To celebrate the end of my 14-day quarantine after arriving in Japan in mid January, my dad and I drove out to the town, Hakone, in the Shizuoka prefecture to visit the dormant volcano, Owakudani. Like most of Japan, the road up to Owakudani was scattered with many abandoned businesses that have yet to reopen their doors due to COVID-19. Colorful, eye-catching hotels with empty bars and lonely lobbies line the drive up the mountain. There’s hotels of every imaginable theme-- from Mediterranean style villas to castle-like resorts. Through the thick patches of trees, my dad and I were able to catch glimpses of Lake Ashinoko, the vast body of water created in the caldera of Mount Hakone, and the many discarded boats littering it. As we continued to ascend up the mountain, we were suddenly hit with the strong scent of sulfur. Amusingly, the egg-like smell was like a reminder of the famous snack sold atop the mountain.
Once we reached the Owakudani Valley viewing site, we were greeted by a surprisingly crowded parking lot, and, of course, an even more potent sulfur scent.
After walking around the area and taking pictures, we headed into the giftshop to buy the famous kuro tamago, black, hard boiled eggs cooked in the hot springs of the volcano. While my dad and I waited for the next batch of eggs to arrive, we looked at what amusing merchandise the gift shop carried. From black egg-shaped soap to keychains of Hello Kitty dressed as a kuro tamago, the shop offers a variety of cute and unique omiyage (souvenirs).
Although there was a long line due to the late arrival of the eggs, the line moved swiftly once the eggs were delivered to the shop.
Perhaps the sulfur smell is what inspired the Owakudani egg… what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Despite the strangely hard and slightly off-putting black shell, the famous kuro tamago taste just like plain hard boiled eggs. Admittingly, I was expecting the eggs to taste a little funkier since they are rumored to extend your lifespan by seven years (according to the recordings played at the viewing site). However, I would still consider them the perfect snack for the occasion because the freshly boiled egg warms your hand up, and goes perfectly with the egg-like scent of the steaming sulfur from the volcano.
Author: Akiko Anna Iwata
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor