Tokyo Day Trip: Kawaguchiko For Those Mt. Fuji Views / by Shane Henderson

Kawaguchiko Lake

Although technically you can see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo on a clear day, it's not quite the same experience as seeing it from one of the many beautiful towns at its base. One of the most popular to visit, especially during cherry blossom or leaf peeping season, is Kawaguchiko. Located in the Fuji Five Lakes region, Kawaguchiko is the most easily accessible town in the area with frequent buses and trains arriving daily. Tourists come from all over to soak in the many onsens, go boating and fishing on the lake, and of course, take a billion photographs of Mt. Fuji. Whether you are planning to visit for just one day, or stay a few nights, here are the best ways to get to Kawaguchiko and the most interesting things to do while you're there.

Get There From Tokyo
Assuming you are making the journey to Kawaguchiko on your own and not part of a guided tour, you have two good options for getting there. The first is by highway bus departing from either Shibuya or Shinjuku station. The trip takes approximately 2-2.5 hours and costs 1,750 yen one way. The bus is popular and fills up fast during peak season so be sure to reserve seats ahead of time. The second, more expensive option, is by train. Take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Otsuki Station and then transfer to Fujikyo Railway to Kawaguchiko. The whole trip takes 2-3 hours and costs 2,400-3,500 yen depending on whether you take the rapid or local train. The second leg of the train trip is not covered by the JR rail pass however, it IS covered by the JR Tokyo Wide pass.

Getting Around
Once in Kawaguchiko there are a few "retro bus" lines that run around the town and lake, stopping at all of the major sights. For 1,200 yen you get unlimited access to the retro bus lines for two days. There are also local city buses that you can take instead, although they are a bit hard to navigate for non-Japanese speakers. If you are only planning on taking 1 or 2 bus rides though, the city bus will be cheaper then the retro bus option. There is a helpful tourist information center at Kawaguchiko Station that can provide you with bus schedules and details.

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What To See/Do

Like many other resort towns around Fuji, Kawaguchiko has no shortage of sights to see and activities to keep tourists entertained. The north shore of the lake is a good place to head when you first arrive as many of the must-see spots are located there. The view of Fuji across the lake is the first thing you will notice, assuming it is visible. Although Kawaguchiko is located very close to Fuji, views of the mountain can frequently be obscured by haze and clouds. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to catch a glimpse if conditions aren't great, but ideally, try to plan your trip on a sunny day! During spring and fall, the view will be made all the more beautiful by the incredible color of the trees. Kawaguchiko reaches peak cherry blossom season in April and its autumn leaves are usually best in November. During these times there are usually festivals held to celebrate the season and food stalls and pop-up vendors will line both sides of the lakeside road. 

After you get tired of staring at Fuji, there are a few museums worth checking out in the area. The Itchiku Kubota Art Museum is dedicated to the works of artist Itchiku Kubota, who revived a lost technique of Kimono dyeing called Tsujigahana. The kimonos he made look like incredible paintings, covered in vibrant colors and intricate designs. The collection is displayed in a beautiful wooden building constructed with traditional methods from 1000-year-old cypress trees. The museum also has a traditional tea room, a patio cafe with views of Fuji, and some landscaped gardens and fountains. The Kawaguchiko Museum Of Art is a small collection of Fuji related artworks in a contemporary building with large windows overlooking the lake. They also hold special exhibitions throughout the year highlighting different Japanese arts and/or crafts. For a somewhat surreal experience, there is also The Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum, a museum of automated musical instruments housed in a small, Disney-esque, faux-European village. The collection includes the worlds largest "dancing organ" and a variety of hand-crafted music boxes. 

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After walking around the lake all day you might want to relax for a while at one of the town's many Onsen bathhouses. In the woods above the Itchiku Kubota museum there is a public onsen called Tensui Kawaguchiko. They have outdoor, open-air baths within a serene forest setting, although there aren't any views of Fuji. For that, you should instead go to Hotel Mifujien, which opens its onsens to non-guests during the day. 

For a much more thrilling and possibly terrifying view of Fuji, Fuji Q Highland is the spot for you. It is a large popular amusement park just outside of Kawaguchiko. It has over 40 different attractions including multiple high-speed roller coasters and an hour-long haunted house experience called the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear! They also have their own large onsen facility right next door. The highway buses from Tokyo all stop at Fuji Q Highland on their way to Kawaguchiko, or it is just one stop away from Kawaguchiko station by train.

Eat
The local specialty of the region is Houtou noodles, large flat noodles often cooked in Miso broth and served with vegetables, meat, and seafood. Although they look similar to Udon noodles, they are prepared differently and have a slightly different shape and texture. Houtou Fudou is a well-known place to try this dish and there are few locations in the Kawaguchiko area. They serve a traditional version made with squash and wild vegetables. For a different take on Houtou,  Houtou Labo serves large pots of the noodle in a seafood broth. Near Kawaguchiko station, Fuji Tempura Idaten is a popular choice serving affordable Tempura. They are best known for their puffer fish inspired by Japanese poet Issa Kobayashi who once wrote "you are not entitled to see Fuji if you lack courage to eat a pufferfish."

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Sunset Views
To finish off your day at Fuji, you don't want to miss the sunset views from Arakura Sengen Shrine. Although it is technically not located in Kawaguchiko, the shrine is just a few stops away on the train and it's 100% worth the trip. You have probably seen hundreds of pictures like the one above, of the pagoda with Fuji in the background. It is one of the most popular spots to take Fuji photographs, and for good reason. The 180-degree views of the surrounding area, the vibrant cherry blossoms and fall foliage, and the 5-layer pagoda, make for some incredible shots. Although the views are great all day long, we recommend visiting at sunset to get the best experience. Just make sure to leave enough time to get there! It may be only a 10 minute walk from the train station, but it could take you a while to climb the 400 steps required to get to the summit. You wouldn't want to miss the sunset while desperately trying to catch your breath halfway up!