Exploring Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi

Exploring Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi

Fuji Hakone Izu National Park

Date Visited: July 4, 2018 – July 6, 2018

Back in 2018, we explored several regions of Japan, and we were particularly excited to finally visit some international National Parks. And we decided to start by hiking the big one: Mount Fuji (富士山, Fujisan). After that, we planned to stay in the town of Fujikawaguchiko (富士河口湖町, Fujikawaguchiko-machi), located beside Lake Kawaguchi (河口湖, Kawaguchiko) at the base of Mt. Fuji.

Spoiler alert: we weren’t able to climb Mt. Fuji, but we had fun anyway. This post details the bit we did get to experience on Mt. Fuji and in the town of Fujikawaguchiko (also located within Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park).


Mount Fuji is located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (富士箱根伊豆国立公園, Fuji-Hakone-Izu Kokuritsu Kōen), southwest of Tokyo. The mountain is divided into 10 “stations,” ascending from bottom to top. We decided to start from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, which is about halfway up and is accessible by bus.

There are four main trails to climb Mt. Fuji. It would be our first time hiking Fuji, so we chose the Yoshida Trail, which is the safest and most popular. It’s also easy to access from Tokyo, and has plenty of amenities. The route is around 9 miles round-trip (14.4 km), with over 4,800 feet (1463 m) of cumulative elevation gain.

We decided to make it an overnight so we could experience the sunrise. That requires waking up super early and climbing to the summit, which is supposed to be somewhat miserable…but we figured we’d be disappointed if we didn’t do it.

Scattered around Mt. Fuji are huts where guests can stay the night. Reservations are required, so we reserved spots at the Fujisan Hotel (located at the 8th Station), through Fuji Mountain Guides. This service was helpful because we were able to make our request online in English, and they booked the reservation for us.

Next, we needed transportation to Mt. Fuji, so we bought bus tickets from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Mt. Fuji Subaru 5th Station. We chose a bus with a restroom (not all buses have them) since the ride was around 2.5 hours. Two companies run buses from Shinjuku to Mt. Fuji Subaru 5th Station: Fujikyu and Keio. We made a reservation on a Keio bus through highwaybus.com for 6:45 a.m. The soonest we could make a reservation was around 30 days out.

We had planned our trip for early summer (the end of the rainy season) to avoid extreme crowding, so we knew there was a chance for storms. Other blogs were a good source for suggested gear. We already owned most of what we needed, but decided to purchase some heavier duty gloves and thermal base layers in case of cold or rainy weather.

Sadly, we had to call off our hike due to Typhoon Prapiroon. There’s not much you can do about 56 mph (90 km/h) winds, driving rain, and mudslides. Safety is our priority, and we try to remain flexible.

Tokyo to Mt. Fuji

Prior to attempting to hike Mt. Fuji, we stayed in Asakusa in Tokyo. Around 6:15 a.m., we took the admirably efficient train system to Shinjuku Station, then walked to the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal above the JR Shinjuku Station. On the way, we made a quick stop at FamilyMart in the bus terminal for onigiri and sandwiches.

At 6:45, we boarded the bus and began navigating the streets of Tokyo. The bus was less than half full. I blame the rainy and dreary weather. We knew there was a possibility we’d have to cancel our hike, but we still had hope at this point. We kept an eye on the forecast, but it wasn’t very promising.

The bus ride was mostly uneventful, and we started to ascend Mt. Fuji. Hikers can start at the base of the mountain too, but we figured it would be challenging enough from the halfway point.

Mt. Fuji Subaru 5th Station

At 9:20 a.m., the bus arrived at the 5th station. It was pouring rain, windy, cold, and generally yucky. I almost didn’t want to get off the bus. But we hopped off, grabbed our backpacks from underneath the bus, and ran to the closest shelter we could find – a souvenir shop and lodge called Fujikyu Unjokaku.

As we pondered our next steps, we chatted with some other hikers, particularly about the inclement weather. Everyone seemed to be wondering what to do next. We stalled a bit by using the restroom and getting lunch. All public restrooms on the mountain cost 100 yen (we brought change).

Upstairs, the restaurant area was crowded with people who seemingly just finished their hike. We talked with a couple people who descended Mt. Fuji earlier that day and said it was miserable. They also mentioned that the weather had been perfect the previous day.

We ordered tempura udon and hoto, both of which were surprisingly delicious given the lack of other options. After we ate, we put on our rain gear, and decided to check the visitor information center. There, we were promptly told that hikers were not allowed to climb due to the current weather conditions.

So that was that. There were high winds, along with warnings about flooding and mud slides. Japan was hit hard by the typhoon, and there were even some deaths. Southern Japan was impacted the most, and we were fortunate to be further north.

We were disappointed (though not surprised), as were other hikers. Summitting Fuji is a lifelong dream for some. I was, however, relieved that we wouldn’t be hiking in those conditions. So, now what?

Our plan had been to travel to Lake Kawaguchi the following day, after completing our hike. We briefly discussed staying the night at the 5th Station, but instead decided we would travel to Lake Kawaguchi a day early so we could maximize our time and enjoyment on our international trip. The visitor center staff called Fujisan Hotel (our mountain hut) to cancel that reservation for us.

