Mount Fuji, Japan’s national symbol, was registered as UNESCO’s world heritage site on June 26, 2013 for its spiritual and cultural importance, making Japanese people and the media get more excited about the Mountain itself and tourist spots around Mount Fuji in Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. Aside from the aim of reviving local businesses and tourism, the UNESCO registration has also raised the awareness of Mount Fuji’s environment and hikers’ safety. As Fuji’s climbing season, which is usually in September, has already ended, this article will introduce you to the beautiful autumn scenery around Kawaguchi Lake, a place where you can do several activities while enjoying Mount Fuji view.
Kawaguchi Lake or Kawaguchiko (河口湖) is the biggest lake among the five lakes around Mount Fuji. It is famous for the reflection of Mount Fuji upon the lake water, as well as many activities in gardens and museums all year round. The season of Kawaguchi lake autumn leaves starts from November to mid-December. Tourist can enjoy the colorful maple trees, cherry trees and kochia. The Kawaguchiko Autumn Festival 2013 starts from November 1st to 31st, and offers the magnificent illumination of the maple corridor, the highlight of Kawaguchiko, which you can experience only once a year.
*Please visit http://www.fujisan.ne.jp/event/info.php?ca_id=3&if_id=680 for more information.
I made a trip to Kawaguchi Lake in late September. Although it was early, I could feel the chilling autumn breeze and the leaves had started to change their colors already. I met my friends, who came from Thailand for a trip to Japan, at Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal near the West Exit of Shinjuku Station. We started our daytrip at 9am, riding the highway bus to Kawaguchiko train station (1,700 yen). We arrived at our destination after 1.30 hours journey on the road. The weather was pleasant, and the sky, clear, which allowed us a wonderful view of Fuji-san (Mt Fuji).
Kawaguchiko train station is situated in the southern part of Yamanashi prefecture, on the north side of Mount Fuji. It is the last station on the Fujikyuko line, which goes from JR’s Otsuki station to many tourist sites around Mount Fuji, such as, Fuji-san, Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park and Kawaguchi Lake. Kawaguchiko station, which is 852 meters above the sea level, is also the sister station with Zermatt on the line to the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Both have the picturesque view of the mountain behind the station. Gateway Fujiyama Café in the station provides a variety of local foods and souvenirs. Don’t miss Shingen Soft Cream (400 yen), the milky ice cream with soybean flakes and a black syrup topping in the café.
After getting off the highway bus, we proceeded to the bus stop near by to ride the local bus (Round trip 2,000 yen) to the 5th stage of Mount Fuji, the furthest we can drive up by car. The bus took the Fuji Subaru Line, in other words, the road to the stars; where we could hear the melody of the Fuji song as the bus drove past the melody road. The bus finally reached the destination after an hour’s journey. The 5th stage of Mount Fuji is 2,305 meters above the sea level, which is almost 2/3 of Mount Fuji’s height. It is the most popular starting point for Mount Fuji hikers because of its facilities and convenient transportation to the lower town. In the off-season, the 5th station is still popular for its beautiful birds eye view of Fuji Yoshida city and Kawaguchi Lake. Komitake Shrine, which is situated behind the shops at the station, is famous for matchmaking and marriage. You can also see Yamanaka Lake, the eastern lake, from the observation platform in the shrine.
Climbing down the mountain, we hurriedly headed to the famous noodle restaurant in front of the train station to fill our empty stomachs. Houtou Fudou is the local noodle chain around the Mount Fuji area. The thick wheat noodle, or Houtou, boiled in miso soup, is served in a big metal pot with tofu, mushrooms and vegetables. A very appropriate dish for a cold day. We also ordered Motsu Ni or Cow intestine stew to eat together with the noodles.
Since we had little time before sunset, we decided to ride the sightseeing bus to see the city around Kawaguchi Lake. The Retro Bus (1,000 yen), which goes from Kawaguchiko station to Kawaguchiko Shizen Seikatsukan offers access to 7 museums, 3 parks and the rope way. Below is the description for famous destinations by the bus stop number
No. 6 Yasugizaki Park: Nice view of Kawaguchi Bridge and the host of Kawaguchi Herb Festival in June in July
No. 7 Kawaguchi Herb Museum: Selling a variety of goods made of herbs grows in Kawaguchi area. Do not miss lavender ice cream, the recommended sweet.
No. 10 Watercycle deck and Ropeway Entrance
No. 12 Asakawa Hot Spring town: Most of the Japanese style hotels are located near this area.
No. 13 Choubou Sakasa Fuji: The best spot to view the reflection of Fuji-san on the lake.
No. 15 Art museum of Kawaguchiko: Exhibits artwork with the theme of Mount Fuji
No. 18 Kubota Itchiku Museum of Art: Display the works of Kubota Itchiku, the late famous kimono-dyeing artist.
No. 21 Kawaguchiko Shizen Seikatsukan: The Park on the opposite side of the lake has jam cooking class and a park café where you can see Mount Fuji whilst enjoying a variety of sweets. The plants will change from lavender in summer to kochia in autumn.
Since my club activity in the university is Kimono, I paid a visit to Kubota Itchiku Art Museum. The first thing I noticed was the front gate, which was made of beautiful carved wood. The decoration in the garden and buildings are based on a combination of Southeast Asian and Japanese art. The exhibitions are divided into 2 parts; the Gaudi’s style building that exhibits glass beads and the Japanese style building that displays Itchiku’s dyeing pieces. Itchiku’s lifetime collection ‘Symphony of Light’ tells the stories of the universe and Mount Fuji in four-seasons. More than 40 precious pieces of Furisode-Kimonos hanging in the wooden exhibition hall created a fascinating mystical atmosphere. I highly recommend this museum for those who like fashion and contemporary art.
Tearoom ‘Itchiku-an’ in the back of the exhibition hall offers delicious green tea and red bean soup (1,000 yen). The decoration of the tearoom itself is exotic. You can also view the waterfall and private garden while enjoying your treats.
Our next destination was Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway (Round trip 700 yen). At the observation deck, you can see the whole Kawaguchi Lake, Mount Fuji and Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park. Since the concept of this ropeway is about the rivalry between raccoons and rabbits, you can see the cute characters everywhere. To sum up, Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway is a good place to take memorial photos.
To give our tiring body a treat, we decided to go to the hot spring near the ropeway. Hot spring or Onsen in Kawaguchiko is famous for its mineral and water temperature suitable for bathing. You can also enjoy the view of Mount Fuji and autumn leaves while bathing in the outdoor bath.
The sky was dark when we went out of the bathhouse, making the reflecting light from hotels across the lake shine so brightly as though it was glitter scattered on the waters surface. The small town was quiet. There were very few cars on the road and the last highway bus had already departed at 6pm. We had no choice but to take the train instead. Although a little more expensive and slower than the bus, the train gave us the relaxing feeling that you don’t feel on bus. It took us back to the crowded Shinjuku in 2 and a half hours, and left us only with the desire to return to that lake town again, and escape the city.