Photo Friday: Earth / Owakudani


Owakudani, Hakone, Japan

Photo Friday Challenge: Earth

Today’s Photo Friday Challenge is…. on Tuesday. Oops. So I probably should have joined the Blog Every Day in May challenge to keep myself posting regularly, but sometimes life happens. Anyway, on to the photo!

Owakudani 大涌谷 is located in Hakone, Japan, and is essentially the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone around 3,000 years ago. This is an active volcanic zone where the volcanic activity heats vents (fumaroles) with sulfurous fumes and hot springs. Hiking on the trail near the sulfurous vents, where they boil eggs that you can eat, you can truly see the power that lies just below the surface.

When I visited Owakudani, I could understand the power of the Earth on which we live as I wandered over a volcanic magma chamber, as well as the natural resources that we can utilize, such as geothermal energy. Wandering in the “Great Boiling Valley” (the meaning of the name Owakudani) and looking at the andesitic igneous rocks (that are 3,000 years or older) that remind me of the explosive nature of this volcano, I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the Earth – and this photo reminds me of that experience.

What do you think represents best the power of the Earth? Have you visited a volcanic area before? Let me know in the comments!

X is for Xenia


For today’s A to Z Challenge, I learned a new word! X is for XeniaXenia is an ancient Greek word that expresses the concept of hospitality and is roughly translated as “guest-friendship.” In Japanese, the word for hospitality is omotenashi おもてなし, which means “to entertain guests wholeheartedly.”

Both concepts of hospitality focus on the needs of the guest. With omotenashi, the host must anticipate the guest’s needs. With xenia, the host must see to the food, drink, and board needs of the guest first and foremost. Omotenashi is provided without an expectation of receiving a reward in return; xenia is provided with only an expectation that the guest will not be a burden on the host.

Alcove at Hotel Kajikaso Continue reading

H is for Hakone


H is for Hakone for today’s A to Z Challenge! Hakone 箱根町 is a famous tourist destination in Kanagawa Prefecture 神奈川県 in Japan. It was also my honeymoon destination, so today is all about the letter H.

Hakone is a resort town in the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, and is best known for its abundant hot springs or onsen 温泉. A cooler climate than nearby Tokyo, Hakone offers beautiful mountain views, including Mt. Fuji. Hakone is a UNESCO Geopark location due to the volcanic activity underlying Hakone, which heats the famous hot springs.

Hakone Outdoor Hot Spring

Bath fed by natural hot springs in Hakone – photo by kei

Hakone is beautiful at any time of year, and is particularly pleasant during the hot Japanese summer, as it is often much cooler than sweltering Tokyo. Fall boasts vibrant leaves and spring offers cherry blossoms as well as a variety of other blooms. In the winter, when I visited, it was quite windy and although it wasn’t unbearable, outdoor activities are less fun when you are fighting the wind. At Lake Ashinoko, a lake formed in the crater left by a previous volcanic eruption, you can take a boat on a tour around the lake, unless the wind is high and the boat is not running. Continue reading

Photo Friday: Alphabet / Hakone Shrine


Happy Friday! It’s been a busy week, but I’m back in time for Photo Friday…

Hakone Shrine

Photo Friday Challenge: Alphabet

My interpretation of Alphabet is, of course, kanji or Japanese characters. There are a multitude of alphabets in the world, but the Japanese alphabet (well, 3 alphabets or writing systems – hiragana, katakana, kanji) is close to my heart. This beautiful example of kanji calligraphy was photographed at Hakone Shrine (箱根神社) in the city of Hakone, Japan. Speaking of Japanese, this weekend I’ll be working on my JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) practice ^^

What is your favorite alphabet? Let me know in the comments!

Japan Diaries Day 14 – Odawara Castle/小田原城


In December, I visited my then-fiance for a month in Tokyo, Japan. As part of a pre-wedding honeymoon gift, we stayed two nights in Hakone (箱根). We visited some geologic as well as cultural wonders at Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖) and Hakone Shrine (箱根神社) and Owakudani (大涌谷) and the Glass Forest Museum (ガラスの森美術館). On our way back to Tokyo we wanted to check out Odawara Castle (小田原城).



The previous night, a friend of mine whose father owns the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) we stayed at, Hotel Kajikaso, came from Tokyo to meet up with my fiance and I. My fiance’s father made the reservation for us, and when we got to the ryokan I posted about it on Facebook. My friend saw it and decided to drive up from his university in Tokyo to visit us. Before that, we had no idea it was his father’s ryokan. I was glad to see him again, and even though we stayed up pretty late and we still had to get up early, it was nice to catch up after not meeting for over half a year.

Traditional Japanese style breakfast

Ryokan breakfast at Hotel Kajikaso

After we ate our last traditional Japanese breakfast at the ryokan and took a quick dip in the room’s rotemburo (private open-air hot springs), we headed out. On the way back to Tokyo we had planned to stop at the city of Odawara (小田原市) in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県). When I planned my month-long trip to Japan, I decided I wanted to visit Odawara Castle (小田原城) when we went to Hakone. I really enjoy visiting Japanese castles, although I haven’t been to many, and I wanted to explore one I had not yet seen. Continue reading

Japan Diaries Day 13 – Owakudani & Glass Forest


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!



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 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.


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

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Japan Diaries Day 13 – Lake Ashi / 芦ノ湖


After arriving in Hakone the day before, it was time to do some sightseeing on day 2!



Hakone 箱根 is in Kanagawa prefecture 神奈川県, and is basically a day trip away from Tokyo. If your trip takes you to Tokyo and you have some extra time, I recommend spending time in the more rural area of Kanagawa. It can get you out of the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, and you can enjoy some natural beauty. In the summer, Kanagawa tends to be a little cooler than Tokyo. Hot springs or onsen are the major attraction in Hakone, and this is where my fiancé and I chose to spend our 3-day and 2-night honeymoon (even though it was before the actual wedding).

We scheduled our breakfast at ryokan Hotel Kajikaso early so that we could get an early start to the day. The nice thing about having the rotemburo attached to the room is that you can take a quick dip in the onsen before leaving without having to trek all the way to the public baths. I’m a complete geology nerd, so even though it was winter and not really the best time for seeing all of Hakone’s geological (AKA outdoor) attractions, I wanted to visit the geological sites enough that I was willing to brave the chilly morning and the high winds. Hakone is a UNESCO geopark, with the primary emphasis on the volcanic activity. There was no snowfall during the time I was there, but the winds were strong and cold and pretty uncomfortable. My fiance worried about me getting a cold, so instead of taking the Hakone sightseeing train, we took the car. The car also offers more freedom, but the train would be a better sightseeing choice in good weather. Continue reading

Japan Diaries Day 12 – Hakone Arrival


Less than 2 weeks into my month-long December trip to Tokyo, it was time to visit Hakone!



After getting fitted for engagement/pre-wedding photos on Monday, on Tuesday we were off to Kanagawa prefecture 神奈川県 for a honeymoon (shinkon ryokou 新婚旅行). No, we are not married yet, due to the fact that my fiance and I applied for a US K-1 visa. On a K-1 visa, he has to enter the country unmarried, and then we get married within 90 days once he arrives. But, since his arrival in the US will coincide with my graduation, I will be pretty busy doing job hunting, and I won’t have a lot of time or money for a honeymoon. So, a 3-day trip to Hakone 箱根 was our plan for an early honeymoon!


Hakone, Kanagawa prefecture

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