If you were to ask a bunch of random people to tell you what the first thing they think of upon hearing the word ‘Japan’, there would surely be a good sized bunch who say Mount Fuji.
Mount Fuji is not only the highest peak in all of Japan (3776 metres) but it is also an active volcano! The mountain is renowned for being overwhelmingly beautiful, and as I found out, also infamous for being incredibly difficult to get a good look at.
Mt Fuji is a rather shy mistress, and can only be seen in her entirety for around 70 days in the year. If you are headed to Japan mainly for a good Fuji viewing, your best chances of getting a clear view of the entire mountain are in December and January.
As for where to base yourself for a Fuji experience, you have several options. There are five different lakes (and lakeside towns) at different places around the base of the mountain. This region is commonly referred to as Fuji Five Lakes.
The most popular places for Mt Fuji enthusiasts are Hakone and Lake Kawaguchiko – in most part due to how easily these two towns can be reached from Tokyo.
I did not get time to visit Hakone (which is good – it gives me another incentive to return to Japan) but I did get to Lake Kawaguchiko. From Tokyo Station – this trip requires a couple of hours and a few different transfers.
From Tokyo Station, catch the JR Chuo Line (included with JR Pass) towards Toyoda and disembark at Shinjuku Station.
From Shinjuku Station, catch the JR Chuo Line – Limited Express (included with JR Pass) towards Minami Otari. If you plan to do this trip and have a valid JR Pass, take the time the day before your trip to go and reserve your seats. The non-reserved carriages get absolutely chock-a-block full and you’ll most likely end up standing and squished in an uncomfortable position for an hour, and nobody wants that. Disembark the train at Otsuki Station.
At Otsuki, jump on board the Fujikyoku Line bound for Kawaguchiko. You will need to hustle to make your connecting train at Otsuki – the connection time is only about 3-4 minutes! However, it is a semi-guaranteed connection. The Fujikyoku train will wait for the Chuo line to arrive, but it still won’t wait around for any longer than a couple of extra minutes – you will need to power walk or jog to get on it.
Ride on this line for around an hour and disembark at Kawaguchiko Station. Please note that the Fujikyoku train is NOT included with the JR Pass, but you can buy tickets while on board. Tickets are fairly pricey – 1140¥ ($15) each way!
Once you arrive at Kawaguchiko Station, there are a few options regarding things to see and do.
One of the most popular activities is to take a short boat trip out onto the lake itself. On a clear and non cloudy day, I get the feeling that such a trip would be absolutely stunning, however, the weather Gods were just not on my side on this particular day.
The short 20-30 minute boat ride is certainly a pleasant one, but does cost ¥900 ($11) which is a little on the pricey side. If you are visiting at a time when Fuji is visible, it would certainly be worth the money, but if not, it could be worth skipping.
This is what Mount Fuji looks like on a cloudy day. It is rather different from the Fuji you see on postcards, stupid cloud cover!
I had been rather too optimistic about the visibility and was holding out hope that the views would improve. Thus, when the option of a combined boat ride and ropeway ticket was offered, I happily paid the ¥1500 ($19) and kept my fingers crossed.
The Kachi Kachi Ropeway is another activity in Lake Kawaguchiko that is worth doing if the skies are clear. Seen in this next picture, the ropeway ascends up the side of a small mountain to a lookout point. The skies did not clear up at all while I visited, but since I had already paid for the combined ticket, I was going to head up regardless of the distinct lack of views that waited for me.
The ropeway costs ¥720 for a return trip ($9) – but if you are planning to do both the boat and the ropeway, the combined ticket will save you a few hundred yen.
As expected, the views left me feeling markedly underwhelmed, so to make me feel better about the day I got myself some green tea ice cream – which actually did cheer me up quite significantly.
The long journey back to Tokyo was quiet and pleasant, and as an added bonus, I spotted the greatest vending machine ever at one of the train stations. Look at all that coffee!
I got myself a milky iced coffee and not only was it delicious, it also didn’t make me sick – and you can’t ask for much more than that from vending machine fare.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Tokyo: There are two major airports in Tokyo – Narita and Haneda – these two airports serve as major international hubs for Japan
Getting to Lake Kawaguchiko: From Shinjuku Station, catch the JR Chuo Line – Ltd Express towards Minami Otari and get off at Otsuki Station. At Otsuki, transfer to the Fujikyoku Line bound for Kawaguchiko and get off at Kawaguchiko Station.
Boat and Ropeway: Tickets can be bought on the day for ¥900 and ¥720 respectively
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens
Remember: If you are desperate to see Mount Fuji, visit in the winter and set aside at least several days
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