They are eggs of such an intense black that the sun removes shades of copper. Their shells are scattered in heaps on the tables of a picnic area. Around them, families and groups of friends enjoy the aperitif as well as the landscape. In its surroundings, the slopes of a valley veiled by sulfurous mists.

The setting is Owakudani, about 80 kilometers from Tokyo in a south-westerly direction. Why do millions of Japanese visit it every year with the purpose of devouring one black egg after another? Well, because, according to legend, each of them gives them seven years of life .Crowds of Japanese participate in the ritual of eating black eggs.

Go ahead, they are ordinary chicken eggs and they taste like a normal hard-boiled egg. What distinguishes them is their cooking, since they bathe in the volcanic waters of the valley. Operators equipped with protective gloves and footwear submerge several dozen of them in a kind of cage until the shells acquire their characteristic color. Then they are sold five by five, in little paper bags. Tradition associates the longevity power of these eggs with Jizō , one of the most beloved deities in Japan.

The passion for these kuro tamago (literally “black eggs”) has turned into a lucrative merchandising business : from clothes and stuffed animals to cell phone decorations and even Hello Kitty dolls inside their own egg.

Ascent to hell

Owakudani means Great Boiling Valley . It received that name in 1873, after a visit by Emperor Mutsuhito and Empress Shōken. It was previously known as Jigokudani, the Valley of Hell . Both denominations give an idea of ​​its appearance. Originating about 3,000 years ago, during the last eruption of the Hakone volcano, the place is characterized by its fumaroles , geysers and steaming pools . Its sulfuric emanations cause an odor very similar, precisely, to that of rotten eggs.Fumaroles of the Valley.

The best views over the valley are achieved aboard the cable car that connects the Sōunzan and Tōgendai stations, a journey of just 1.5 kilometers that overcomes a drop of 280 meters. From its height you can see an entire area of ​​barren and rocky land dotted with concentrations of sulfur.Owakudani, cable car view.

But beyond the walks through shreds of mist and the famous black eggs, Owakudani and its surroundings also attract visitors for its onsen (traditional hot spring baths) and excursions . On clear days, you can also see the unmistakable profile of Mount Fuji . In fact, one of the most appreciated images by photography lovers can be captured: the so-called Fuji diamond. It is the exact moment when the sun sets over the top of the mountain, creating a spectacular flash.Mount Fuji veiled in the distance from the lake shore.

Another attraction is Lake Ashi . Sitting in a crater, along its rim are numerous fountains, temples, and ryokans (traditional lodgings). Around it you can practice hiking with routes of various levels of difficulty. What is surprising in this environment, because they are incongruous, are some pirate galleons –more typical of the Caribbean seas– crossing the lake from end to end. It is a popular cruise line created in the 1950s.One of the pirate ships that ply Lake Ashi.

A multipurpose divinity

The Japanese, world champions in longevity, have Jizō statues in virtually every one of their towns and cities. This bodhisattva (someone who, having reached the threshold of nirvana, delays his final enlightenment as a Buddha in order to help others follow the same path) embodies optimism, compassion, and universal salvation . His charisma is not only due to the power to prolong life, but he is invoked in countless situations: to have a good birth, against toothache, as guardian of fishermen, patron of firefighters, defender of children and older women, protector on the battlefield and in the realm of hell, etc.

He is the only bodhisattva commonly characterized as a Buddhist monk. He has a shaved head and wears monkish habits, without ornaments. Statues of him often appear wearing red bibs, scarves, or hats.Jizo with red bib in Kamakura.

They are usually ex-votos of grateful parents for the healing of their children. And they use red as a color that is associated with the expulsion of diseases and demons. So popular is Jizō that he can even be seen depicted as a manga character .

Previous article10 books to read before traveling to Africa
Next articleWhere to eat in Naples? (and not just pizza and pasta)