KAWAGUCHI-KO - taking a shot at Mount Fuji

I've heard that there are people travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo just to take a good shot of Mount Fuji.

This is the picture I wanted to shoot.
I didn't.
The person credited below did.
(Photo: Kpravin2, Mount Fuji Japan with Snow, Lakes and Surrounding Mountains, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This majestic, perfectly shaped volcano - that erupted lastly in 1707 - seems to be hiding behind clouds most of the time so that it can be a challenge - or a hobby - hunting the best view. Or at least a glimpse.

No, I won't spend my leisure time travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo. However, after my trip to Hakone had been Fuji-wise a wash-out - literally, I decided to take another shot - and this time hopefully not only at, but also of the mountain.

This time, I didn't plan my visit to Fuji-san as a day trip, this time it should be an excursion: An overnight stay between Tokyo and Nagoya.

As I arrived by a fully booked and fully filled local train at Kawaguchi-Ko station, the sun was shining, it was noonish, it was hot.

Kawaguchi-Ko station in Japan
Arriving at Kawaguchiko full of optimism and anticipation.
Only two hours later, these shirt'n'shorts were soaking wet.

Kawaguchi-Ko - although sounding like a cheaper motorcycle brand - is one of the five lakes that make up the lakeland at the base of Mount Fuji. It consists of the lakes Yamanaka, Saiko, Shōji, Motosu, and Kawaguchi - being the easiest accessible and therefore most touristy one.

Before I went there, I had seen on the internet that there are three bus lines shuttling people between the most popular and scenic places of the five lakes, there is an abundance of resorts, guest houses, and restaurants - everything is ready and waiting for you.
Apart from the beauty of nature, there are some museums like the Museum of Art, the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum showcasing textile art, the Yamanashi Gem Museum, and the Music Forest Museum.


Kawaguchi-Ko downtown in Japan
Downtown Kawaguchi-Ko.

Although Japan has a very Asian side - obviously, since it is an Asian country - it also adopted some deplorable customs from the US: The amount of packing material, the generous distribution of plastic bags, the mindless use of plastic straws - and the amusement parks.
When there are beautiful lakes, interesting museums, old temples - and last not least a majestic, world-famous mountain, I personally do not need in addition an amusement park - nature is amusing me enough.
But anyway, if you really should get bored, there are fairground rides to amuse you.

After having spent the first hour dragging my suitcase criss-cross Kawaguchi-Ko, asking five different people for the way to my hotel - not really wondering why the minuscule screenshot I had stored on my phone finally didn't guide me straight to the room booked in advance - I finally made it there. Actually, it was a short guy at a garage giving the final directions - a short guy with a shitload of tattoos, in Japan a sign for the Yakuza, the local mafia. A short guy with a tattooed tear under his left eye - isn't that a sign for killing a man in jail? However, the tattooed inmate-murderer explained to me the way to my hotel, I dropped my bags, hopped on a bike and was ready to explore in my sporty, individual way.


Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
Only in Japan: Alluring even under cloudy skies.

I cycled. I cycled along the Kawaguchi-Ko's main street, passing the train station where hordes of day-trippers were boarding tourist busses. Oh, sweet bicycle-freedom! I turned left, rolled comfortably downhill without any paddling....and there it was: Lake Kawaguchi in its entire beauty and glory.

I turned left on a trail and cycled, feeling happy and free.

Families were picnicking on the lawns, kids were throwing pebbles in the water, some men were fishing, it was all so idyllic, I was cycling on.


Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
Even as the clouds are getting denser, there are still fishermen on the lake. 

I was cycling on for another ten minutes when some drops fell on my little t-shirt. Drops of rain. I looked up. Oh look, there was a big grey cloud right above my head. Nothing to worry, it will drizzle a little and then it will be sunny again. No reason to pack up your stuff like the picnickers did now. I knew I was the lucky kind, it would not be raining for long, the sun would win this fight, I kept on cycling.


Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
The Rokkakudo temple on the waters.

I was still very optimistic and waiting for the sun to win the fight against the ugly clouds while I was hiding under a pergola at Yagizaki park overlooking the lake: I saw the Ubuyagasaki bridge, supposedly the best spot to take pictures of the iconic mountain - as long as Fuji-san was visible.  I saw the Rokkakudo, a hexagon temple marking the spot where in 1274 a temple had been built which then was torn down by heavy snow and rain in 1559. All this must be so scenic with a background of only pale blue in a little sunshine.
Yet at that moment, not only had the grey cloud changed its color to anthracite, it also got company by some of its cloud friends.
But I knew I was the lucky kind, it was just a question of time. By now, I was pretty wet, though. It was time the sun would win - I started to get cold.

