The Smoking Valley of Owakudani, Hakone
Japan is rich in nature, consisting of both mountain landscapes and seascapes. It is one of the best ways to spend time exploring all the natural wonders. And you do not need to travel too far from the capital Tokyo. Among the excellent day-trips is the smoking valley called Owakudani.
Owakudani, written as 大涌谷, in Japanese means "Great Boiling Valley". It is both poetic and a bit mysterious. Originally, it was called “Great Hell,” but the name had been changed before the visit of the Emperor and the Empress Meiji on August 5, 1873. The valley was created as the result of a Mt. Hakone eruption around 3000 years ago, and still experiences volcanic activity. Nevertheless, it is mostly safe. The Tourist Center was closed between 2015 and 2016, but now it is available again, as well as the Hakone ropeway.
The breathtaking landscape is great for photography. In autumn you will find yourself mesmerized by the maple tree foliage. In spring and summer it is a lush green paradise. And, of course, the clean air. Or, almost clean. It is a bit “smelly” with the strong sulfurous smoke, but you might get used to it after a while as we did. The description warns people with health conditions (asthma, respiratory problems, heart problems) to be careful due to the volcanic activity. People in a bad physical condition are advised not to visit.
Up on the ropeway station I have seen people of all ages. It might take some time to get used to it, while the view of the mountain range touched with the rising smoke is dreamy and in its unique way, gorgeous. On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji.
There is a hiking trail from the ropeway station that takes you up to the top of Mt. Kameyama. The Lake Ashinoko is also worth a visit. You can take a ferry and enjoy more of it. In addition, the ferry station is home to adorable and very friendly cats. Who can resist?
Because it is a volcano, it is not surprising to expect an onsen (hot spring). Yes, there are hotels with onsens. The temperature of the water in the bathtub is 42°C with the PH level of 2.5. And it promises to help treat the following: pain, burns, chronic skin diseases, arteriosclerosis, neuralgia, muscle pain, arthralgia, frozen shoulder, motor paralysis, joint stiffness, sprains, chronic gastrointestinal diseases, hemorrhoids, chilling, recovery from illness and fatigue, and general health promotion. I am not an expert on the medical aspects, but it does feel nice to experience the traditional hot spring in Japan.
And speaking of health, Owakudani is home to black shelled eggs (called kuro tamago). These chicken eggs are cooked in the hot spring utilizing the geothermal and volcanic gas. While you can find white onsen eggs in any grocery store, these black eggs are sold only in Owakudani. One egg is said to extend your life for 7 years. They taste good, and the officials on their website claim that an octopus cooked in the same water tastes good as well. It is a great souvenir to share, as the eggs are sold fresh and packed in a cute designed bag.
To access, you can easily catch the Odakyu Line for Odawara, transfer at Odawara for Hakonetozai Line and reach Gora (all together will take around 2 hours 45 minutes). Or you can simply enjoy the hike from Odawara (exploring beautiful Odawara Castle) and get on the cable car at Gora. There are also sightseeing buses, such as Hakone Tozan Bus, available. If you are up to more comfort, there are tours held as well.