Owakudani Nature Trail and Gora

The weather didn’t look as good today when we woke up at the Indigo Gora with overcast skies. After breakfast, we decided to head up to Owakudani again as there did seem to be bits of blue sky. We ended up getting onto the day’s first guided tour of the Owakudani Nature Trail. The weather wasn’t so great and it was extremely windy so we returned to Gora to have lunch and to walk around the town a bit. Later in the afternoon, we went back up to Owakudani to see how conditions were. It was even more windy than before! We came back down to Gora pretty quickly for an early end to the day.


We started the day at the ホテルインディゴ箱根強羅 Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora the same way we did yesterday, by enjoying the in-room onsen! The weather didn’t look good though with somewhat dark and overcast skies.

We once again enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the buffet. While they didn’t have American style bacon, we did find today that they had some pieces that were charred a bit! Not quite the same thing, but it had to do! We also again enjoyed all the other items, particularly the small bowls of noodles.


After breakfast, we continued to start the day as we did yesterday by taking the bus to Togendai.

We arrived a bit earlier than we did yesterday. The 箱根ロープウェイ Hakone Ropeway wasn’t accepting passengers yet. So, we waited around a bit by taking a closer look at the Neon Genesis Evangelion statue that is in the station. It is a little dusty!

Soon, we noticed the ropeway was open. We hopped onboard and got our own car as there weren’t any other people around. We put the telephoto lens on the camera in case Mount Fuji became visible through the clouds above. The gondola’s dirty glass wasn’t really great for photographing through.

We did, briefly, see Mount Fuji from the ropeway though a small gap in the clouds!

After arriving at Owakudani, Mount Fuji was no longer visible. We decided to see if we could get tickets for the Owakudani Nature Trail. We went to the 大涌谷インフォメーションセンター Owakudani Information Center, on the ground floor of the 箱根町立 箱根ジオミュージアム Hakone Geo Museum, to inquire. We were able to get spots on the first tour of the day at 10am!

The staff had a bit of trouble with the payment system in trying to process our payment. We ultimately tried Google Pay, Apple Pay, physical credit cards, and IC cards. It seemed like it was probably a training issue in operating the equipment. Luckily, they eventually figured it out. We paid and were issued tickets #1 and #2! We just happened to be the first to show up and actually get our tickets, its likely most of the other guests had bought tickets online. Technically, advanced reservations are required but they don’t seem to mind walk-ins.

We received some information about Owakudani and the nature trail.

We also picked up some more general information about Owakudani. It also provides some information about the nature trail, including how to sign up for a tour.

We walked over to the start of the nature tour to wait for the 10am start time. The waiting spot is right by the entrance to the nature trail, next to the small shrine that we saw yesterday. Although there was a good amount of blue in the sky above, Mount Fuji was still obscured by clouds.

Upon arriving, the staff check your tickets and issue hard hats to wear during the tour. This is in case there is a volcanic explosion!

This closed off area is right by the shrine.

This adjacent gate leads to the actual nature trail. The tour is in mostly Japanese, though the guide did speak some English and usually provided a brief English translation.

Much of the landscape here beyond the gate consists of dead trees that were killed during the recent 2015 volcanic activity.

We kept an eye on the tamago ropeway while listening to the guide, hoping to catch a tamago delivery. We saw a delivery yesterday but weren’t able to photograph it.

We were able to see a batch of eggs being delivered as the guide was talking!

In addition to looking out for tamago deliveries, we also kept looking out for Mount Fuji to make an appearance. No luck so far.

The tour stops at various points where the guide provides some information. Various shelters have been constructed in the area to provide refuge in case of an eruption. We didn’t actually photograph any of them closely but the tour entered them. The all contain emergency equipment that can be used when needed.

The landscape here is rather desolate, filled with rubble and dead foliage.

We got a closer look at the tamago ropeway as we continued along the trail. Mount Fuji should be right there in the background. The odd looking cloud near the center of the frame seems like it could be one of those clouds that hovers over a high mountain peak.

There is a bit of water flowing down through the landscape.

We stopped here for awhile.

This is the black egg cooking facility! This pool of sulfurous water is where the eggs are initially cooked.

There were two baskets of eggs in the water during our visit. The basket handles can be seen in the water! The eggs are cooked here first to give their shells their black color. They’re then cooked again, presumably in regular water, to make them edible.

We had quite a bit of time here to walk around nearby. One of the concrete shelters is visible here on the left.

This was a good vantage point to see the trail that we walked up on. It isn’t very far from the ropeway station and other Owakudani buildings. Some more shelters can be seen from here.

We followed these stairs to reach the highest point of the tour, atop the shelter by the tamago pool.

It is, again, a very desolate landscape here.

The shelter rooftop provided for some good views of the area to the north.

Soon, group was gathered up to begin the trip back down together.

The tour guide pointed out some of the sulphureous rocks on the ground. This was as we passed under the tamago ropeway. The route back follows a different path that is slightly to the west of the one that we arrived on.

The guide also pointed out these tiny little plants on the ground. He mentioned them being nicknamed Monroe Lips, after Marilyn Monroe’s bright red lipstick. This plant seems to be Cladonia Theiophila, a member of a large lichen family, based on the Owakudani pamphlet that we received when signing up for this guided tour.