Not far from park Yagizaki is the doll museum. I'm really, really not interested in a doll exhibition. But where there's a museum, there's a café and being all wet and cold, I craved a hot drink. I craved it even more as I entered the café and the ice-cold breeze blowing from the air condition began to even lower the temperature of my soaked clothes. The friendly waitress brought me a tiny towel with my tiny cup of coffee and handed me the not so tiny check with a tiny smile - 5 bucks.


Coffee in Japan
Everything is always so aesthetically pleasing in Japan.

After a while, as my optimism had predicted, the rain seemed over, I hopped on my bike - after the actually far too refreshing coffee break in the airconditioned room, the humid yet much warmer air outside felt so nice on my skin.

I kept on cycling, observing the color and movement of the clouds, heading west, clearly towards a big assembly of really, really dark puffs - I couldn't even see the tops of the mountains. Uh oh, slowly my optimism that had turned into more and more desperate hope vanished toward fatalism.

No matter what, by now, I was trapped - located pretty much exactly on the opposite end of the stupid lake and, hence, about 10 kilometers from town.


Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
Halfway around the lake.

It rained harder and harder, wearing only some linen shorts and a t-shirt, I was soaked through and through. And so was my canvas backpack with my camera inside.
I was far from being happy and even farther from feeling like the lucky kind. And worst of all, still pretty far from downtown.
After another short wait in a tunnel for the rain to stop, I definitely and officially gave up and just kept on cycling through this flood.

At some point, already within sight of the town of Kawaguchi-Ko, I suddenly spotted a parking lot with a little building: Tourist information.

Three pairs of very surprised eyes looked me up and down. "Konnichi-wa". My plea for a plastic bag to cover my camera was answered by a couple of towels, a disposable raincoat for 200 yen, a map for orientation....oh, and a plastic bag for my camera.
Although I was still soaked through, the plastic coat sheltered me from the airflow while cycling. I didn't feel exactly comfortable, but at least geared-up for the last miles back to my hotel room; the one with the view of Mount Fuji....when there is a view.


Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
Pure serenity.

The indestructible optimist in me set the alarm clock for 5.30 a. m. expecting not only a Mount Fuji view, no, anticipating a Mount Fuji view under a rising sun.

At 5.30 a. m., I couldn't even see the parking lot under my room's balcony in the dense fog. I went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later, the receptionist gave me a ride back to the train station. Before she slid the passenger's door close, she handed me a postcard: There was a picture of Mount Fuji in the sunrise.

Conclusion


So, was it worth it? In all honesty: No. At least not under these circumstances, but you never know before, and somehow, also these not so great days are pieces of my travelling-puzzle.

Nevertheless, if the weather is nice, it's certainly great cycling the 20 kilometers around Lake Kawaguchi and maybe cross the hill to lake Saiko which is famous for trout fishing and nice forests.


Fisherman at Lake Kawaguchi at Kawaguchi-Ko in Japan
Fishing is one of many popular activities around the lakeland.

It was not a complete waste of time, but if you go there mainly to see Mount Fuji, I would do so on a spontaneous day trip - and check the weather report beforehand.

How to Get There


There are various ways leading to Kawaguchi-Ko for Tokyo: There is a regular bus service from Shinjuku as well as Tokyo train stations to Kawaguchi-Ko station at 1,750 yen one way. The trip takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buses leave Shinjuku every hour.

If you have a JR-pass, you can take the local train at Shinjuku. However, the trip is only included to the Otsuki station. From there it is operated by a private train company so that you have to pay another 1,500 yen on arrival - in cash.

Therefore, it is not really worth it to start your JR-pass-period just to go to Kawaguchi-Ko unless you've already activated it.

How to Get Around


Like I wrote above, there are buses taking you comfortable around the entire area. You can buy the tickets on the spot, there are representatives waiting at the train station welcoming visitors. Also, there is a tourist office at the east corner of the train station.

There are different circle buses that cater to visitors taking you to all the points of interest around the five lakes as well as the Fuji World Heritage area. An unlimited pass for two days costs 1,500 yen.


Bycicle
I don't know the reason why, but the Japanese tend to ride bikes that are too small - and this pink sportster was definitely a bit small for my long European legs.

You'll find many bike rentals around the city center, however, I find them quite pricey: A standard bike costs about 1,500 yen for a day and 2,500 yen for 24 hours, an e-bike sets you back up to 4,000 yen for a day and 5,500 yen for 24 hours.

By the way, all the bike shops are offering luggage storage for about 500 yen a piece a day - during their opening hours from 9 a. m. to 5.30 p. m.

Best Place to Stay


Since Kawaguchi-Ko is a popular tourist destination, prices are high. The Fujizakura Inn offers quite good value for money: It's about a 15 minutes walk from the train station - if you contact them beforehand, they arrange a free shuttle. The rooms are okay, supposedly, most of them have a view of Mount Fuji....however, in my case it was a joke that I specifically asked for a mountain view.

