Weekend trip from Tokyo – 48 hours at Lake Kawaguchi

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.

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Kawaguchiko train station

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.
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This was our view from the hotel

Itinerary

Day one

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!)

Day two

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).

Day three

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.

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View from the Kachi Kachi Ropeway

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.

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Hotel New Century (ryokan)

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!

What do you think of Lake Kawaguchi?

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Rules for visiting a Hot Spring in Japan – Onsen bathing etiquette

Onsen, or Hot Spring, and bathing houses have their own set of rules as they are public bathing places. If you are going to Japan and are planning on going to a public bathhouse make sure you know the basic rules, as to where to take off your clothes, when and where to wash, and what to do with your towel. Here are some of the basic bathing etiquette when visiting an onsen in Japan.

There are not many tourists who do not enjoy the experience of onsen and bathhouses. Onsen are great for relaxing, so make sure not to talk too loudly. Just pretend you are in a library.

Bathing etiquette

1. Almost everywhere in Japan there are rules about shoes, be it entering someone’s house, or a fitting room. So make sure you take off yours and put on slippers that are offered somewhere near the entrance (don’t take your clothes off just yet!).

2. When you enter a place where you find a lot of baskets placed around, this is usually where you can undress. You put your clothes, accessories and bath towel in the basket and you are ready to enter the bathing area. (To avoid awkward moments make sure you enter the right area: 女 indicates female and 男 indicated male.)

3. You may take a small towel with you to the bathing area to cover your private zones. Make sure not to put the towel into the water when entering the bath. You can place it on top of your head or on the side of the bath.

4. Make sure to wash before entering the water, as the bath is not meant for washing yourself. You can wash yourself at the basins lining the walls. Take place on the stool, facing the wall with faucet, and use the bucket to wash your body with warm water (and soap if you want, but make sure no soap gets into the bath). Don’t forget to put up your hair if you do not want to wash it beforehand.

onsen bath japan etiquette

5. Then enter the bath. If it is too hot try to enter slowly and try to move as little as possible. Just pretend to be in a sauna.

6. After soaking for a while, you can go back to scrub your body some more as your pores are more open at this point. Old dirt also had the chance to soak loose for a bit and is now easier to remove. Also make sure to tidy your space after using it.

7. When it get too hot you can cool of by using the basins on walls (or, if there is one, enter the icy cold bath) just to get into the hot one again. On your last bath, don’t wash off the minerals of the spring water. Just dry yourself (still in the bathing area), put on your bathrobe, enjoy some (strawberry) milk from the vending machine and get ready for bed.

Beware: Make sure to test the bath before entering them fully. In bigger bathhouses there are hot as well as cold, or even electric baths. The electric ones are well marked with pictures, but you won’t feel it as soon as your feet touch the water. The current comes from a rubber mat on the walls in the bath, the closer you get to the mat the stronger the current gets.

Most baths at ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn’s) offer free soap, razor blades and toothbrushes, but if you enter a bathhouse (such as a sento) you may have to bring your own stuff.

I hope to have helped a bit. Happy bathing!

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Have you ever been to a Hot Spring in Japan before?

The Ultimate Guide to Tokyo in 48 hours

Tokyo is Japan’s capital city and is always full of life. It is best experienced when going for a week, since there are just so many things to do and see, but sometimes you just don’t have much time. Therefore I created this planning for spending 48 hour in Tokyo, so you will at least experience some of the biggest highlights!

Continue reading The Ultimate Guide to Tokyo in 48 hours

How to pack for your trip to Tokyo

Are you planning a trip to Japan, but aren’t sure what you should pack? What are the do’s and don’t when walking through the streets of Tokyo? In this article I will tell you what kind of weather you can expect and how to be well prepared for your trip (clothing wise). So here are my tips on how to pack for Tokyo!

Continue reading How to pack for your trip to Tokyo