Exciting excursion around Mount Fuji
When it comes to quick day trips near Tokyo, most travellers would probably envision Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san) in their minds. Japan’s most iconic mountain is relatively close to the capital city and is easily accessible by rail, so it’s only natural that a day trip to the areas around the mountain is highly popular among visitors based in Tokyo.
On a clear day, Mount Fuji can be seen from many areas, and some of them can be as far as prefectures Nagano and Chiba, but most visitors would claim that the best viewpoints are in Yamanashi, where the mountain is partially located. Two of the most popular locations for viewing Mount Fuji are the city of Fujiyoshida (富士吉田市 Fujiyoshida-shi) and Lake Kawaguchiko (河口湖), both of which attract visitors from all over the world throughout the year.
Getting around Arakurayama Sengen Park and Lake Kawaguchiko. (Image credit: Google Maps)
I have a confession to make: although I have travelled to Japan numerous times, the areas around Mount Fuji were among those that I had never been to before. They had remained elusive to me for the longest time, and I had only seen the mountain from afar but never up close from Fujiyoshida or Lake Kawaguchiko. Well, I finally got to visit those places recently and I felt a huge sense of achievement to strike them off my bucket list at last.
For this article, we will have a look at my excursion to two of the most popular locations for viewing Mount Fuji, and see what discoveries I made during my day trip. After visiting the locations above, I finally understood why these places have attracted many visitors time and time again.
① Onboard the Fuji Excursion
The Fuji Excursion. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The areas around Mount Fuji are easily accessible by train from Tokyo, and it takes approximately 2 hours per one-way. There are a few train services that travellers can take from Tokyo to the areas, and one of them is the Fuji Excursion (富士回遊 Fuji Kaiyū), a limited express train that runs between Shinjuku Station (新宿駅 Shinjuku-eki) and Kawaguchiko Station (河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko-eki).
Inside the Fuji Excursion. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
It was my first time riding the Fuji Excursion and what I loved about the train service is not just the convenience of being able to embark from a central location such as Shinjuku, but also its direct connectivity to the areas around Mount Fuji. Other train services will take passengers only up to Ōtsuki Station (大月駅 Ōtsuki-eki), after which they must transfer to the Fujikyukō Line (富士急行線 Fuji-Kyūkō-sen) if they’re heading to Kawaguchiko. However, the Fuji Excursion travels directly to Kawaguchiko, so passengers heading there need not transfer trains at all.
Mount Fuji seen from the train window. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
As the train made its way towards Kawaguchiko, I was greeted with a special treat: a view of Mount Fuji in the distance! The weather was very clear during my trip, and I didn’t expect to see the mountain even before reaching my final destination. It was a great sign of things to come, and I was really excited to see the mountain again up close.
② First stop: Arakurayama Sengen Park
Shimoyoshida Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
My train left Shinjuku at 9:30am, and at 11:11am, it arrived at Shimoyoshida Station (下吉田駅 Shimoyoshida-eki). Rather than getting off at Kawaguchiko Station as originally planned, I decided to get off here because this was the stop for a famous Mount Fuji viewpoint, which was only a short walk away from the station.
The front approach of Arakurayama Sengen Shrine. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Shimoyoshida Station is the stop for Arakurayama Sengen Park (新倉山浅間公園 Arakurayama Sengen-kōen), a particularly scenic park in Fujiyoshida that offers a magnificent view of Chureito Pagoda (忠霊塔 Chūreitō) with Mount Fuji in the background. It’s a 10-minute walk from Shimoyoshida Station to the front approach of Arakurayama Sengen Shrine (新倉山浅間公園 Arakurayama Sengen-jinja), followed by a 5-minute climb up to reach the park.
Mount Fuji coming into view during my ascent. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
As I made my ascent up to the park, the sky began to clear up and Mount Fuji slowly came into view. It was a glorious sight that left me in awe, and I didn’t expect to see it even before reaching the park. It further motivated me to get to the park as quickly as I could to catch the park’s iconic scenery.
Take note that there are two ways to reach the park from the front approach: by climbing up an approximate 400-step flight of stairs, or a winding path with a gentle gradient slope. If you’re up for a challenge, you can take the stairs and enjoy a great view along the way. Otherwise, you can take the more leisurely winding path and slowly make your way up the park.
Behold, Mount Fuji with Chureito Pagoda in the foreground. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
When I reached the park, I made another short climb up to the observation deck. I turned around and there it was: the famous view of the majestic Mount Fuji with Chureito Pagoda in the foreground. It’s a view often seen in travel catalogues and travel-related media, and many visitors flock to this park just to enjoy it in person.