Before leaving, we explored the 5th station. We checked out the gift shops, then found Fujisan Komitake Shrine behind some buildings. The shrine was under construction, and even with the rain and wind, workers were doing some repairs.

We explored the picturesque temple, and got our goshuin stamped. In another small gift shop, we talked with a few employees, who kindly gave us some snacks. After looking around, we went to the bus booth and purchased our tickets to Kawaguchiko Station. The cost was 1,540 yen per person for a 45 minute ride.

Lake Kawaguchi – Day 1

Upon arriving in the lakeside town, the bus dropped us off at Kawaguchiko Station. We only had our backpacks with us. Our other luggage had been sent via Takkyubin to Kasuitei Ooya (花水庭おおや), the hotel where we planned to stay in Lake Kawaguchi.

At Kawaguchiko Station, we found a visitor center where the employees spoke English. They were able to book us a room at Katsuitei Ooya for that night. The only room available was a Japanese-style room – it was more expensive, but we were excited to stay there. The following night we’d have to switch to the western-style room we’d reserved previously.

The walk from the station to Katsuitei Ooya is only about 15 minutes. Conveniently, the hotel also provides a shuttle from the station, so we decide to take it. After a short drive, we checked in and went to our room – and were pleasantly surprised. Our Japanese-style room was spacious, and had a balcony with a gorgeous view of Lake Kawaguchi.

We were excited to explore Fujikawaguchiko. Afterall, the town is located inside a National Park. This concept intrigued us, since it’s quite different from National Parks in the United States. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining in town, but views of Mt. Fuji were non-existent. However, the sky and town were incredibly beautiful and serene.

Near our hotel, we browsed a row of small gift shops. We passed Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway which takes visitors to an observation deck near the peak of Mount Tenjo called Tenjoyama Park. Given the weather, we were unlikely to have a view of Mt. Fuji, but Travis and I agreed to check it out the following day (it was a must-do).

It was dinner time, so we searched online and found a tempura place called Fuji Tempura Idaten. It was a bit of a hike to get there, and it was some of the best tempura we’ve had. If you’re visiting Lake Kawaguchi, we highly recommend it – especially the asparagus tempura. The area is also well known for hoto, a thick miso stew with wide noodles. We planned to try that the following evening.

Lake Kawaguchi – Day 2

The next morning, we had a rather elaborate breakfast in the dining room at Katsuitei Ooya. We were looking to immerse ourselves in Japanese culture, so we wore our yukata. We weren’t sure if others would be wearing those or street clothes, but it was about 50/50. And they were pretty comfy too!

Next, we walked to Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway. It was raining on and off, but we were excited. After purchasing our tickets, we boarded the gondola. The views of the lake, mountains, and town were jaw-dropping. It was so gorgeous, even on a day with thick clouds, I doubt there is ever a bad view from there. Taking a slow day to explore is not our usual, and Lake Kawaguchi was the perfect place to do that.

At the top are multiple little attractions, as well as a gift shop. Scattered throughout the observation area are statues of a tanuki and a rabbit. These characters represent the Japanese fable Kachi-Kachi Yama – how a rabbit gets revenge against an evil tanuki…it’s actually a pretty dark story. Naturally, there’s also a small shrine to rabbits.

The clouds were so thick that we didn’t have a view of Mt. Fuji’s summit – but we could see the base. There are a few hiking trails up there, too. One is a long dayhike to Mount Mitsutoge (~6 hours round-trip), which unfortunately we didn’t know about at the time. Instead, we chose a much shorter 20 minute round-trip hike to the top of Mount Tenjo. The trail goes through woods and leads to a small shrine. We doubled back and took the ropeway down.

Once back down, we happened by Tenjoyama Gokoku Shrine, and noticed a hiking trail that started there as well. We later learned that it leads up to Mount Tenjo and is called the “Hydrangea Route” since native hydrangea bloom there from mid-July to late-August. It was too late for us to hike it, but we were impressed with the hiking and walking options in the area. We also found a small shrine near a neighborhood.

The neighborhood itself was a peaceful, cute residential area with gardens in the back. We enjoyed getting a glimpse of the vernacular architecture and everyday Japanese life. It seemed like we often had a more authentic cultural experience when we got away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities and popular tourist attractions.

We were getting hungry, and we wanted to check out Hoto Fudo, a well known restaurant near Kawaguchiko Station. For whatever reason, they had closed early. Bummer. We searched online and found another hoto place called Koshu Hoto Kosaku, which was a 25-minute walk from our hotel. That wasn’t going to dissuade us though. The experience was worth the walk, as the food was delicious, and the ambiance was perfect. There are low tables, and it’s a huge space which we had almost entirely to ourselves.

Kawaguchiko – Day 3

The next day, we took a train from Lake Kawaguchi to Kamikochi (上高地, Kamikōchi), which is located in Chubu Sangaku National Park. We were ready for our next adventure, a three-day backpacking route up to Yarigatake. But the typhoon was still in full force throughout much of Japan, so once again we weren’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, Yarigatake would be much more successful than our Mt. Fuji climb.



Interactive Map

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