Japan Diaries Day 13 – Owakudani & Glass Forest

Standard

The last time, our intrepid explorers visited Lake Ashi 芦ノ湖 and Hakone Shrine 箱根神社

And now we continued our day exploring Hakone by heading to see more of the Hakone Geopark!

☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆*✲゚*。☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆。*゚✲*☆

2014年12月17日

Hakone 箱根 is in Kanagawa prefecture 神奈川県, and is only a short drive from Tokyo, but it seems like worlds away. The quaint town has a Spirited Away / 千と千尋の神隠し feel to it, and there is a great deal of natural beauty. After spending a windy morning by the shores of Lake Ashi and then entering the safety of the dense forest at Hakone Shrine, I wanted to head to see some more geologic features. I love geology, so even though the wind made it hard to be outdoors for any length of time, the next stop was Owakudani 大涌谷 to see some volcanic activity. A great deal of the Hakone area is listed as a UNESCO geopark, with the primary emphasis on the volcanic activity. My fiance was not complaining, but I knew that he’d rather be warm inside a game center than traipsing around looking at rocks in the wind. Leaving the haven of the Hakone Shrine, we drove on to Owakudani.

Owakudani/大涌谷

Owakudani literally means “great boiling valley.” It was once called “hell valley” but there is another more famous Jigokudani 地獄谷 so it was changed to Owakudani. This valley has continuous volcanic activity including sulfurous fumes, hot springs, and boiling rivers. This volcanically active zone formed its present configuration during the last eruption of Mt. Hakone 3000 years ago.

Owakudani

View of the Owakudani 大涌谷 visitor complex from the hiking trail up to the vents. The gasses creating the white smoke have the lovely fragrance of rotten eggs.
photo by kei

The sulfur in the discharge of gasses being vented at the surface gives the entire area the odor of rotten eggs. This fragrance comes in waves as the wind blows the gasses around. The especially strong winds gave tourists the pleasure of the rotten egg fragrance quite often on the day I visited. The clouds being blown by the wind blocked any awesome views of Mt. Fuji, unfortunately.

The area features short hiking paths that are paved, with either stairs or ramps that you climb on your way to the volcanic vents. It’s not really handicap or stroller accessible because of the intermittent stairs. In the US, handicap accessibility is very important, even in places like Yellowstone National Park, so it’s something that I notice when there is not that kind of concern in Japan.

Owakudani is a high feature in the valley, and driving there is a continuous upward climb. Hakone has a lot of winding mountain roads, lush forests, and it is cooler than the nearby Tokyo in the summer months. It is indeed a valley, and when you climb up to the vent area you get a spectacular view of the compound and the valley. There is a ropeway that offers connections between Owakudani and the shore of Lake Ashi, as well as other stations, but my fiance hates heights and the wind was particularly nasty, so we opted out. The ropeway costs ¥800~¥2,000, depending on which station you want to go to and whether you want one-way or round-trip.

Owakudani

Owakudani 大涌谷 sign at the vents, discharging hot, sulfurous gasses due to the underlying volcanic activity

Owakudani

Owakudani 大涌谷 and its volcanic activity visible on the surface
photo by kei

You can also purchase famous black eggs (kurotamago 黒たまご) boiled in the sulfurous hot springs, which are said to extend your life by 7 years if you eat one egg. If you eat two eggs, your life will be prolonged by 14 years. If you eat more than 2 1/2 eggs, the benefits are no longer relevant and your life cannot be extended indefinitely, so it’s not recommended to eat more than that. I was worried the eggs would taste, well, rotten, but do not fear. Despite the black shell, the egg inside is fully cooked and completely edible. There is a slightly strange taste to the egg, but nothing overwhelming. Typically eggs are eaten at the time of purchase, so there is the wafting of the rotten egg smell to contend with, but all that hiking around in the strong wind made us hungry and the eggs were a nice treat. There are also several other black-themed foods, including a black manju or sticky rice bun filled with sweet bean paste.

