On our second trip to Japan in the autumn of 2010, we took a day trip from Tokyo (東京) to Kawaguchiko (河口湖) in the hope of seeing Mount Fuji (富士山).
We arrived on a wet and windy day, nowhere near early enough to see Fuji before the clouds had rolled in!
It being autumn (秋), there were plenty of trees with colourful leaves, but there wasn’t much going on attraction-wise. We used the Tourist Information Office at the station to arm ourselves with leaflets and guides to the area, and bought a one day pass for the Kawaguchiko Area Retro Bus, which travels along the eastern shore of Lake Kawaguchiko.
The end stop for the bus is the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Centre, which has one of the best viewing spots for seeing Fuji. When we arrived, the centre was closed, it was freezing cold in the wind blowing across the lake and there was absolutely no sign of Fuji at all.
Going off the sign in the picture above, Fuji should have been looming above the small island in the middle of the lake. There wasn’t even an outline of the biggest mountain in Japan – it was as though it didn’t exist!
We made the best of a bad job, and enjoyed the autumn leaves on the trees and as much of Kawaguchiko as was available to us!
We had time to visit the Herb Hall before the weather got the better of us and we decided to cut our losses and head back to Tokyo.
Our almost disastrous visit 18 months ago didn’t put us off, though. For our most recent trip, a month or so ago, we decided that we were going to stay somewhere where we would be able to see Fuji by getting up early. We looked into staying in Hakone, but our budget didn’t allow for the hotel prices in this popular resort, so we decided to go back to Kawaguchiko.
You reach Kawaguchiko by taking the JR Chuo line from Shinjuku station (新宿駅) to Otsuki (大月) and then transferring to the Fujikyu Railway for the trip up to Kawaguchiko. The train journey is beautiful, because you climb up into the mountains and see spectacular scenery. On our trip this time, we even got to see Fuji from the train, very faintly through the clouds. So the omens were good this time!
Fujikyu Railway is a private line, so if you are travelling in Japan using a JR Pass, your journey from Shinjuku is only covered until Otsuki. From Otsuki, you need to buy a ticket for the Fujikyu line (1,100円) plus an additional ticket for the special train that gives you panoramic views (and lots of leg/luggage room, if you’re travelling up there to stay a few days!).
We stayed at the Kawaguchiko Station Inn, which is just across the road from the station and we quickly discovered that it has a spectacular view of Fuji from right outside the front door.
The views from the roof of the hotel were even better!
Kawaguchiko Station Inn is a family run hotel with tatami rooms with futon, shared bathrooms, hot baths on the roof, internet access and a restaurant. Great value for money, and the staff are really helpful and friendly, offering advice on places to go. Ideal for anyone travelling on a budget, like we were.
Having been spoiled already by the presence of Fuji wherever we looked, on our first full day in Kawaguchiko we took the Retro Bus again up to the Natural Living Centre. The day had started with a few clouds lying across the mountain tops, and we had taken a lot of photos of Fuji from outside the hotel, but were hoping for better ones up at the lake. By the time we got there, though, the storm clouds were rolling in and it was a rush to get some pictures of the mountain before it did its vanishing trick again!
Once the mists had covered the mountain, we looked for something else to do until the Retro Bus returned. The Natural Living Centre was open this time, and we had a wander round the shop and bought some souvenirs.
There were more museums and attractions open on this visit, and we made a day of visiting as many as we could – partly to keep out of the torrential rain that had started to fall!
Our first stop was the Kawaguchiko Music Forest Ukai Museum, which is home to a collection of automated music boxes and instruments from around the world. We arrived in time for a demonstration of a pipe organ that was used in a dance hall in France in the 18th century, before looking around the various halls across the site and attending another demonstration of pianolas, music boxes and an adapted grand piano.
It was a little expensive to visit, but there was plenty to see on a wet day, and the demonstration staff were clearly proud of the collection and more than willing to demonstrate different music boxes to us and explain how they worked.
Our next place was the wonderful tin toy museum known as “Happy Days“, built around the collection of Kitahara Teruhisa. This was one of the highlights of our visit. There are two floors of exhibits, arranged into themes. Kitahara-san is an advertising illustrator who has drawn on his collection of toys, magazines and fashion from across his lifetime for inspiration. The exhibition rooms are packed with displays of tin toys and memorabilia, along with examples of Kitahara-san’s advertising artwork, and at the end is the most amazing shop, selling modern tin toys and souvenirs. We took literally hundreds of photographs!
After a happy couple of hours at the tin toy museum, we made the mistake of not waiting for the Retro Bus and walking in the pouring rain to the Kawaguchiko Muse Museum. I have never been so wet in all my life – not even when I’ve been in the shower or the bath, I think!
The Kawaguchiko Muse Museum was worth the drenching, though. The museum is home to a permanent display of dolls made by Atae Yuki. The museum doesn’t permit visitors to take photographs, so you will have to take my word for how beautiful and life-like they are. As well as the galleries displaying the dolls, there is a short DVD film playing in one of the offices, which shows the process undertaken by Atae-san when he is making a doll.
At the end of the museum is a subsidiary gallery where the works of other artists are displayed in temporary exhibitions. When we visited, the work of Gustavo Isoe was on display. This was a real delight – neither of us had heard of Isoe-san, and we have found it difficult to find much information about him online. His art is very realistic, and his ability to recreate the light and shade that plays across different types of material is astounding.
We bought more souvenirs from the Muse Museum shop and had a delicious snack in the coffee shop, before heading out into the rain again to wait for the Retro Bus to take us back to Kawaguchiko station.
There isn’t much nightlife in Kawaguchiko – a few pubs and restaurants about covers it – and the Station Inn has an 11 p.m. curfew, so we spent the evening watching Japanese tv in our room and drying our clothes.
The next day we set off for Tokyo and Fujisan followed us down the mountain. On the train down to Otsuki, there was a teenage boy in the same carriage as us. He seemed fascinated by the number of photographs we were taking while the train paused at Fujisan Station. When I sat down again, he leaned over the back of his seat and said “Beautiful!”. I had to agree. 富士山はとてもうつくしいです。