When going to Japan for the first time, there are of course a few things on your list that you will want to see, the Skytree, Akihabara, and number one on people’s bucket-lists: Mt. Fuji! But since Mt. Fuji is only visible on clear days, you might get disappointed when taking a bus tour when you aren’t able to see much of the snow-topped volcano. So what to do then? I’d say, take a weekend trip to Lake Kawaguchi! Keep reading for my itinerary for Lake Kawaguchi.
Read my itinerary for 48 hours in Tokyo here!
How to get there
Lake Kawaguchi is one of the big lakes located around Fuji in Yamanashi, West of Tokyo. You can get there quite easily by taking the bus or the train from Tokyo. We took the Highway Bus, as it was cheaper and faster than going by train, though it was quite the hassle to find out where the bus was parked.
To check out time tables for the train you can use HyperDia. (For JR Pass users: Not all train mentioned in here are covered by the pass. Shinkansen such as the Nozomi and Mizuho are excluded from the JR Pass.)
My highway Bus experience
Since Shinjuku is the biggest, busiest and most confusing station in Japan, finding the bus was not an easy task. After walking back and forth, asking people where we could find the bus, we found this amazing guy who knew just where we needed to go. And even though he was in a hurry, he ended up walking all the way with us. It was parked near a Yodobashi Camera and took us approximately 15 minutes to reach. They also leave according to schedule, so if you miss it you will have to buy a new ticket. The inside of the bus was really comfortable, with a lot of space for your legs. The seats are reserved so you will always have your own seat and suitcases are tucked away underneath the bus, so no worries about those.
Things to do
As it is not a big city like Tokyo or Osaka, you shouldn’t go here for the entertainment business, but instead you take your time and enjoy the AMAZING VIEW over the lake, with Mt. Fuji in the background. There is something relaxing in the air, which is perfect for a getaway from the big city. There are still many things to do however, for example:
- Go hiking – There is a mountain to climb with lots of forestry for some hiking. The scenery there is beautiful and serene.
- Ride the Kachi Kachi Rope-way – If hiking up a mountain trail isn’t your idea of fun, you can always take the rope-way. At the top there are a few shops and resting places. It is a lot of fun to hike down the mountain trail and since it is not as tiring you can really enjoy the scenery.
- Visit the Huji Omuro Sengen Shrine – It is one of the oldest shrines in Kawaguchi and is a beautiful sight.
- Take a (romantic) boat ride – There are many companies around located around the lake where you can hire a paddle boat to enjoy the lake itself (the best time is during Summer).
- Visit the Kawaguchi Sengen Shrine – It is a small shrine, but the tranquility of its grounds and the sounds of nature are truly magical.
- Kawaguchiko Museum of Art – It’s not too strange that Kawaguchi has been inspiration of many artists when painting Mt. Fuji, so why not enjoy some art during your stay.
- Take a picture of Kawaguchi station – When you go by bus or train, you will most likely arrive at the train station, which looks beautiful. So don’t forget to take a picture!
- Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center – It is a cultural center with a great view over Kawaguchiko city and Mt. Fuji. During the right seasons, you can walk through fields with blueberries and lavender.
- Kawaguchiko Herb Hall – It is located near the Kawaguchiko Oishi Park. In the hall you can see, smell and taste many herbs that are grown in the area. Their lavender ice cream is rather famous!
- Kawaguchiko Oishi Park – Take a stroll through the park and enjoy the view of the beautiful flowers, lake and Mt. Fuji.
On the first day we walked around the Lake a bit. Since we arrived on Friday evening there wasn’t a lot of time left after the bus drive. We checked in, took a look around the hotel, took a stroll along the lake and went to check out the other side of the bridge: Kawaguchiko city. There were many restaurants here, but we ended up having dinner at Gusto. After dinner we headed back towards our hotel for a good nights rest. (When you arrive at the station, make sure to snap a picture of it!)
On day two we went the other way, towards the Kachi Kachi Rope-way. We stumbled across a small shrine near a local shop, enjoyed the view over the lake from different angles and then took the rope-way all the way up. On top of Mt. Tenjo there were a few shops, and places to rest and view Mt. Fuji. We had a Mt. Fuji ice cream and ran all the way back down the hill. We decided to check out the part around the train station, where we found this super cute place to eat: 平井売店 Hirai baiten. (The Houtou restaurant is located right next to it, for those who are interested in eating Houtou.) That night I went to the hotel onsen with one of my friends, which was amazing!
Even though I enjoyed this day, I recommend you spending this day taking the Kachi Kachi Rope-way up Mt. Tenjo. And after relaxing for a while you can choose to do some of the following things: visit Oishi Park for some more hiking, the Kawaguchiko Music Forest with music box museum, or the Kawaguchiko Sengen Shrine (from the Music Forest, follow the river away from the lake).
On day three there wasn’t a lot of time left, so we went back towards the Kachi Kachi Rope-way where we entered a small souvenir shop with all kinds of Mt. Fuji related souvenirs. After packing our bags, we took the shuttle bus back to the train station from where we would head towards Matsumoto: our final destination. If you wake up early enough, I suggest visiting the Kawaguchiko Herb Hall with the litle time you have left and have some of that famous lavender ice cream just before you depart.
Where to stay (around Lake Kawaguchi)
For the full experience I suggest you stay at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese Inn). There are many ryokan in the area near the lake. I stayed at Hotel New Century. They have a shuttle-bus service that you can use for free, between the station and the hotel. You can also use this for some sightseeing when it’s not too busy.
There is a onsen on the upper floor that can be used for free as well. When we went in (which was around 12 at night) there was only one woman who just came out, so we had the whole place to ourselves. Read more about the basic etiquette for onsen in this article here.
Hotel Konanso Yamanashi is more expensive, but has a bigger bath and even a karaoke bar. So if you are looking for a very luxurious stay, then I recommend this one.
For those on a budget, there are many hostels in the area. You might not get a view over the lake, but you can always take a stroll to get that perfect view.
Where to eat
There are many great places to eat, you can choose to have dinner at the hotel. Most of these meals consist of kaiseki (small and light traditional Japanese dishes). Some recommendations are:
- Near Hotel New Century is a great Yakiniku restaurant called 網焼Hana (Amiya Hana). レストハウス湖波 (Resthouse Konami) is a Noodle restaurant and also located near Hotel New Century.
- 居酒屋 (Izakaya) High Spirits is a well rated Izakaya, just over the big bridge in town. Izakaya are places where you can order drinks with small dishes and snacks, a great idea for an evening out.
- Family restaurants such as Gusto or Bamiyan, can be a nice change of pace when you are looking for something simple. The menu at Gusto has a lot of western style dishes and both have a relaxed and friendly vibe to it.
- Houto Fudou Higashikoijiten serves Houto noodles, a popular dish only served near Mt. Fuji Lakes. The dish is like a hotpot with noodles, served in an iron pot.
- Don’t forget to try the lavender ice cream at the Kawaguchiko Herb Hall!