Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Crystals, Black Eggs, Sulphur, and a Crater Lake

No, these are not from a sci-fi movie or a mystic tale; they are all things you can see around Hakone.

There are quite a few museums in Hakone including a museum for the Little Prince (the little kid who lived on his own small planet with a flower he kept watering) recreating the streets of Paris during the lifetime of the author of the story, an outdoor sculpture museum featuring sculptures based on designs by Picasso and even a hotspring museum where one can sample different kinds of hotsprings. I went to the Venetian Glass museum which is home to very beautiful works of glass as well as jewellery. The museum itself is very pretty - designed as a big Italian mansion complete with its own ponds, a beautiful garden, and lots of sculptures. I also tried out its restaurant which has Italian dishes. I recommend the "Fruit Tea" which is made from real fruit soaked in tea and brought to the table in a glass pot filled with fruits. There is also live music from an Italian band. I was surprised to see that Japanese visitors to the restaurant actually took pictures with the singer...

In order to get to the "Black Eggs", or 黒たまご, one needs to take the ropeway up onto the top of the volcano. This meant taking first the cable car from Gora to Souunzan(早雲山) and then the ropeway from Soounzan to Oowakudani (大涌谷). The view is amazing as the ropeway makes its way to the top of the mountain. After it goes above "the hump", suddenly the trees make way for a much more barren looking terrain and the smell of sulphur. This is the source of the hotsprings with smoke rising from the fire burning deep underground. The pipes carry the hot water down the mountain but there is more up here than just a pretty view.

On top of the mountain, over 1000 meters high from the sea level, a short walk from the Oowakudani station is the souvenir store which sells world famous "Black Eggs". These are eggs cooked in the minral rich water which turns them solid black. The legend is that eating one egg would increase one's lifespan by seven years! Beware if you are not too big on eggs though. They taste just like normal eggs and the smallest portion you can get is 6 eggs for 500 yen. I ended up eating three which was actually great given that I had to skip lunch. Sometimes the top of the mountain can be very cloudy cutting the visibility down to no more than a hundred meters. The store also sells other "black" souvenirs such as manjou with a black "skin". Almost everyone makes a stop at this station even though it is possible to just switch to the final ropeway connection directly if just going to Lake Ashi.

The ropeway continues on in the opposite way from Gora down to a beautiful crater lake called "Lake Ashi" or 芦ノ湖. The view of the lake with the ships is mindblowing from the ropeway. There is a "Pirate Ship" that takes visitors from the last stop of the ropeway, Tougendai (桃源台). The tickets for the ship and the boarding point are connected to the station. I got the "Hakone Freepass" which lets one board any of the trains and even the ship free so I did not have to get a ticket though for the "first class seats" one can buy an upgrade for a few hundred yen if desired. The ship goes through the lake coming to stop at the other end. From here on it was time to get back to Hakone Yumoto for the train to get back. Fortunately Free pass also covers the bus from the port to Hakone Yumoto which takes about only a half hour.
I thoroughly recommend Hakone to anyone living in or around the area including Tokyo. It may be slightly expensive but it is definitely worth it.


Betty said...

Wow, Hakone certainly sounds really nice. I remember having these black eggs before when I was in Japan but I don't recall the Italian glass museum so perhaps it was a different mountain I went to. Hmm, 3 eggs, 21 years, so you've extended your life by almost 25 years, 25% - congrats! :P

Ulaş said...

25% is assuming I was going to live for 100 years. I was hoping to have a higher base value :P

Betty said...

Longer lifespan like a Vulcan? Sorry, I think your ears are more like a Ferengi's. :P