Owakudani is an active volcanic valley in the famed Hakone region west of Tokyo. I have heard that it was known as "Jigokudani" (the Valley of Hell) by locals some time ago. Once you set foot on its wonderous soil, it will surely will take your breath away. I am not just talking about the magnificent view of nearby Mt. Fuji on a clear day, but also the rising volcanic gases that originate underneath the valley itself. When you look around you, there is an infinite amount of steam pouring up through vents scattered around the mountain, and a very distinct odor that will remind you that you are indeed traversing a very live volcanic valley.
There are a few hiking trails around the Owakudani station, but there is one trail that you shouldn't miss - the upward trek to the egg boiling site. The trail begins immediately outside the Owakudani ropeway station and continues about 15 minutes uphill. At the top, you will be rewarded with the opportunity to feast on freshly boiled black eggs!
Black eggs, you say!? Don't worry - they are regular chicken eggs. The albumen and other parts of the egg still look the same as a traditional boiled egg, but it's the manner in which they are boiled that makes them a little bit special. These eggs are cooked in natural spring water for 60 minutes at a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius. They are then steamed at 100 degrees for 15 minutes in steel baskets. The water that they are boiled in contains sulfur and iron, thus giving the shells their unique color. The black eggs, commonly called "Kuro-Tamago" by the locals, are perfectly safe, although they may smell like sulfur. In fact, eating them is believed to add a few years to your life span - on average, five to seven years!
When I visited Owakudani, five eggs were selling for ¥500. Some people will hike up the mountain to eat the eggs at around 1,050 meters above sea level. However, you can also buy them from one of the stores in Owakudani Station. There are also plenty of other omiyage (souvenirs) to choose from, if you are not too keen about bringing home the eggs. There are manju (bean jam buns) that have been designed to look like the black eggs, as well as tasty cookies!
In recent years, an increased level of noxious gases caused the closure of the ropeway and trails around Owakudani for a prolonged amount of time. While the ropeway is currently running its full route once again, some of the trails remain closed to visitors and the volatile nature of the region means the area's accessibility is subject to change. For up-to-date information on the status of the ropeway and the trails around Owakudani, please visit the Hakone Ropeway homepage.
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