If you find yourself in Tokyo, it’s definitely worth the time and effort to take a quick trip towards Mt. Fuji. This snow-dipped wonder is the highest mountain in Japan and is only 60 miles (95 km) south-west of Tokyo.
You should be aware that more often than not, Mt. Fuji hides behinds clouds and its visibility is pretty much unpredictable. Your chance of catching a glimpse is just pure luck so find a Buddha, rub its belly, and wish for the clearest skies as you head out of Tokyo towards this volcanic marvel.
When visiting the countryside, it’s a good opportunity to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and experience an onsen (hot spring) as neither of these are common in the city.
Ryokans, onsens, and seeing Mt. Fuji can be experienced in various surrounding towns, but the best and most picturesque views of the mountain are said to be from Fuji Five Lakes.
Fuji Five Lakes
Located at the base of Mt. Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes is an area in the Yamanashi Prefecture (state) and like the name indicates, it consists of five lakes. (A link to a list of things to do in Fuji Five Lakes coming very soon).
How to get there
There are various ways to get to Fuji Five Lakes but the best and easiest option is by train.
From Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, take the JR Chuo Line to Otsuki Station. You have two options on the JR Chuo Line: the regular train is 100 minutes and the “limited express” is 70 minutes but costs almost twice as much.
Once you arrive at the Otsuki Station, you will get on the Fujikyu Railway Line. This station and the transfer process is very simple as the station is relatively small and the Fujikyu Line goes in one direction, towards Mt. Fuji. On the Fujikyu Line, you have different train options. They all go the same route but express or rapid options have fewer stops and will save you a lot of time. Whichever train you hop on, sit back, relax, enjoy passing through the countryside as you look out the windows on the left and wait for Mt. Fuji to come into view.
Depending on your exact destination, you will get off at either Fujisan Station or Kawaguchiko Station which are the last two stops on the line.
Many hotels and ryokans offer a free pick up service from the closest train station. There are also other transportation options as well as an information booth at both train stations.
Typically found only on the countryside and mostly near lakes or mountains, ryokans are traditional Japanese style inns. The standard decor is tatami flooring, sliding doors, futon bedding, and a dining area with low table and chairs. They’re usually more expensive than “western” style hotels, but worth the extra cost.
What to expect from a ryokan:
Upon arrival, you’ll be escorted to your room and a Nakai-san (room maid) will serve you tea and a tiny snack. You’ll be given a Yukata (kimono style garment) and asked to wear it throughout your stay. You won’t see a bed in your room as the Nakai-san will lay out your futon later in the evening. Yes, you will be sleeping on the floor but be prepared to experience the most comfortable mattress and pillow you’ve ever slept on.
Many Ryokans will serve you dinner IN your room but some have dining areas instead. You will most likely be served a Kaiseki style multi-course meal. Expect an overwhelming feast and even if you’re very familiar with Japanese cuisine, you’re sure to encounter new and unusual tastes and ingredients.
Onsen is a hot spring bath common in many parts of Japan including the areas around Mt. Fuji. In the Fuji Five Lakes area, you’ll find many public indoor and outdoor onsens and you’ll also find them at most hotels or ryokans. What better way to view Mt. Fuji than from an outdoor onsen.
Onsen Ryokan with a view of Mt. Fuji
The only thing better than viewing Mt. Fuji from an onsen is doing it from the privacy of your own room. Such ryokans do exist and are available throughout the Fuji Five Lakes area, where you can soak into your very own volcanic hot spring bath in your private balcony. If you get the chance, be sure to indulge in this unreal experience.
The unforgettable experience
The morning after our wedding, I came across a flight deal to Tokyo and so that’s where we decided to go for our honeymoon part 1 (read more about travel deals, and if you’re curious, honeymoon part 2 was Christmas in Copenhagen).
A week in Tokyo is not enough time to see and eat everything the city offers, so we were hesitant to leave for two days and visit Mt. Fuji. But we’re glad we did as it was the most memorable part of the entire trip.
Since the trip was planned last minute, I was having trouble finding an available ryokan. I was lucky to come across a little treasure called Hotel Kaneyamaen in Fujiyoshida (the prominent city in Fuji Five Likes). Actually, it wasn’t ‘little’ at all, it was more like a large hotel or resort. Not what we expected from a ryokan but it turned out to be magnificent in every way possible .
It was simply breathtaking with a private outdoor onsen and a view of Mt. Fuji. Need I say more?
The Tea Ceremony
In the afternoon, they had a tea ceremony in the garden tea house. It wasn’t a true tea ceremony but a 5 minute version.
Although not served in our room like most traditional ryokans, it was still a private dinner. We were seated in a private room, just the two of us, and we devoured course after course of intriguing and unrecognizable pieces of art. Our multi-course feast included a sukiyaki (hot pot) which is not typically part of a kaiseki style dinner.
After dinner, the guests (who all happened to be Japanese except us) gathered in the lobby for an incredible Taiko (Japanese drums) show.
The building itself was quite large, with a big lobby, a spa, a gift shop, multiple dining areas, and a few public onsens (that we didn’t go to since we had our own). The grounds outside included a tea house, a swimming pool, a foot bath, and a gigantic endless garden that went over a beautiful creek. Needless to say, we wandered around the premises and never left between check-in and check-out.
If you visit Japan, I hope you get to experience a Ryokan as well as a private onsen. If you happen to visit Fuji Five Lakes, here’s a guide of other things to do and see in the area (link coming very soon)!
Happy travels and arigato gozaimasu for visiting this post. *bow*