to try to reduce the frequency and severity of the slides.
Enjoy the geomuseum and the main souvenir shop; both have public restrooms in good shape, and are nice places to warm up on a cold and windy day!
From what I hear from friends who were able to explore the trails and vents, seeing them boil the black eggs is a real highlight. We saw a man carrying a full basket down the hill, but the trails were closed to the public due to some construction while we were there.
On the hill there are a number of places to eat, a museum, gift shop and numerous overlooks to view the valley. On especially clear days you may be able to see Mt. Fuji. The day we were there it was pretty cold and cloudy, but the visual isolation helped to make us feel like we had stepped into an entirely different world!
Eating “kuro tamago”
Kuro tamago (literally “black egg”) are eggs that have been boiled in the hot springs of the volcanic valley, Owakudani. Sulfur in the water causes the egg shells to turn black! Matt heard about this when we first got to Japan, and the chance to see volcanic activity and eat something bizarre put it straight on our bucket list.
They cracked really easily and were nice and warm. We put a bit of salt on them from a pouch they provided with the purchase. With all of the hype I was expecting something incredible (or overpoweringly awful!) to happen. I stared it down, took a bite and…it tasted like a normal, delicious egg, and I felt completely normal after eating it. No unpleasant side effects! The kids both tried them and ate them right up. Their favorite black egg, though, was the chocolate-filled black egg that we bought as a souvenir and ate at home! It was a smooth hazelnut chocolate.
Togendai Station is clean and modern, and easily navigated without any knowledge of Japanese.
Tickets are purchased immediately upon entering the station. The ticket window is to the right in the picture here. Credit cards are gladly accepted!
You will most likely be purchasing the round trip to Owakudani, but there are other options in case you want to ride up and hike down.
Once you are inside Togendai station, there are plenty of helpful signs showing you exactly where to go!
Our favorites from this trip-
- Riding the gondola up the mountain.
- Eating the chocolate egg.
- Seeing the steam from the hot pools.
- Eating ice cream on our way back to the car.
- Going early helped us to beat the crowds!
What we would do differently-
- If the weather is nice, definitely take the ship tour to some of the smaller towns!
- Go on a nice clear day if possible…and hope the construction is done! That way you can see Mt. Fuji and be able to walk around the trails and actually watch them make the eggs! Unfortunately you can’t always plan a trip around nice weather, but we still had a nice adventure.
How to get to Hakone ropeway
We drove to the Togendai Station and parked right across the street. It took us a little over 2 hours to get there from our hotel on the far side of Tokyo. The drive wasn’t too bad; we left early in the morning to beat the traffic, and definitely recommend you do the same!
When we got there we had a great lunch at the restaurant downstairs from the ticket window. The food was solid and reasonably-priced, and the restaurant had an excellent view overlooking the lake and the ships that were coming in. The kids ate a pork cutlet with curry and rice, and shared some udon.
The ropeway ride takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the top. It makes one stop halfway up, but just stay on and it’ll take you the rest of the way! The kids love riding gondolas and it was the best part of the trip for them.
The first time we came to the area, the ropeway was closed so we didn’t go up to Owakudani. If you want to drive, know that parking is limited – get there early! We saw a lot of cars stuck in traffic, waiting to park. I’m not sure how long they were waiting but the backup went on forever! At this junction you can also get boat passes that take you on a fun ship across the lake to different villages.
One of our favorite places to go has been to Hakone Maruyama. It is a small village that specializes in wood work. There is a man upstairs demonstrating their technique in developing some beautiful pieces of art. The village is only about a 20-minute drive from the Togendai Station. It is definitely worth stopping by if your headed to Owakudani!