Kanagawa: Getting a whiff of the Earth at Hakone museum

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A model of a Jokisei Onsen system is seen inside the Hakone Geomuseum.

HAKONE, Kanagawa — The constantly rising steam and the boiling hot mud of Owakudani reminded people of a place they would rather not be, earning it the nickname, “the great hell.”

The district in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, was renamed Owakudani in 1873 prior to Emperor and Empress Meiji’s visit because “the Imperial couple should not be taken to hell.”

The Hakone Geomuseum not only allows visitors to get a feel for Hakone, but also exhibits volcanic rocks and fossils that were found in the area, including in Owakudani.

One of the exhibits at the museum features sulfur rocks, which are bright yellow and can either have a smooth or rough surface. The rocks themselves do not smell like sulfur, but some have a glittery appearance, which is dependent on how quickly it solidifies.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sulfur rocks

“That sulfur smell comes from hydrogen sulfide,” curator Tamami Yamaguchi said. “Many visitors are surprised when they learn that the rocks don’t actually smell.”

The museum also has a large section dedicated to hot springs.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
The miniature display of the area around Owakudani in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture

The massive amount of volcanic steam spewing around Owakudani contains elements found in Hakone’s hot spring water, which is made by mixing the steam with water from low-lying areas. The onsen water made through this method, known as Jokisei (steam wells) Onsen, is delivered to nearby accommodation facilities, together with other hot spring water, via special pumps.

At the museum’s entrance, two handmade working models of a Jokisei Onsen system are on display, which can be operated using a foot pump.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A handmade model of a Jokisei Onsen system

“Understanding the Jokisei Onsen is the first step to understanding Owakudani,” Yamaguchi said. “I want visitors to first understand how it all works.”

“It’s a rare museum in which you can feel that the Earth is alive,” she added.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

As I inhaled the hydrogen sulfide that filled the air, I felt like I was inhaling the Earth’s breath. That was when I realized that Yamaguchi was right.

Hakone Geomuseum: 1251 Sengokuhara, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture