Before anyone gets on a plane and visits a new country, they do their research, right? You plan your itinerary, the hotspots, the must-see and for me, I always have a list of none negotiables. The places that no matter how hard it might be to get there, I must see because you never know if you might get to visit again. Mount Fuji was one of my none negotiables. Our route took us from Tokyo to Fuji, then further south to Osaka and Kyoto before looping round into Nagano and back to Tokyo. The Japan Rail system is bloody brilliant. It’s easy to use, efficient and connects you with all those places you need to visit. When researching how best to get to Mount Fuji we quickly realised it wasn’t going to be an easy one. The Japan rail pass only covers you so far, then you have to take a private train and a bus to get into the town, we then had to navigate the quaint little back streets of Kawaguchiko to find our accommodation, did I mention it was raining yet?
So, we started at Shibuya station, hopped on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku station and then through to Otsuki on the JR line. This train only took an hour. We arrived at Otsuki station, found the right platform and bought new tickets for the next train. The train down to Kawaguchiko station is not covered by the JR pass, our ticket cost 1170 Yen each. It was so easy to transfer, the staff are very helpful and we settled in on the Anime themed train. This one felt like a shuttle, like a tube carriage of you will and again only an hour down to Kawaguchiko.
The train was pretty full and as we rolled out of the station my heart sank. It was raining so hard we couldn’t see a thing. Pulling up at Kawaguchiko station and Fuji was nowhere to be seen. She was hiding from us and all that we could see was rain clouds, rain, and more rain.
Our Ryokan was a little too far to walk so we hopped on the public bus. If the Japanese are known for anything it is their insane organisation, practicality and efficient nature. They had a colour-coded bus system, pick up a map, find your area, match it with the colour of the bus, stand and wait for the said bus, grab a ticket, pay and get off when told. It was so easy. We used the green line from the station, our tickets only 160 each way. If we had extra time here, then the sightseeing 2-day unlimited bus pass would have been great. Off the bus and navigating the back streets of the town. The rain was pretty heavy, and we had no idea what our accommodation looked like. We had booked a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. It had tatami-matted floors, our futon rolled up in the corner and a communal bath area. Let’s just say I didn’t shower here, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit in the nude on a stool with others, Robbie however in his element.
Even though the rain was preventing any Fuji views or enjoyable times we put on our coats and went for a walk around the lake. Man, it was miserable, but we were in Japan and refused to let anything get us down. After a soggy outing to the nearest 7/11 store for food and supplies for later, we found a quaint little café on the edge of the lake. I felt like I had stepped into my nans living room. We set up camp and I browsed trinkets from the shop next door, and I bought one of the most beautiful pieces of material I have ever seen, perfectly printed was Mount Fuji and the rising sun. I love buying mementos from our travels that will one day cover the walls of our house.
We drank tea, ate cake and watched as the rain lashed the windows and continued on its grey covering of lake Kawaguchiko. The sweet old lady who owned the tea shop came over to clear our tea and I asked her where Fuji sat. She pointed out of the window to a cloud of nothing. I asked her again where we could see Fuji if the sun was out, somehow, she understood me. She pointed out the other window over the lake. I knew our chances of seeing Fuji today were thin, but I wanted to be prepared for sunrise.
We left and walked towards where our new friend suggested. On a map, I thought it would be too far and my sunrise mission would also be cancelled. Our walk to and over the bridge didn’t take long at all and we were satisfied that in the morning it would only take around twenty minutes to the spot for a sunrise session with Mount Fuji. We later settled into our cosy Ryokan with store-bought Ramen and waited for the rain to pass. I woke around 5 am, got ready, wrapped up warm and headed out into a crisp wintery morning.
OH HOLY MOLY. There she was, smack bang on our doorstep was Mount Fuji. I worried that when we stepped outside, we wouldn’t know where she was. How wrong I could have been. Mount Fuji is huge, she dominated the town and is a wonderful sight to see. It was freezing, absolutely bone-chilling cold, what should have taken around twenty mins walking took ten and we made it to the shores of the lake pretty sharpish.
We found old rowing boats tied to the tree’s and a perfectly framed clearing to spend our morning, or at least until the sun fully came up and our fingers called out for a vending machine coffee. Surprisingly only one other photographer joined our little clearing, I took some shots for him and we slowly retreated to the town. We had time to wander closer to Fuji, grab a hot can of coffee and stroll to the 7/11 for hot cheese toasties.
With our cases packed up and a time to spare we paid a final visit to our old tea lady friend. She was as delighted as us to see the sunshine and that we got to see Mount Fuji. Although we spent limited time here it was worth the extra cash and train ride. The only other place we missed out on here was the famous hillside Pagoda, but there’s always next time, right?
Our train times had been planned perfectly. We could take the train, get back to Otsuki, change twice more and we would be in Kyoto.
The bus back to the station cost use 250 Yen each and the train to Otsuki was 1170 Yen each. As we queued for what we thought was our train we then got asked to pay an extra 200 Yen. The queue was huge, and I didn’t ask why I just wanted to move away from an impatient line of people pushing to the platform. I paid the 400 Yen and stood on the platform soaking in those last Fuji moments to myself.
A beautiful historic-looking train pulled up and we were told to take a seat. Turns out we paid an extra 400 for a tourist sightseeing train and I wasn’t the least bit mad about it. The train was so beautiful, full of character and comfortable, it made our hour ride back to Otsuki station a little lighter on the heart as Mount Fuji finally disappeared from my view. Robbie was pretty happy that our next train was the famous Shinkansen, bullet-style train. These trains are so awesome and very, VERY fast. We stocked up on sushi and snacks before settling into our first big train journey.