Having taken in the bright lights of Tokyo, the next stop on our itinerary was Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, a picture-perfect symmetrical active volcano – when it shows itself from behind the clouds, that is! Whilst do-able as a day trip from Tokyo, Fuji-san’s surrounding area merits a couple of days if you’ve got the time; besides the famous lakes in the foothills, there are lava caves and restored traditional villages to explore.
Although all of our accommodation was pre-booked, we were winging it when it came to transport since our pre-trip research had led us to the conclusion that the JR Pass simply didn’t make financial sense for our trip; it’s fair to say that Brexit didn’t help the situation. Having had the foresight to check buses the night before leaving Tokyo, we reserved a spot on the 13:15 highway bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko and printed the booking confirmations out at the hostel.
After spending the morning wandering round Ueno and devouring more watermelon skewers from Ameya-Yokochō, the open-air market, we hauled our rucksacks over to Shinjuku. Finding Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal was a challenge in itself; following signs through a labyrinth-esque shopping mall resulted in a dead end and we were left feeling thoroughly puzzled. As it turned out, the aforementioned terminal closed earlier this year and buses now depart from the similarly-named Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal, but signs were yet to be updated. A handy printout from a travel agency set us on the right path, and we made it with plenty of time to spare.
Hopping off the bus to a non-existent view of Mount Fuji, we stocked up on leaflets from the tourist information centre, picked up a bite to eat from a 7-Eleven and headed to K’s House Mt Fuji, our home for the next couple of nights. Furnished with a low table, cushions, tatami mats and futons, our Japanese-style room at a mere ¥8400 (£65) per person for two nights fitted the bill perfectly. We also discovered the hostel was home to a “Western” loo (i.e. the high-tech Japanese variety) and an “Asian” loo (i.e. a squat toilet). We’ll gloss over the time I opened the door on someone as they’d forgotten to lock the door . . .
Fuelled up and ready for action, we set off in search of a panoramic view of Fuji-san. Ominous grey clouds loomed over Lake Kawaguchi; the overcast weather meant we saw virtually no-one by the lake, nor on our walk up Mount Tenjo.
With the Kachi-Kachi Ropeway closed due to an impending thunderstorm, we decided to head up Mount Tenjo on foot; despite difficulties locating the starting point of the trail we soon commenced the short but steep ascent.
Colourful hydrangeas lined the aptly-named Hydrangea Route and the wooded mountainside had an earthy scent following the morning’s rain. Handy signs informed us of viewing points – both of Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi – and before long we had reached Nakabadaira Observation Area.
Hiding behind the clouds some sixteen miles away was Japan’s revered Mount Fuji. Several claps of thunder and lightning strikes later, the clouds cleared ever so slightly to reveal Fuji-san’s symmetrical silhouette.
Blink and you’ll miss it – Mount Fuji waits for no-one. Fortunately, the picturesque Lake Kawaguchi does and the aerial views of this tranquil lake surrounded by lush greenery compensated for a lack of cooperation on Mount Fuji’s part.
When Fuji-san once again disappeared behind the clouds, we made our way back to K’s House before heading out for tea. We opted to follow the hostel staff’s recommendations and set off in the pouring rain for Kosaku Hoto Kosaku. This traditional eatery features tatami mats, low tables and a menu brimming with local specialities. Laurence opted for the spicy pork hōtō (similar to miso soup with lots of seasonal vegetables), whilst I went for some tasty duck skewers.
- Reservations for the Shinjuku-Kawaguchiko highway bus can be made online; payment is made at the bus station prior to departure.
- K’s House Mt Fuji is an affordable and friendly hostel, located only a short walk away from Lake Kawaguchi and a host of delicious eateries. Plus, when Mount Fuji’s being cooperative you can actually see it from the first floor of the hostel.
- If you want to save some yen, skip the Kachi-Kachi Ropeway and make your way up Mount Tenjo on foot; it takes half an hour or so to reach the summit on the novice-friendly route. Wear appropriate footwear, and consider the weather – it was only when we actually heard the thunder that we realised we were in the worst possible place during a thunderstorm.