Here you can check their rates and availability.*

Best Place to Eat


As I mentioned above, prices at Kawaguchi-Ko, in general, are aimed at tourists and therefore quite high for what you get.

A good and reasonably priced little restaurant is Tetsuyaki at the corner of the main street across from the post office, a bit hidden behind the Tempura restaurant. The main courses are about 800 yen.

A Japanese institution, especially at breakfast time, is Komeda's coffee. Actually, it's a bit like an American diner, but breakfast is good and plenty.


Breakfast at Komeda's in Japan
The toast is free with your morning coffee. You can choose between jam, a soft-boiled egg, or some egg-spread - that's what I picked.

At the Kawaguchi-Ko branch - and in Nagoya, too - you get a big chunk of delicious toast with a spread of your choice for free with your cup of coffee. If you're not very hungry, this makes an excellent breakfast and kind of justifies the coffee price of almost five bucks for a medium-sized cup.


Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I've visited in Japan? Then go to the main post and take your pick!


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18 comments:

  1. This has been on my list for a very long time (the mountain) but the surrounding area looks even more amazing with the lakes. It was a shame you had a cloudy day, but even then the clouds still made the photography a good one (if that makes any sense). Seruiously cant wait to get out here.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It totally makes sense - I also find that the clouds in around the hills add drama to the beauty.
      Nonetheless - I wanted Mount Fuji - and I couldn't even guess where it should have been seen....

      Delete
  2. The bike ride, rain and all, sounds like fun. I lived in Seattle and know the joys and pain of waiting for that perfect mountain shot. There were some days when Mt Baker and Mt Rainier appeared close enough to touch. Other days, you wouldn't even know they were there. Photographing mountains can be a pernicious sport indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried in two locations - and then gave up.
      The ride was actually okay. At some point I was really afraid I might get sick since I was so wet and cold, but I didn't, so all good.
      Perfection is boring, anyway....

      Delete
  3. We caught our first glimpse of Mt Fuji from the Tokyo Tower buried in clouds. We got our second amazing view as we cruised into Shimizu at sunrise. But we never got the stunning views the some people get from Kawaguchi-Ko. It was sad that you did the long bike ride around the lake in the rain and did not the the view you were looking for.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I really wanted to enjoy this iconic view - but then, I've seen so many beautiful things in Japan; and this way, I at least still have something on my bucket list ;-)

      Delete
  4. Wow, what an amazing place! It's definitely going on my bucket list. I hope, the next time I visit my family in the Philippines to be able to include a stopover here for a few days and finally be able to see it.

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  5. Wow wnat an amazing journey, and the scenery breathtaking I definitely want to experience this trip at some stage

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  6. Nice to hear that there are some museums to see, other than all that natural beauty of the scenic five lakes. Would love to see what the Music Forest Museum looks like. I don't think I can even guess what it's about. :D
    Never the less, your adventure sounds interesting, even though you got all wet. And how amused you must have been when getting that postcard with the perfect Mount Fuji view. Ironic, right! :D

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  7. It sounds like your cycle ride was amazing aside from when it rained. I love to cycle to but don't get the opportunity often. Wow that coffee sounds expensive. Lucky it came with toast too.

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  8. I apologize for laughing at your luck but I can relate to this SO MUCH! It’s such a bummer when weather strikes. next time... or maybe the time after that

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  9. Wow, Such a nice journey Japan have lots of tourist spot to visit on of them is Mt. Fuji lucky you!

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  10. What an adventure. Wow. It's too bad the rain got in the way :) You cracked me up about your lack of interest in dolls and then having to seeking refuge there. Sometimes, you've got to do what you have to do. At the very least, you had a day filled with surprises. And, you snapped the famous Mt Fiji :)

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  11. What a serene view and peaceful landscape! I would love to see Mount Fiji up close and enjoy the journey! Thanks for sharing! xo - Kam

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  12. Kristine Nicole AlessandraOctober 30, 2019 at 4:04 AM

    If I would go to Japan (hopefully someday soon) I would want to get that chance to photograph Mount Fuji. I am sorry you had to go through so much difficulties, but I guess it was an experience you'd remember for ever.

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  13. Such a unique experience. Sorry to hear that you weren't able to catch Mt. Fuji at its best. I guess this one would be memorable still being all soaked in the rain.

    On the bright side, at least you got some exercise while cycling. :)

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  14. Wow! Those beautiful landscape and amazing panoramic views! Mount Fuji is also in my bucket list.
    I thought you had so much fun. Thank you for sharing! :)

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  15. I would have been so disappointed if I hadn't gotten that shot of Mount Fuji. I'm glad you could stay optimistic and hopeful throughout your adventure. I hope you have another chance someday to get the perfect shot!

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