Friday, December 04, 2009

The black eggs of Owakudani in Japan

Two of the highlights of the Hakone region of Japan — an area about 1 1/2 hours south of Tokyo by train with beautiful mountains, lakes, and all sorts of attractions — are black eggs and a wooden handicraft technique called Yosegi-zaiku.

The black eggs are chicken eggs that have been hard-boiled in the natural hot springs of the Owakudani section of Hakone (the upper station of the cable cars). The sulfur and dissolved minerals in the hot water react with the egg to turn the shell a deep black, supposedly creating life-enhancing properties — Japanese folklore says that eating a black egg adds seven years to your life. Not being much of a fan of hard-boiled eggs, I wasn't excited by the black eggs. And the sulfurous hot springs give the eggs a bit of a rotten aroma, making them even less palatable to me.

The gift shops and restaurants outside of the cable-car stations sell the eggs for about $1 each, aided by Hello Kitty, as the photo below shows. The shirt worn by the left-hand kitty says "black eggs" and the sign that she's holding up says "Owakudani." The characters on the black egg between the kitties also says "Owakudani."


Preparing the eggs is quite an ordeal. Eggs are loaded into specially designed carriers at the base of the hill, then carried up to the thermal pool via a gondola. The staff unloads the eggs, cooks them in a pool, and sends them down the hill on the same gondola, where they are snapped up by eager tourists (500 yen for 5 eggs).

This photo shows the upper terminus of the egg gondola, with an empty carrier near the middle of the photo. Wires to the base of the hill are on the right side of the photo.



Here they are being cooked in the thermal pools, which were sending up photography-challenging clouds of steam. Note the woman on the right who is covering her nose. The gases emitted by the geothermal features include hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a gas that smells like rotten eggs. H2S is also toxic, so there were warning signs all over the place telling visitors to avoid spending too much time at the site.


Hello Kitty also advertises the yosegi-zaiku handicrafts by wearing a kimono that has a pattern similar to the parqueted wooden crafts.






Random link from the archive:The End of the Bees

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