After several non-stop days rushing around on the Yamanote Line, absorbing Tokyo’s frenetic energy, I was off to the countryside to detox and absorb some Japanese serenity.
Mt. Fuji’s Lake Kawaguchiko was my destination.
Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the Fuji Five Lakes and a popular tourist destination for its proximity to Mt. Fuji and its being a hot springs mecca. And I wanted both.
I boarded the Fujikyuko Bus at Shinjuku’s Mark City, a short walk from my previous night’s hotel, the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel. While only ten minutes by foot, it was a good reminder to pack lighter as stairs were involved. Trains are available to make this journey from Tokyo, but I opted for the bus to avoid train transfers while lugging two large suitcases.
The two-hour, 2000 yen bus ride took me through beautiful, serene countryside with decadent greenery to my final destination of Kawaguchiko Station. Stepping off the bus, I was immediately greeted by a global tourist community excited by the prospects of climbing Mt. Fuji. Some explorers around the station already made the trek as noted by their stamped walking sticks and noticeable limps. I, on the other hand, was excited to lounge in my ryokan’s rooftop onsen with a view of Mt. Fuji that evening.
After taking in the surroundings and making a quick call from the station’s tourist office, the hotel shuttle bus appeared, transporting me to an even more scenic and serene destination, Hotel Konansou. I selected this traditional ryokan-style hotel for its top-rated hot spring (onsen in Japanese), proximity to transportation, and its reputation for extremely pampering Japanese service, or omotenashi. And of course, for its amazing multi-course kaiseki. Hotel Konansou did not disappoint.
The views from Hotel Konansou were breathtaking: from the stunning view of Lake Kawaguchiko seen from my traditional tatami-covered Japanese room to the expansive vistas including a front-and-center look at Mt. Fuji from the rooftop foot onsen.
An early evening kaiseki was the treat to complete the day. Kaiseki are multi-course meals of locally prepared ingredients known as much for their exquisite taste as is for their artistic presentations. The hostess who served my meal in-room displayed such graciousness and gentleness that could rival a prima ballerina’s. The courses delighted all of my senses, and I was overcome at just how distinctive each course was.
The following morning, I awoke early to experience Mt. Fuji for myself. Mt. Fuji, or Fuji-san as referred to by the Japanese, is the symbol of Japan. The image of its majestic snow-covered peak adorns many Japanese artworks, advertisements and goods. Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan at 12,388 feet tall and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mt. Fuji is a sacred site, revered by the Ainu, Shintoists, and Buddhist alike. The first ascent is noted to have been completed by an unnamed monk in year 663. Since then, many men and women have climbed Mt. Fuji making it the most climbed mountain in the world with over 100,000 summiteers each year.
From Kawaguchiko Station to the Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station on the Yoshida Trail, I took the Fujikyu Bus for nearly 50 minutes at a roundtrip cost of 2300 yen. While the destination was the goal, the journey was equally enjoyable with ascending views of stunning nature.
Once at the Fifth Station, trekkers and tourists mingled excitedly. Shops and a few, simple restaurants provided the usual maneki neko, Mt. Fuji-emblazed tchotchkes and basic provisions. For hikers, oxygen tanks, hiking sticks and bottled water were available. And behind the tourist swarmed-shops, those craving a slice of serenity could find it at the Komitake Shrine.
On the July day I visited, the weather was not particularly welcoming. Cold and rainy. I was told this was common, so I was pleased to wear multiple layers including a rain-proof jacket.
While a good number of visitors were acclimatizing their bodies to the higher attitude in preparation for their seven-hour hike to the summit, many of us were simply enjoying the environment. I wandered down the initial hiking path, taking in the views through the clouds. My quiet meander was occasionally interrupted by animated tourists executing a similar plan. Getting lost in the majesty of the experience, contemplating the awe-inspiring Mt. Fuji, the endless skies full of pea-soup clouds, dark rich volcanic soil under my feet as I walked on this sacred land, all felt much like a dream.
On the bus journey back to Kawaguchiko Station, melancholy emerged. Was it the effects of the cloudy skies? No. Was it the culmination of two months of solo-travel? No. Was it the thought that I was leaving behind some place unbelievably special? Yes…and I was.