Welcome to hell. Population: you (and lots of other tourists)

There’s a lovely spot a couple of hours from Tokyo called Hakone.  It’s an extremely mountainous area, and famous for all its different modes of transport, including cable cars, vehicular, switchback train, ship, hiking and ancient highways.  Oh, and don’t worry, I have pictures of all of them, but let’s save those for a slide show night where you politely don’t fall asleep while I struggle with translating fascinating Japanese signage.

One of the highlights of Hakone is a place called Owakudani, listed in the English guidebooks as “Hell Valley”.  It’s perched right on top of a mountain, so one of the easiest ways to get there is via cable car.  The cable car’s entrance to Owakudani is quite dramatic: you burst out over a ridge line, and there it all is beneath you, a great yellow and brown scar on the side of the otherwise lush, green mountain:

Owakudani

Most of the engineering is to control the sulphur vents, without which, there would be some very nasty egg-flavoured explosions.  The smell of sulphur is quite strong, and it starts to get to you after a while (especially for someone who even turns up their nose at an egg sandwich).  You had to feel a bit of pity for the people working there every day at the tourists kiosks, and especially for the poor engineers working down in the valley who seemed to be getting around with no respiratory equipment at all.

Sulphur mine

At the top of the mountain is a tourist center with hot springs (powered by the sulphur vents) and the regular tourist kiosks you see everywhere.  One special attraction is the kuro-tamago (black eggs), which turn black after being hard-boiled in the sulphuric hot springs.  The already all-pervading smell of eggs was enough to give the 1km walk to the egg-cooking place a miss.  However, it’s said that if you eat a black egg, it will add seven years to your life, so at least there’s something else to regret on my deathbed.

Mountain top stop

(More pictures after the link…)

Sulphur hike

Sulphur springs

Walking through steaming vents of sulphurous gases: not recommended.

Suphur vents

The views, however, are lovely.  On a clear day, you’re supposed to be able to see Mt. Fuji too, but it was not one of those days, sadly.

Sky view

So, Owakudani: the place that’s hard to say and full of poisonous gas.  If I’m reading my Japanese guidebook correctly, this is the tourist board’s actual slogan.

Recommended!

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