There isn’t much about Cladonia Theiophila on the internet. The best we could find is an academic paper, Niche characteristics of Cladonia lichens associated with geothermal vents in Japan, from 1990 from Hiroshima University where it is mentioned in the abstract. Based on the abstract, this species only occurs in geothermal areas like here at Owakudani. Unfortunately, the paper is paywalled. The University of Michigan has cataloged a sample from 1902 which was found “on old logs.” Otherwise, we mostly found additional references in academic papers.

We continued on….

Soon, we caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji!

Parts of the mountain were visible while we switched to the telephoto lens. Unfortunately, this is about all we saw! We soon returned to the starting point where the tour ended. The tour guide ended with a song!

After the tour, we headed over to the large くろたま Kurotama Shop to get some black eggs to eat. Unlike yesterday, when an exterior window was open for purchasing eggs and other snacks, we had to go inside today to buy eggs. We didn’t photograph the eggs this time but we do have the paper bags!

We next returned to the ropeway station. By now, it was extremely windy outside with a high wind warning. The ropeway does close if the wind exceeds whatever the limit is. We’re not sure what happens if this occurs, likely, the bus ends up very crowded to accommodate all the visitors.

We got a fantastic view of the thermal area as we rode the gondola down to 早雲山 Sounzan.

We noticed this one sakura tree below as we continued down.


After arriving at Sounzan, we went to the upper level of the station to take a look around. We were up here two days ago but were in a hurry at the time to go up. There isn’t really anything that we can recognize from here, other than the 大 on the side of the mountain above 宮城野 Miyagino.

We spotted the funicular departing below us. After enjoying the view, we went back inside the station to check out the small gift shop before heading down to the funicular.

The view from one of the station’s windows as we took the escalator down.

We noticed this vending machine in the station. It is selling model trains! Definitely something we haven’t encountered before! Sheldon would be pleased!

The station also had a small seating area with signs about the Rhatische Bahn due to its relationship with the Hakone Tozan Railway, which operates the funicular here along with the gondola.

We boarded the funicular once it arrived after it discharged the arriving passengers.

After arriving at 強羅 Gora, we walked around the station area a bit. There were a few shops nearby, some of which weren’t open at the time. We noticed this nice weeping sakura next to the Gora Station bus stop. It was at the entrance to the Tokinoyu Setsugetsuka, an onsen hotel.

There were some more weeping sakura around the corner.

The red trains that end here at Gora station are rather reminiscent of Swiss trains. The one that we arrived on two days ago had a very Japanese interior. This lead car, judging from the view through the windows, actually looks very European.

Unfortunately, the Cat Goods store was closed!

We decided to go eat at a restaurant in town, just a few small blocks away on the other side of the tracks. We came across more beautiful weeping sakura on the way!

The restaurant, 田むら銀かつ亭 Tamura Ginkatsu-tei, was a bit hard to find as it is in a building that looks like a regular house from the outside.

We had to wait for a few minutes before a table was ready. The front entrance of the restaurant actually faces a parking lot which is above grade as this area is on sloped ground.

We noticed this small bird on a wire above. It seems to be a Japanese Tit, which we would generically refer to as a Chickadee in American English.

Tamura Ginkatsu-tei has some dishes that we haven’t seen before. We decided to order Tofu Katsuri, a local specialty. The menu describes this dish:

A special order from "Silver Tofu", which is famous for its "Shakuri Tofu".  It is made by sandwiching juicy domestic minced pork between tofu and frying it, and then simmering it in a clay pot.  It has gone through trial and error many times until it reaches its current form, and has reached its current taste.  The sweetness of green onions and onions is good in the mackerel flakes dashi, and it has been well received that you can go with as much rice as you want.

It was very good and very different from the typical pork katsu.

We also ordered fried fish from Lake Ashi. They were good though tiny!

And, we ordered a tonkatsu with local Fuji Kurobuta pork. It was quite fatty on one edge and definitely wasn’t the best Kurobuta pork that we’ve had.

Soup, salad, and rice also came with the meals. If we were to ever come back here, we’d just order more of the Tofu Katsuri!


After lunch, we decided to go back up to Owakudani to see if anything had changed. Maybe Mount Fuji would be visible?

We came across this Daimonji mascot on the walk back to Gora Station!

After returning to Gora Station, we went to queue for the funicular. We noticed this tree that was planted to commemorate the relationship between the Hakone Tozan Railway and the Rhatische Bahn in 1979.

We took the funicular back up to Sounzan and then changed to the Hakone Ropeway to get to Owakudani.

The weather was similar to when we left, perhaps a bit worse with a darker overcast sky.

After arriving at Owakudani, we went outside to take a look. It was extremely windy!

We did see some blue sky to the east, probably past Gora, but that was about it.

We didn’t spend too much time at Owakudani due to the weather. We quickly took the gondola back down!

After returning to Gora, we decided to have a snack. We went to 花詩, a small shop near the station, and got a parfait and mochi. The owner actually has two shops with the other one down in the valley near the Indigo!

It was a fairly early end to the day, but that is OK as we had the in-room onsen to enjoy! And, we had a bit of packing to do as tomorrow is the last day on our trip.

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