Steam shoots out of the earth and the sound of furious bubbling travels through the air. Here, only a few hours from Tokyo, this fierce, smoking whirlpool is…well, unexpected.
It also smells disgusting.
Hakone Park first sprung up as series of volcanic eruptions around 3000 years ago. Today, it consists of triangular hills and deep blue lakes, wrapped in scarves of clouds. On the proverbial clear day, Hakone provides dazzling views of Mt Fuji, yet I had already gathered that today wasn’t going to be one of those days.
We took a cable car from Sōunzan, plunging into a grey vat of cloud before reaching the half-way point at Ōwakudani. By the look of the signposts, well-maintained paths and regular troops of tourists, I had low hopes of finding anything spectacular. Luckily, travel has the habit of proving me wrong – and this time it did it with fountains of smoke.
These hissing pits reach deep into the mountainside and leap high into the air. Their sulphuric properties turn eggshells black – and fill the air with a putrid, rotting stench. Still, if both appetite and wallet remain undeterred, you’ll find plenty of savvy locals selling black eggs by the bagful. Even Hello Kitty does her bit to help the black egg trade.
Perhaps to my relief, given all the noxious fumes floating around, black eggs taste exactly the same as the dull-coloured variety. Still, a smoking sulphur jet does overshadow a saucepan on the stove…