Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hakone no kuro-tamago

We were recently invited on a weekend trip to Hakone, which is a town about two hours southeast of Tokyo. The women we went with are volunteers at the local community center (same ones who roped me into teaching the cooking class) and wanted to show us some Japanese culture. It was the last weekend or so of the fall colors, so seeing the countryside was lovely and we even got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately it was a three day weekend so we weren't the only ones trying to get out of town. After what ended up being an eight hour car ride, the only thing we had time for on the first night was a traditional meal in the hotel.

Under the guise of "selling bingo tickets" to diners in the hotel restaurant, this chipmunk went around groping unsuspecting gaijin. Kidding, I am quite positive the poor gal inside had no idea where her hands were and probably still can't believe she got stuck with this lousy job. Poor thing.

When our dinner guests actually did buy a couple of tickets to the bingo game, I was quite shocked. I mean, Bingo? But as we soon discovered it is really the thing to do! After dinner, we donned our complimentary yukata and went down to the main floor. To our surprise each and every other person staying in the hotel was down there as well. There was a table full of prizes and a very fancy-schmancy video bingo player (which called out the number in japanese and put it on the screen, so it was very good practice for us!)

Also, every child under the age of 7 was able to roam free and harrass the poor chipmunk unencumbered. Alas, not only did we not win at bingo, someone let me leave the room with my hair looking like that. People!

Early the next morning we got up and, after a very interesting traditional japanese breakfast, made our way out to the sulfur pools. We first took a cable car up the mountain.

Then we took the rope car over the sulfur fields, which you could smell way before you could see.

A short hike from there took us to the large pools where they cook the eggs ("kuro-tamogo").

We can't seem to find any information on the exact chemical reaction that is occuring, but the sulfuric acid in the pool is reacting with something in the shells of the eggs. The outside shell turns black over the course of a few days but the inside is merely hard boiled and tastes perfectly normal. The story goes that eating 1 egg adds 7 years to your life, 2 eggs adds 14, but by no means are you ever supposed to eat more than 2.5 eggs.
Then it was off to the Yuneson hot springs resort with 25 different kinds of baths. I don't know if the picture (below) adequately captures the absolute chaos of having that many kids and adults playing in a pool under one roof. Also if you look closely you can maybe see some of the lovely decorating elements, such as fake plastic flowers, stucco'd walls and pillars and clouds painted on the ceilings. Plus, can you see the floor? Those are hard, rather sharp, pebbles in concrete. Who thought that would be a good surface to let wet kids run around on? I was going crazy with worry that someone was going split their head open in front of me. Ryan never needed a cigarette more.
For this reason, we actually braved the outdoor area (above). Despite the icy chill in the air, the throngs of people (mostly adult though), and the merely tepid water in the baths outside, we made our way up the hillside from the coffee bath, to the wine bath, to the green tea bath and finally to the sake bath before we decided to head back and just call it a day. Below you can hopefully see the hooplah surrounding the pouring of a new batch of coffee-like water into that bath (via that other man's head).
And on the way back to Tokyo we stopped to admire the beautiful Fujiya Hotel. If you get a few extra bucks in your pocket, staying at this Hakone hotel (built in 1878) would be a real treat!

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