Steam rising from vents at Owakudani on Hakone Volcano

Sulphurous steam rising from the ground creates an eerie atmosphere and a horrendous stink.

Hakone Volcano hasn’t erupted for 3,000 years, but it is still active. It’s less than 100km from Tokyo, and so is easily visited as part of a day trip, though it’s well worth staying overnight as there are plenty of attractions in the area. The most popular activity is bathing in some of the many hot springs, but if you travel on to Owakudani near the top of the mountain, you can experience some volcanic action up-close.

Owakudani literally means ‘great boiling valley’, and provides a multi-sensory experience of heat, smell, sound and taste. White steam hisses out of cracks in the earth, and a strong smell of sulphur pervades the bleak valley. Steaming pools, hot streams and bubbling mud pits dot the rocky landscape, hinting at the immense power that lies deep underground.

A kuro-tamago from the Great Boiling Valley at Hakone Volcano with half its shell removed

This was an ordinary egg before it was hard-boiled in sulphurous spring water. Thankfully it’s only the outside that’s turned black.

A short walking trail passes through this apocalyptic landscape, but you’re warned not to linger too long due to the presence of toxic gases. For sale are black eggs – ordinary hens’ eggs cooked in the boiling hot pools. The sulphur and iron in the water is responsible for the unusual colour, but once you crack open the shell, the egg inside looks perfectly normal, and smells and tastes only a little bit odd. Each egg you eat is supposed to increase your lifespan by seven years – but they don’t give refunds if they don’t work.

To get to Owakudani, take the Odakyu Line train from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Odawara or Hakone Yumoto, and then change for the Tozan Line which climbs up the mountain to Gora. From there you take a funicular railway up to a cable-car station, and ride the cable-car to Owakudani. It’s usually best to buy a Hakone Free Pass which covers all of these forms of transport and more, and costs ¥5,000 for two days. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can save time and money by riding the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Odawara, and then buying a Hakone Free Pass at Odawara for ¥3,900. For more information, check out the Owakudani Tourism Centre’s website.

A steaming pool of sulphurous water and one of the summits of Hakone Volcano

The numerous steam vents and hot springs of the Great Boiling Valley make it a popular tourist attraction. In the background is one of the peaks of Hakone Volcano (it has seven overall).

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