Black Egg from Owakudani

Black egg 黒たまご from Owakudani
The black color is due to the sulfur in the hot spring water
photo by kei

owakudani05

Black manju from Owakudani
Sticky rice bun with sweet bean paste inside
photo by kei

*Volcanic Hazards! As a side note, Owakudani is currently closed (as of May 6, 2015) to tourists due to increased seismic (that’s earthquakes) and volcanic activity (from the vents). This suggests that there may be a volcanic eruption soon, which is most likely to include ash that will be able to travel for several kilometers. Thus, Owakudani has been evacuated for safety. Let’s hope that any eruption will cause minimal damage! This is the hazard of living near volcanoes, and is a part of life for those living on an island that was primarily formed from volcanic activity.

Hakone Venetian Glass Forest Art Museum/箱根ガラスの森美術館

Our last stop of the day was the Hakone Venetian Glas Forest Art Museum. The Venetian Glass Forest is one of several museums in the Hakone area. The theme is Italian art, so the exhibits consist of glassware, crystals, and art inspired by Rome/Venice. It’s hard to decide from a travel guide with a few photos and descriptions of each museum, so I just picked the museum with the prettiest photos in the まっぷる (Mapple) I used for this trip. I really enjoyed the museum’s art pieces, which were gifted by a wealthy glass collector.

Admission is only ¥1,500 per adult, ¥1,100 for university/high school students and ¥600 for elementary school students. I got a discount through the Hotel Kajikaso as well. There are also temporary exhibitions and performers, so there are a lot of things to do. I couldn’t even visit the entire museum since we had already been hiking all over Owakudani.

Venetian Glass Forest

Hakone Venetian Glass Forest
photo by kei

Venetian Glass Forest

Venetian Glass Forest
photo by kei

Venetian Glass Forest

The reason why it’s called the “glass forest” should now be obvious!
photo by kei

Venetian Glass Forest

Santa Claus climbing up to the chimney in December at the Venetian Glass Forest
photo by kei

Venetian Glass Forest

Beautiful, intricate art inspired by Italy
photo by kei

Venetian Glass Forest

Roman-style ceiling paintings
photo by kei

After being outside in the cold wind for most of the day, the indoor and sheltered outdoor Glass Forest were a welcome change! While we were there, a Mongolian musician named Senja セーンジャー was there for a limited engagement and we stopped to listen to a short concert. His Japanese was impeccable, and his music was based on traditional Mongolian stories about horses (very important to Mongolian life) and melodies. He was also handsome, which made the obachans (older women) in the crowd even happier.

Venetian Glass Forest

Senja, a Mongolian musician who performed a limited engagement at the Glass Forest in Hakone
photo by kei

After the long day of sightseeing, we went back to our ryokan, Hotel Kajikaso, in Hakone, and prepared for our dinner course. We took one last onsen trip to the hotel’s main baths to watch the sunset, and then scheduled our morning meal with the attendant who helped us with all our meals during our stay. We were planning an early start on our trip back to Tokyo.

Hakone

Dried seafood (himono) shop in Hakone at night
photo by kei

Have you been to Hakone’s geopark? Have you tried the onsen or the black eggs? What other places in Kanagawa prefecture have you been to? Let me know in the comments!

Next Up: Japan Diaries Day 14 – Odawara Castle (Hakone Day 3)

Japan Diaries 2014

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Japan Diaries Day 13 – Owakudani & Glass Forest

  1. Urska

    I was so looking forward to visit Owakudani, but unfortunately, it was closed for visitors due to the increased volcanic activity. 😦 Next time…

    Like

  2. Great post! I love Owakudani, and I’m sad to hear that it’s closed for the time being. I have friends going to Hakone soon, so that’s too bad for them. But maybe I’ll send them in the direction of the Glass Forest! Absolutely beautiful! There are so many cool little attractions in the Hakone area, and I’ve barely seen any. Need to go back soon!

    Like

    • Hopefully the volcanic activity will die down soon so that Owakudani can open back up! I really enjoyed Hakone, even if the wind was so strong. There is so much to do there, I will have to make plans to go back!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s