Sunday 4 January 2015

Iconic Japan - Lake Kawaguchi and Mount Fuji

Around this time last year I put up a post about New Year's Day in Japan and mentioned that I had missed a big family Christmas that year.  One of my brothers, Matty, decided that he would come to Japan this year to spend Christmas and New Year here.  It was to be a little bit of a shock to the system as Christmas in Australia is in summer time and summer time it is not at the moment in Japan!

It was not Matty's first time in Japan as he had come with me on a trip to Japan 3 1/2 years ago along with 2 good friends, Mark and Warren.  One of the places that we went to during that trip was Lake Kawaguchi and this time he was keen to go back for a winter time visit.

Lake Kawaguchi (or Kawaguchiko) is located almost 100 km west of Tokyo.  It is one of five lakes that circle Mount Fuji on it's north side and has been (and still is) considered a place for religious bathing pilgrimages.

Mount Fuji, itself, needs no real introduction, but for those of you who don't know, here is a little background information on Fujisan.  It is Japan's highest mountain and stands at 3,776m in altitude.  In 2013, Mount Fuji and the surrounding area (including Lake Kawaguchi) were added as a Cultural site to the World Heritage List.  It is an active volcano which last erupted in 1707.  In 2011, after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, more attention was paid to the possibility of an eruption of Mount Fuji.  Mathematical simulations found that if Fuji did erupt, areas nearby would be covered by 50cm of volcanic ash, while as far away as Tokyo would be covered by 10cm of ash.  Disaster management plans have since been revisited and revised to cope with what would prove to be a massive disaster in the event it did happen.

Meeting Matty early (well, early for me) in the morning we started our train ride out to Kawaguchiko.  Kawaguchiko can be reached from Tokyo by a combination of the Chuo Line and the Fujikyu Line from Otsuki in between 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

We got to Takao station and realised that the application I had used to meticulously piece together all 4 legs of our journey had been out on the second leg by a couple of minutes and thus we missed our connection.  Next train, 40 minutes later......  Oh well, neither of us had had breakfast by this stage so we left the station and went searching for some of Takao's finest local fare.  Mere metres from the station we found what we were after.......

A little later, our cravings were satisfied and we got back to the station and onto the train just before the doors shut and it departed.

The trip up to Kawaguchiko takes you through many sleepy rural towns and as the train sped past I had the feeling that I wanted to come back one day and just spend a day or 2 wandering around a couple of them.

By this stage, my travel partner was starting to get a bit tired and took the opportunity to rest his eyelids.

We arrived at Otsuki soon after and went to change trains for the last leg to Kawaguchiko.  Now, when you change to the Fujikyu Line to go to Kawaguchiko, the information displayed in English is not too clear on what to do.  The staff there do speak English but were too busy to help with getting tickets.  Basically, when you go to change trains, you need to buy a separate ticket for the last leg.  There are 2 ticket machines and one ticket window.  My advice, go to the ticket window.  I didn't.  I bought my ticket from the machine and went through the gate and made my way to the train.  Now, there is a local train and an express train.  I found out too late that the difference in price is only 300 yen and that ticket is bought at the ticket window, not the ticket machine.  The difference between the local and the express.......huge!  The express stops 5 times while the local stops 18 times!  Unless you have time to kill, the express is recommended.  We didn't really have that much time as we were attempting the trip there and back to Tokyo on the same day.  We had a little time before our train left so I wandered around the platform to take a few photos.

Japan is well known for it's train systems that run incredibly on time.  In fact I have been known to get a little grumpy when the train I am waiting for is more than a couple of minutes late.  This particular train ran in both directions on only one track.  There were a few points where the track split into two tracks for the trains to pass each other, so the trains had to keep a tight schedule.  Taking this into account, I was amazed at how low tech the driver's controls were.

And the stations.....  Living in Tokyo, I am used to seeing huge stations that house any number of shops and restaurants.  Nothing like that here!

I settled into the current leg of the trip and began to enjoy the countryside.  I, myself, grew up in country towns, so I could really appreciate the tranquility of the towns that we were passing by.

Suddenly a gentleman sitting across from us pointed out of the window and said to us (in English) "Look, we can see Mount Fuji".  Sure enough, there it was.

It's quite difficult to describe the feelings I had looking at Fuji.  If you ask people from all around the world what they think of when they think of Japan, most people would say sushi, geisha, samurai, ninja and Mount Fuji.  The moment I first looked at Fuji, the breath caught in my throat and I couldn't breathe the rest of the way in for a few moments.  To see something so iconic, so famous and so majestic does take your breath away.  The white cap on top, the sun shining off of it's slopes and the white misty cloud of snow being blown from the top of the mountain was something to behold!  Both Matty and myself commented that Fuji seemed much bigger and closer than when we saw it the first time (from the same location!).

Before too long we had arrived at Kawaguchiko station.  There was one place that I wanted to go to get a good view of Fuji and that required going to the other side of the lake, so we headed off in that direction.

Lake Kawaguchi is very popular with people who love fishing and there were a fair number out on the water as we walked around to the other side.

Eventually we arrived at our destination, Kachkachi Yama Ropeway.

There was a lineup waiting for tickets to get on the gondola and make their way to the top so we joined the queue and amused ourselves looking at the different animals that were all around the place.  I don't know what they represented or what the pictures were all about, but it was entertaining and helped us kill the 20 minutes or so waiting to get to the ticket office.

The view from the ropeway were incredible!

It only took 3 minutes to reach the top and from there, the view was simply stunning.  Many people ask me if I have ever climbed Mount Fuji and I always tell them that the image of Fuji that I want to maintain is this one.....

Beautiful.  So we sat down, cracked open a drink and just soaked up the occasion.

All too soon, the sun was starting to set and we realised we would have to make a move to make sure we caught the last gondola down.

We were the first onto the gondola and Matty (who is not so good with high places) immediately (much to my surprise) went to the front of the car as he wanted to take some video footage of the ride back down.  To his credit, he maintained a stoically brave expression all the way down.

We reached the bottom and started making our way back to the train station for the trip home.  As we left the ropeway, we did see more of those curious little animals.  I have no idea, again, what they were doing.....

Making our way back to Tokyo, Matty said that he was so happy to have been able to go back to Kawaguchiko and take in the beauty of Mount Fuji again.  If you ever make it to Japan, or if you are in Japan, I think you should make every effort to see Fuji.  The pictures here don't go anywhere near showing the splendour of Mount Fuji.  For the full experience, you really have to see it for yourself.

Sorry for the wait for this next post, I took a bit of a break for the festive season.  I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy and safe New Year.  Thanks for reading, and see you again soon.


  1. Hi Jason,nice to see you are back on track again.Unfortunately,missed seeing Fuji san on way to Tokyo on shinkansen due to cloud cover.The commuter train reminded me of the one I use to catch on the Sangi Line in was on a narrow gauge as I recall.I too was fortunate to travel on a cable car in Mie in autumn...especially good views returning to the valley below,where there was an onsen and various shops and a hotel,which I ate at..Speaking of food,Adelaide has a new "tepan" style restaurant in Gouger St.(cook your own) , an Izakaya called "En" near the Goodwood Library and "Ichitaro" at Hyde Park near the Greek Rest. on the corner;which is receiving exc. reviews.Trust all is going well in the land of the rising sun..dewa mata...noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      Fuji san is an impressive sight! We were about 10 km from the base and it was indeed majestic!
      The great thing about commuter trains is that you see so much more than you do on the bullet train. I have another trip planned for later this month and all of my travel will be by local trains.
      I hope all of the new Japanese restaurants are impressing!
      Take care Noel,