Well, here we go guys! Our penultimate post in the Japan Diaries! We've come a whole long way around the country, and I'm so happy you've joined me in my nostalgia trip here!
Let's end our final 3 days in this amazing country, nestled on the mind blowing Owakudani volcanic crater, on Mount Hakone (check out where we came from to get here in my Koyasan post HERE).
After a twisting, turning train ride up the base of Mount Hakone from Hakone Tozan railway (around a 45 minute ride from Sounzan), we took up lodgings at Kijitei Hoeiso; a traditional ryoken once again, but with a luxe focus on spa and relaxation. Each evening and morning we were spoiled once again with the most incredible Keiseki dining experience, served by the most warm and welcoming staff. Honestly, I'm so sad to be writing this right now, because I want to badly to see them all again...RIGHT AWAY!! Haha.
Our room was a gorgeous, premium, traditional ryoken room but with it's own hot spring on the outdoor decking. Bliss.
Hot springs are famous in the Hakone region of Japan, as they're heated entirely naturally by the volcanic earth of the area.
You can stay in rooms for a little less indulgence, but perfectly gorgeous none the less, without missing out on the use of the personal hot spring spa, as one is available on a shared basis on the 2nd floor of the building.
Another wonderful element to the lodgings is that the cable car to Owakudani and it's surrounding areas is literally on the door step. You can see it from the entrance.
Owakudani (大涌谷, Ōwakudani) is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days - Japan-Guide.com
To view the crater itself, you can whoosh yourself right over the center in a cable car, which in turn takes you to other areas of Mount Hakone. Along the way you can stop off at minor tourist attractions, like small museums and eateries, as well as some really nice coffee stands too.
A warning to anyone with lung issues: You did indeed read it correctly. Owakudani IS an active volcanic zone, and IS spewing out natural sulfurous gases. You are made aware of this along every route of the cable car journey, and are advised not to venture onward toward to crater if you are in any way in any respiratory bad health. Masks and medicinal cloths are provided to cover your mouth with if you'd prefer, but this is not advice to be taken lightly.
Things to do at the Owakudani Crater area.
The Ropeway is made up of four different stops: Togendai, Ubako , Owakudani , and Sounzan.
A one day ticket across all areas of the ropeway costs around ￥2500.
Views from the cable car on the way to Owakudani will be a gamble depending on the weather, and how angry the crater is that day. If the volcanic-ness IS on the grumbley side, then the ropeway will be closed regardless, however if it is safe to travel and the mists are low, then you may get a view a little something like this below, however just check out the view you get on a clear day. It'll absolutely blow your mind!
Just look. SERIOUSLY. I honestly felt like I was hovering above an entirely different planet. The sulphur yellows the rocky terrain, as you map out where the human excavation is going on below. I have no idea what the risks are to the worker's health down there, but it utterly baffles me as to what it must be like to be doing construction and preservation down there. The smell of the sulphur itself it so strong, like you're stuck in an egg box of "kind of gone off eggs"...if that helps. It's not massively unpleasant, but it's not especially a "normal" smell for noobies.
Once you hop off at Owakudani ropeway station itself, you have lots of options for things to do at this level. You can first off step outside and feel your chin drop at the view into the crater itself, or you can grab a gift or mini snack at the shop you're first greeted with.
Continue on outside of the station doors and you can walk over to the Owakudani museum, and pay a whole 100yen entry fee (literally pence in English money) to learn all about the history of the crater, and what's potentially expected to happen with it as years pass by.
Here you can also get interactive with different scientific activities, like checking out sulphur and minerals under a microscope, to learning how to excavate volcanic rock, and measure temperatures of liquids and gases therein. REALLY cool and interesting stuff.
Further on around the area you'll find some coffee stands, and a really large gift shop with restaurant above it.
The restaurant serves basic curry and chilli style dishes at a reasonable pitstop price, so no problems there. They're really delicious, but as I say, very "touristy".
The gift shop is an exciting thing altogether, as you'll learn of another awesome tradition revolving around Owakudani.
By the time you reach the shop, you'll have by now noticed that there are many, many people outside eating eggs. The eggs themselves are a little different to your regular chicken eggs, in that they're black. Black eggs.
"Kuro-tamago", or black eggs are ordinary chicken eggs but the shell turns black due to being boiled in the hot sulfur springs of Owakudani. Local legend tells that for each Kuro-tamago eaten, seven years is added to your life. You can buy 5 in a bag for around 400Yen, so be prepared to stick around a lot longer than you originally had in mind this lifetime, right?
Please note that the gift shop, museum, and this whole crater areas is subject to landslides due to the constant volcanic activity, and in potentially unsafe conditions, the walkways to the egg boiling springs may be closed. They were actually closed further up the path from the coffee vendors for us at the time of our visit, following eruption activity some small number of months before our trip.
If you have more time than we did to spend in the Hakone region, you can venture around other areas of the national park region to discover art galleries, and more hot springs used by locals. It's an utterly beautiful area, however be mindful that it can be quite confusing to navigate around when you're venturing away from the tram which takes you to Mount Hakone. Im sure it's fine if you're there for more days than us, and you have the time to research, however I'm sorry that I can't help too much with more area knowledge.
I DO know however that there is a really great looking Zoo advertised in the Ryokan which looks like a great way to spend a day if you find yourself local. Just check out your local pamphlets and guides for more info. They're all over the place.
And that's the excitement of staying "on the side of a volcano!". Honestly, if you get the chance to visit and travel around Japan, you would be so, so wise to book a stop off near Hakone, and as close to Owakudani/Mt. Hakone as possible. It's such an intense and surreal experience floating across the crater and getting an idea of just how immense nature is in comparison to us teeny, tiny humans. It really opens your eyes at how vulnerable we truly are as a race against the environment of the world we live in.
So then! Leaving Hakone was our last long train ride back to Tokyo for some last minute shopping and soaking up the city before the flight back to London. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty glum at this point, but the memories are second to none on the happiness scale.