I first saw an image of this view many years ago, but I never had the chance to visit it until now. After reaching there and seeing the view firsthand, I felt an overwhelming sense of fulfilment that made me go “oh, I have reached this place at last”!
Chureito Pagoda up-close (left) and Arakurayama Sengen Shrine (right). (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After enjoying the magnificent view of Chureito Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background to your heart’s content, why not come up to the pagoda and see it up close? The pagoda was built in 1962 as a peace memorial, and since its construction, it has become the local city’s most famous landmark.
After looking at the pagoda up close, I made my way down and paid a visit to the Arakurayama Sengen Shrine, where visitors come to pray for family happiness and safe childbirth. What I found incredible was how the shrine was said to have been founded in 705, and how it had survived for centuries up to the present day. Amazing, don’t you think?
There were still other interesting spots around Shimoyoshida Station that I wanted to visit other than the Arakurayama Sengen Shrine, one of which was Nishiura (西裏), an area that is only a few minutes’ walk from Shimoyoshida Station. One particularly interesting street to check out is Nishiura Hashigo-gai the bar district (西裏はしご街), which has an atmosphere that hearkens back to the Showa Era, and is lined with many nostalgic izakaya bars serving great beverages and a variety of cuisines.
I didn’t have time to visit the street, but I promised myself to visit it the next come I drop by Shimoyoshida Station again.
Nishura Hashigo-gai (西裏はしご街)
Address: 3-chome Shimoyoshida, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi 403-0004
Access: 7-minute walk from Shimoyoshida Station
③ Onward to Kawaguchiko
Travelling on the Fujikyuko Line. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After my detour to Arakurayama Sengen Park, I made my way back to Shimoyoshida Station and continued my journey to Lake Kawaguchiko by taking a 15-minute train ride on the Fujikyuko Line. What surprised me about the train ride was how nostalgic it felt to be on the train while travelling on the line. With wooden flooring, interior furnishings, and cushion upholstery seats, the train felt very homely and was a stark contrast to its more modern counterparts in the big cities.
Kawaguchiko Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Shortly after, I arrived at Kawaguchiko Station, which is the starting point for visitors who are exploring not just Lake Kawaguchiko, but all the Fuji Five Lakes (富士五湖 Fuji go-ko), and for those seeking a retreat at any of the many hot spring inns around Lake Kawaguchiko. And guess what: there is also a vintage train car on display nearby that used to ply the Fujikyuko Line many years ago!
④ Relish in some hot hoto
Hoto, a specialty of Yamanashi Prefecture. (Image credit: photoAC)
I arrived in Kawaguchiko at around 1pm, so lunch was right on schedule. And when in Kawaguchiko, eat hoto (ほうとう hōtō)! It is a noodle dish that is a local delicacy of Yamanashi Prefecture, and it features thick, flat udon noodles and vegetables in a savoury miso broth.
Hoto is the kind of food that I find to be perfect to enjoy on days with chilly weather, as the dish would easily warm up my body. A comfort food for the locals, it is a hearty dish that may be overlooked by most visitors, and I would highly recommend it to anyone paying a visit to Kawaguchiko, Mount Fuji, or anywhere else in Yamanashi.
⑤ Heading over to Oishi Park
Getting to Oishi Park by bus. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After lunch, our next stop is the picturesque Oishi Park (大石公園 Ōishi-kōen), located on the northern side of Lake Kawaguchiko. To get to the park, visitors can take Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red Line) which departs from Kawaguchiko Station, and get off at Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center (河口湖自然生活館 Kawaguchiko shizen seikatsu-kan).
Oishi Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After a 30-minute bus ride, I finally arrived at Oishi Park. The park is highly popular among locals and foreign visitors, and one of the reasons is that it offers a breathtaking view of Lake Kawaguchiko with Mount Fuji in the backdrop. The park also features several cafes that offer great views of the lake nearby, so visitors can simply relax and enjoy the amazing views over a cup of coffee and sweets.
Unfortunately, the mountain was shrouded in clouds when I got there, so I could only barely make it out in the distance. It was quite a surprise for me to see how the scenery changed so quickly, especially when the weather was so clear just two hours before.
Beautiful flowers flourishing at Oishi Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
What awaited me at Oishi Park was a plethora of eye-catching flowers that stretched up to 350m along the park’s walkway. The park is famous for its collection of flowers that are open for all visitors to see, and the best time to see them is between late April and early October, when flowers such as tulips, narcissus, lavender, and red Kochia bushes bloom and colour the landscape.
