After a short-lived snooze, we were up at the crack of dawn in an attempt to see the legendary Mount Fuji at sunrise. Croissants in hand, we left the hostel just before 4am and made our way to the viewpoint on the northern shore of Lake Kawaguchi. Unfortunately for us, due to low cloud cover, Fuji-san thwarted our plans and never put in an appearance. On the upside, with everyone else still (sensibly) in their beds, the lakeside was indescribably peaceful.
We then looped back to the hostel for a few more hours’ sleep, resurfacing bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8am. After scoffing a few slices of toast, we set off for the station to catch the Omnibus, a sightseeing bus service which operates three routes around Fuji Five Lakes.
Our first stop was Saiko Bat Cave, a lava cave formed by one of Mount Fuji’s eruptions. Featuring lava stalactites, corded lava, lava shelves and domes and extending 350m into the ground, this is the biggest lava cave in the area – and by far the best of the three we visited. Entry is a mere ¥300 (£2.35) and after passing through the turnstile and being provided with a hard hat, you’re on your own. Saraba da, ’Elf and Safety! After a short woodland walk, we descended the slightly slippery steps into the cave. Although the bats were all asleep, squatting through the tunnels had us in absolute hysterics – waddling our way through the lava cave, we must have resembled the penguins on Frozen Planet!
Before we knew it, we were emerging from the cave which we’d had almost to ourselves – we’d timed our trip perfectly, as a huge tour group was preparing to descend into the darkness when we left. We then hopped back on the bus, hopping off at Fugaku Fuketsu (Wind Cave). After purchasing a combined ticket for both the Wind and Ice Caves (¥600/ £4.70) we made our way back below ground. During the Meiji era, the Wind Cave played an important role in the silk trade; the Japanese realised that by storing silkworm eggs in a cooler place they could breed silkworms several times a year, consequently increasing silk production dramatically. In the 1950s and 60s, tree seeds gathered from all across Japan were stored in the cave to keep them fresh; this contributed to the timber production industry. After a quick snack above ground, we set off for the Ice Cave. Hard hats were optional, but it was a good job I opted in as I promptly smashed my head into the rock much to the amusement of some Japanese onlookers. With lots of tour groups, and a few icicles and lumps of ice this was nowhere near as impressive as the promotional material had made it out to be – but at least it only cost a couple of pounds.
Overlooking Lake Saiko, the picture-perfect recreated village of Saiko Iyashi-no-Sato Nenba was the ideal place to while away a couple of hours; the original settlement was destroyed by a typhoon in 1966. Amusingly, when we went to pay the adult entry price of ¥350 (£2.75) we were asked if we were children. I know we’re not that tall, but still . . .
Needless to say, we politely informed her that we weren’t, paid for our tickets and then set off to explore the area. Zigzagging up the hillside, a dozen or so thatched buildings dot the landscape, interspersed with water features and small plots of land used for growing crops. With water tumbling effortlessly from its spokes, the wooden water wheel was one of my favourite features.
Some of the buildings are furnished traditionally, whilst others hold shops selling local produce and craftwork. We tried some Yukon tea, which is made from potatoes and is apparently ideal for treating constipation amongst other ailments, and followed this up with a Mr Whippy-esque ice cream; Laurence opted for matcha, whilst I stayed on familiar territory with grape.
We made a final stop beside Lake Saiko before making our way back to Kawaguchiko, where it was chucking it down with rain. A quick pit-stop at K’s House to research routes to Matsumoto for the next day was promptly followed by a trip to the nearest 7-Eleven for supplies. Eager to sample some more traditional Japanese cuisine, we paid a visit to the local tempura restaurant; though the service was sub-par, the freshly-fried tempura was delicious.
- For ¥1200 (£9.40) you can buy a 2-day unlimited pass for use on the red and green Omnibus routes; it costs slightly more for unlimited access to the blue route as well. Tickets are purchased on the bus, cash only.
- Decide in advance which attractions you want to visit and where you fancy stopping off, as buses travel in one direction only round the loop. I would wholeheartedly recommend Saiko Bat Cave (there is an alternative route for tall people who are incompatible with squatting) and Saiko Iyashi-no-Sato Nenba; I was less enthused by Wind Cave and Ice Cave.