An interesting visit that has more build-up than pay off. Surrounded by more interesting activities, Owakundani should not be the sole goal of any trip as it will leave the day unfulfilled. Taken as a quick stop between multiple other activities in the area, Owakundani is an excellent addition to any trip.
Total Cost: Between 2020 – 3590 yen.
Total Travel Time (From Odawara Train Station): 1 1/2 hours.
Special Equipment Required: None.
Special Items/Gifts: Owakudani Black Eggs(Kuro-Tamago), “Sulfur” Ice Cream, Various merchandise related to Black Eggs.
Hakone/ Owakundai Overview
Settled along the great Lake Ashi, Mount Hakone is a one of the several volcanic mountains in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. A popular tourist spot, Mount Hakone is surrounded by several small cities and villages that dot the area. Within these villages and cities are a unique variety of attractions, from wonderful hot springs to multiple museums or art, history and even the very famous Hakone Open Air Museum, holding an upwards of 120 sculptures.
The area itself is a large tourist attraction because of Lake Ashi, which brings people for a variety of sights. Lake Ashi has the best view of Mount Fuji, contributing to most of the stunning views of the impressive mountain, and is a large attraction during the off-season for Fuji- the time when climbing is discouraged due to it’s hazardous conditions and that no active assistance can be received on the mountain.
The variety of attractions in the Hakone region is one of the reasons I’ve put down this entry as “Trip 01” as I intend to give the area a more through visit in the future – poor planning on my part caused me to spend 90% of the day traveling. These sites to visit at a later date include: The Open Air Museum, Lake Ashi and the Shinto Shrine located along the Lake.
Interestingly enough, the very popular Anime Series Neon Genesis Evangelion mentions Hakone being renamed Tokyo-3 prior to the show. This fact drew large crowds to the area during the relaunch of the series in 2010, which disrupted schools and many events in the area. The influences of the anime can still be seen in the area, where many shops sell special “Tokyo-3” lunches and meals.
Mount Hakone specifically is a large volcanic mountain located in the Ashigarashimo District of the Kanagawa Prefecture. The mountain erupted along time ago – I was unable to nail down a specific time frame as some informationals reported it to be anywhere between 3000 and 1000 years ago.
Kuro-Tamago, The Life Extending Egg
Now, should you be reading this still, you may be pondering as to why you should visit Owakudani. Multiple times, I have mentioned that the area is full of activity and in my own BLUF I stated that it wasn’t really anything more than an addition to another trip; the reason why everyone should add this place to your trip is pictured above.
The Black Eggs or Kuro-Tamago are a unique item that can only be found in and around Hakone and Owakudani. According to tradition, these eggs are blessed by the fertility of the mountain with the ability to add 7 years onto one’s life. These chicken eggs, raised locally in the village, are hard boiled in the sulfuric vents in the area until their shells grows black.
Now, to address the elephant in the room: 7 years of life for one egg, then why not eat 20? According the myth of the eggs, one person in a lifetime can only eat 2 1/2 eggs in their current lifetime. if you were to eat 3 or more eggs, your greed would cause you to become violently ill and would expel the blessing from your body.
Each of these eggs can be purchased in a multitude of locations. The primary spot to purchase the eggs is also the cheapest. Drawn from the pits directly and sold in a small building nearby, at the time of writing this review 5 eggs can be purchased for 500 yen at Owakudani itself. From there, these eggs are shipped down the mountain via a cable system, pushing several crates hundred crates out per hour. Simply 10 minutes away from the pits themselves, is a gift shop with various interesting egg-themed items. Here one can purchase a single egg for 250 yen or 5 eggs for 1000 yen. At the start of the cable car up Mount Hakone is the city of Gara, which also sells the eggs at one for 500 yen.
My suggestion is to take the trip up to Hakone an purchase the eggs directly there. In addition to saving money, many of the people I conversed with told me the legend is suppose to only work if ingested on the mountain itself, the eggs loosing their gifts once removed from the source.