Oishi Park (大石公園)
Address: 11-2525 Ōishi, Fujikawaguchiko-chō, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi 401-0305
Access: Take a 30-minute bus ride on the Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red Line) from Kawaguchiko Station and get off at the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center bus stop (河口湖自然生活館). The park is a 1-minute walk from the bus stop.
⑥ Panoramic views of Lake Kawaguchiko
Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After enjoying a stroll around the scenic Oishi Park, it was time for me to visit the last stop of the day: Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway (富士山パノラマロープウェイ). It is one of the most popular attractions around Lake Kawaguchiko, as it offers sweeping views of the nearby lake, Mount Fuji, and the city of Fujiyoshida as a whole.
As I hopped onto the ropeway and gradually made my way up Mount Tenjo (天上山 Tenjō-yama), I could see the lake slowly coming into full view, and I realised how grand the lake really was. I couldn’t contain my excitement at the kind of scenery I was about to witness when I reached the summit station.
Views from Kawaguchiko Tenjo-yama Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The ride on the ropeway took around three minutes, and upon reaching the summit station, visitors can walk slightly further up to reach Kawaguchiko Tenjo-yama Park (河口湖天上山公園 Kawaguchiko Tenjō-yama kōen). If I have to sum up the views from the park in one word, I would say it was “magnificent”.
I was left speechless by the panoramic scenery, where I got to enjoy an unobstructed view of Lake Kawaguchiko on one side, and the city of Fujiyoshida on the other, thanks to the fairly clear weather at that time. I even got to see the popular amusement park Fuji-Q Highland in the far distance, which I certainly did not expect!
Other attractions at Kawaguchiko Tenjo-yama Park. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Apart from its splendid surrounding views, the park also has other interesting attractions that visitors can check out. If you visit the park, the one recurring theme that you will notice around the park involves a tanuki (狸 raccoon dog) and a rabbit. Why? It is because Mount Tenjo is said to be the main setting for “Kachi-Kachi Yama” (かちかち山), a Japanese folktale involving the two animals. In fact, Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway used to be known as Mt. Kachi-Kachi Ropeway, which directly referred to the folktale.
Mitsutogeyama, with Mount Fuji in the background. (Image credit: photoAC)
For all mountain climbing fans out there, they might also be interested to know that Kawaguchiko Tenjo-yama Park is one of the starting points for a hiking trail to Mitsutogeyama (三ッ峠山), a collection of peaks that is famous for its glorious view of Mount Fuji on days with clear weather.
However, take note that it takes approximately six hours for a round-trip climb to Mitsutogeyama from the park, so you need to factor in the duration to make it back before sundown.
Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway (富士山パノラマロープウェイ)
Address: 1163-1 Asakawa, Fujikawaguchiko-chō, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi 401-0303
Access: Take a 15-minute bus ride on the Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red Line) from Kawaguchiko Station and get off at the Sightseeing Boat/Ropeway Entrance bus stop (遊覧船・ロープウェイ入口). The ropeway is a 1-minute walk from the bus stop.
Taking the Fuji Excursion back to Tokyo. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
As someone who has travelled to Japan many times, I found it peculiar that I had never been to areas around Mount Fuji earlier, especially when it is relatively close to Tokyo. I had been meaning to go there for a long time, and to finally visit places such as Arakurayama Sengen Park and Lake Kawaguchiko on a day trip felt like a huge personal achievement.
After my trip, I could finally understand why the areas around Mount Fuji are among the most popular day-trip destinations in Japan, and I could see myself visiting these spots again regardless of the season. Who knows? Perhaps my next trip to the area might be sooner than I expected!
(A tip for everyone who would like to visit the areas around Mount Fuji: check out Fujiyoshida Tourism Association’s website for more information on exciting places that you can visit, and recommended itineraries that you can follow.)
JR TOKYO Wide Pass
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
Want to make Arakurayama Sengen Park, Lake Kawaguchiko, and other areas around Mount Fuji for your next day trip from Tokyo? Then you might want to consider getting the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains, some Joyful Trains, and the Fuji Excursion) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days.
At ¥10,180, the pass enables you to travel directly by rail from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station, and to other popular day-trip destinations from Tokyo such as Karuizawa, Nikko, Izu Peninsula, and more. The pass can be used at the automatic ticket gates, and you can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains, and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
Header image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang, illustAC