For our second day Japan’s Fuji Five Lakes region, we got up early to catch the first bus to Lake Kawaguchi. It’s been a while since I posted Day 1 of our Mount Fuji Trip Report, but you can read that here. Now that fall colors season is winding down in Kyoto, I’m no longer racing around to as many temples as possible like a madman, so I should have more time to catch up on our no-longer-so-live Japan trip report.
Speaking of which, you can expect daily posts on TravelCaffeine for…pretty much the rest of the year. Before we left for Japan, I wrote a slew of posts in my free time while we were in Indianapolis. So this blog doesn’t become all Japan, all the time, I figure it’s a good time to start mixing things up with those and the trip report.
Anyway, Mount Fuji. Before leaving our hotel, we double-checked with the front desk about our bus plans since Google Maps didn’t have coverage of the area and our timetables weren’t in English. We also checked again to make sure they would be able to run a shuttle if we returned to the area after the last scheduled shuttle. With everything confirmed, we were good to go, albeit a bit apprehensive…
“A bit apprehensive” is probably a bit of revisionist history. I’m not particularly easy-going when it comes to transit, especially when there’s a decent chance it can impact my itinerary. I don’t know if there’s a succinct word to describe my demeanor, but “blankly staring at my blue dot in Google Maps” for the duration of the ride probably best encapsulates it.
Ultimately, we successfully navigated from from Lake Yamanaka to Lake Kawaguchi without incident. This was a proud moment, and I felt something like Magellan accomplishing this truly impressive feat. (Well, if Magellan had a bus time table, directions from hotel staff, and a progress-tracking app. But still, we’re basically the same.)
Now, I realize this is exactly how anyone would’ve gotten between the two places only a few years ago, but I think we all recognize that the time before Google Maps was a dark age. I have little doubt that I’d regularly get lost around where we live in California without Google Maps.
Our first stop was Chureito Pagoda, which required a transfer at Fujisan Station. At least we were off the bus (I have an irrational hatred of buses).
While waiting at the station, we picked up some delicious and cute snacks. This also gave us the chance to see the historic Fujikyu Railway Line. After seeing the reserved cars on that railway, we definitely want to go back and give that a try someday.
It might sound superficial, but Chureito Pagoda was high on my list solely by virtue of a photo. Seeing a single image of the fall colors at the base of the pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background was enough for me.
For all I knew, the grounds could be a tribute to mischievous water goblins or a half-dog, half-raccoon critter with giant testicles. I didn’t know, as I had done no research.
Fortunately (more like unfortunately), Chureito Pagoda was not a tribute to either fun little creatures. However, it was filled with plenty of other critters, and danger lurking around every corner. DUN DUN DUN.
Chureito Pagoda is part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine, which is a sprawling mountainside complex. All of it is pretty straightforward, with the view above the pagoda being the unequivocal highlight, and what draws the vast majority of visitors to the area.
Here are a few photos:
Despite more warnings of danger as our journey continued, we never encountered any mischievous creatures on the hike. Bummer.
While this stop was a lot of fun, it cut into our time at Lake Kawaguchi pretty significantly. As we were looking for things to do the following morning before catching our bus back to Shinjuku, Chureito Pagoda kept coming to mind as the easiest option (since we could’ve done our bus pick-up from that station and skipped like half of the highway bus stops that way). Oh well, it was still awesome.
Our first stop upon arrival at Kawaguchiko Station was racing across the street to line up for houtou (or hōtō) noodles at Hoto Fudo to beat the lunch rush. This is a Mount Fuji regional specialty that’s basically flattened udon noodles that have a bit of elasticity to them served in miso broth and with a ton of vegetables. The downside is the dish usually doesn’t contain meat. Upside: ours had plenty of mushrooms.
The dish is also served super-hot, which is a common thing with noodles. I’m well aware of this, yet I continue to burn my tongue due to my impatience. Hoto Fudo was really good, and we’d recommend it. The thick noodles were a unique touch, and made the dish especially hearty. The restaurant also served raw horse meat, but neither of us could bring ourselves to try that.
While we beat the lunch rush at Hoto Fudo, we did not beat the lunch rush for the sightseeing buses around Lake Kawaguchi. The huge line for these buses was an unexpected surprise, but probably shouldn’t have been given that we were told this was the peak weekend for fall colors around Lake Kawaguchi.
After waiting a while, we packed into a bus like sardines, and started along the long trip around the lake. Initially, we figured we’d start at the Maple Corridor and work our way back, accomplishing whatever else we could as we walked back before our drop-dead point in order to catch the last bus back to Lake Yamanaka at around 4 p.m.