In addition to the Black Eggs are quiet a lock of interesting novelty items, which ranges from stuff eggs to various egg-based meals. Most shops sell various ice cream and shaved ice in addition to their meal selection. While unique and fun to look at, most of the items can be very expensive.
Getting to Owakundai is interesting in itself because despite the multiple approaches and options on arrival to Hakone, each of them is rather simplistic.
Getting to the Hakone Region:
Before any avenues of approach can be taken, one must first arrive at Hakone itself. The easiest and quickest way to get to the region is to approach the area by train, as everything in Japan can be reached by train. One will be aiming to arrive firstly at Odawara station, conveniently located at the end of every Odawara line. From Tokyo, one can take the express and rapid express trains to Odawara in under an hour of travel. If one is traveling and hoping for a relaxed trip, I would advise to take the “romance car” trains. While more expressive, the express romance cars are reserved seating trains that will bring you from Tokyo to Odawara in an hour flat. Should you choose the cheaper route, as I did, you will find the train rapidly becoming full and crowded once you pass Ebina, one the regions main hubs.
Once you’ve arrive at Odawara, the transition is simple, walk down to platform 2 – located at the end of the station – and wait for the next Hakone/Gara train. The trains are very quick and will usually take no more than 8 minutes to take you from Odawara to Hakone.
FootStomp: At this time it is possible to leave the train all together and simple take one of the many buses or taxis to Hakone or even to Gara – the 2nd part of approaching Owakundai. However, I did not take these methods and from experience have found them to be more expensive and less scenic however they are more comfortable and a little faster.
Gara City is the end of the line for the Hakone/Gara staion and our second leg of the journey. The trains from Hakone Station come in both the community train variety and romance car variety. I would recommend taking the community car if you are prone to getting lost or distracted, as all statements in the community cars are repeated in English, while only a few are stated in the romance car.
FootStomp: If at any time you choose to disembark the Hakone/Gara line before arriving at Gara station, ensure you have an actual ticket instead of using your Pasmo card. During most of the stops, the train conductor will disembark to take the tickets and check those leaving the train and multiple stops along the way directly state that Pasmo is not accepted. At Gara station, Pasmo is accepted and your entire trip can be charged there.
Along the route to Gara are multiple stops, frequent backtracks and interesting sites. However, the scenery is beautiful, with sweeping views of waterfalls, forested areas, wild boars and valleys. The ride up to Gara can take at worst 1 1/2 hours.
There is an alternative approach to Gara in the form of the multiple tour buses located outside of Hakone station. I did not actively take these buses and cannot report on them, however I do believe that some of these buses will take you directly up the mountain to Owakundai if you desire.
The Cable Car and You:
The last leg of the journey is the easiest and the most impressive. Two cable car systems, one a simple grounded pulley system and one an overhead hanging cable system, are the last leg of the journey. From Gara station, you must purchase a 270 yen ticket up to Sounzan Station. The cable car leading up to Sounzan station is located right next to exit point of the trains for Gara Station. This cable car ride takes about 15 minutes
FootStomp: The cable car ride to Sounzan can be easily skipped with a brisk 30 minute walk up a rather steep mountain. While I would not advise this course of action as it’s easy to get lost, it is doable by taking one of the streets up the mountain, which criss-cross under and over the cable car itself.
At Sounzan Station the cable cars lead to the hanging system, pictured above. Not being a fan of heights myself, I can inform you that these cars are very safe despite the aggressive swinging that the simplest of breezes will cause. This cable car journey is not optional at this point, as there is no other way from Sounzan up the mountain. The price of the ticket, 1575 yen for both ways, reflects this commitment to getting to Owakundai.
The ride gives some of the most beautiful views of the area and takes 15 minutes or less to reach the Owakundai station. From Owakundai station, one can travel onward via cable car to Lake Ashi – which I will cover in a later post.
An excellent addition to anyone’s travels, however it should not be the sole focus of one’s trip but for the experience it is well worth it. Go if you’re in the area but don’t go just for the sake of going.