About halfway through the trip, we realized that traffic was so intense that we’d probably be better off just getting out and walking, so we did that. Sure enough, we were walking ahead of the bus for quite a while before it finally took a commanding “lead.”
In any case, it’s much more pleasant to enjoy a destination on foot than be on cramped public transit (one of the reasons I’d rather walk where I’m going even if the commute will take twice as long as rail or buses).
We quickly realized that we had not allocated nearly enough time to Lake Kawaguchi. Just in the mile or so that we walked, we spotted several places we wanted to visit, but couldn’t due to our time constraint.
My biggest regret is not doing Kawaguchiko Music Forest, which is basically a European music-box theme park(?) and museum. You might think that a music-box museum is pretty niche, but it’s not even the only music box museum we’ve seen in Japan.
Finally, we arrived at the Momiji Tunnel (Maple Corridor). This was seriously impressive and stunning. It reminded me a lot of the Path of Philosophers during cherry blossom season both in terms of the beauty and the crowds.
Photos definitely don’t do this corridor justice.
After meandering along the Momiji Tunnel for a while, we arrived at Kubota Itchiku Art Museum. This is a quaint museum dedicated to Kubota Itchiku, the renowned kimono artist, and located in a forested area away from the main stretch of the Maple Corridor.
In a few ways, the museum reminded me of the Ghibli Museum, a place we love in Tokyo.
While the single-subject Kubota Itchiku Art Museum is small and somewhat pricey, the kimonos on display are breathtaking, and the presentation is incredible. (Sorry, photos are not allowed inside.)
Like the Ghibli Museum, the buildings themselves are art, and there’s a certain intimacy and joy in wandering the grounds. It’s something we’d definitely recommend, irrespective of your interest level in kimonos.
We spent a fair chunk of time strolling around the mountainside paths at the museum. The fall colors were not quite as pretty here as in below, but the experience was sublime, as was the tranquility.
Yet again, we found signs warning us of animals. Yet, the only thing critters we ever saw were feral cats. These signs were beginning to feel like false advertising.
With our deadline to leave approaching, we headed back down to the main street, stopping for photos whenever a picturesque scene presented itself (which was often). Even before this, a large chunk of our day was spent doing exactly that.
It may not sound like we had a particularly productive day at Lake Kawaguchi, but we the scenery was beautiful, and it felt like we did a lot, even if we didn’t “accomplish” a ton in traditional checklist fashion.
After successfully navigating the transit back to Lake Yamanaka, we spent some time wandering the fall nighttime illuminations along the lakeshore there. For reasons that elude me (as is so often the case with all things science), the foliage here was no longer at its peak, as was the case at Lake Kawaguchi.
Still, it was pretty, and the warm lighting helps conceal that a bit. More than the illumination, we enjoyed wandering the night market, seeing the art and food that was being sold by various vendors.
Upon finishing all of this, we wandered back to the bus station where the Marriott shuttle had dropped us off, stopping first at 7-11 to stock up on dinner supplies. While there, we called the hotel to arrange pick-up, since the shuttle had stopped running.
There was initially some confusion, but they told us they would be there to pick us up within 15 minutes. Someone from the hotel arrived in roughly that amount of time, in what was clearly their personal car. Although this was above and beyond service, we felt a little bad.
Even though I had confirmed twice with the hotel that we could call for a shuttle, I still had the lingering feeling that something was being lost in translation. Perhaps I’m wrong, and this actually is standard operating procedure. The staff was incredibly nice and accommodating throughout our stay.
Sunrise the next morning from the field near our hotel. The warm red on Mount Fuji from the rising sun looks sort of odd, but that’s how it appeared to the eye, too.
The view from the hotel was also pretty, albeit with power lines obstructing the view, so not exactly photogenic.
Ultimately, we had a great stay in the Fuji Five Lakes area, and would definitely like to return at some point. We’d also probably try to spend 3 (week)nights in the area, and try to do things at a more relaxed pace. While the area is pricey by Japan standards, I think by going during the week and staying at a centrally-located hotel, we could avoid the inclusive transportation passes that really spike costs. Oh, and on our final day, Mount Fuji was completely consumed by cloud coverage from the time we got up until our highway bus departed for the return to Shinjuku–underscoring the need to spend more than one day in the region. From there, we headed off to Nagoya, which is where we’ll pick up the next installment of this trip report!
Have you ever visited Mount Fuji? Did you visit any of the spots referenced in this installment of the trip report? Try hōtō noodles? Any questions or feedback about what we did in this installment of the trip report? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!