Warning: It is going to be a long day, but will be worth it!
Visiting Japan for the first time without visiting Mt. Fuji san is inconceivable…. Most people add a day to their itinerary to ensure they pay homage to this amazing mountain. Now, how much of the mountain you will be able to see is up to Mt. Fuji san …. one day you will encounter blue skies and clear weather… the very next day, clouds and fog… my sincere advise … pray… pray… pray and the mountain shall answer with kindness!
Mt. Fuji is about 3 hours from Tokyo and the road is absolutely beautiful… you will thoroughly enjoy seeing the countryside. We used the services of an organised tour but I think it is possible to do the trip on your own — please research the available options.
In addition, please note: If you plan to take a cruise on Lake Kawaguchi, you need to understand the timings (last boarding time) and work backwards to arrive at the starting time to ensure you do not miss the opportunity. We started at 7 am from Shinagawa and we were stuck in traffic coming out of Tokyo and it took us close to 3 hours before we reached Mt. Fuji visitor centre.
Stop 1: Mt. Fujisan (just visiting, not hiking)
Tour buses are allowed to travel up to Station 5 of Mt. Fuji. However, how far up you will actually be able to go to completely depends on the weather and the conditions on the mountain. On the day we went (mid-April), even though the skies were blue and the weather was beautiful, we were able to go up to Station 4 only. But, it was worth it… absolutely.
You will be able to see the mountain from quite a distance as you approach the area. Once at the visitor centre, you will be able to find out how far up you can go. The views of course are spectacular! Just remember, when you are going up the mountain, you can only see the mountain peak…. look around and you will be able to enjoy the surrounding area : )
At station 4, there is a small tuck shop that sells food and small souvenirs (very cute magnets).
After soaking in the views, head to your next stop!
Stop 2: Hakone/ Gotemba Peace Park (Fuji Bussharito Heiwa Park) in Gotemba
Gotemba is a nice town to stop for lunch and check out the Gotemba Peace Park (many names/one park!). Gotemba is also known for its outlet mall (we did not visit as we were on a tight schedule).
Gotemba Peace Park is a gem, especially when you are blessed with clear blue skies. There is a Buddhist stupa where it is believed some of Lord Buddha’s ashes are present. Across, spectacular views of Mt. Fujisan (clear day). Expect to spend about 1/2 hr to 45 minutes here.
Stop 3: Owakudani Boiling Valley
Volcanic valley with active sulphur vents anyone? When you see Owakudani Boiling Valley, you will have an opportunity to see nature at its best (from a safe distance of course!). If you have spent a lot of time in Yellowstone, USA, this may not seem as impressive, but, I feel it is still worth visiting. You can take a ropeway up to the viewing area.
The unique feature in this stop is the availability of eggs that were boiled in the valley. Japanese folks believe that with each egg you eat, you increase your life span by 7 years 🙂
The gift shop is also very cool. There is a section that has traditional Japanese Hakone wood work / art (the only other place where I saw a similar collection was at the Lake Kawaguchi cruise embarking site). For example, if you are looking for the traditional Hakone Japanese Puzzle Boxes (remember Amazing Race anyone?), you can find them here. Please be prepared, they are not cheap (the ones I bought were about 7000 Yen each, but totally worth it since there is no question about authenticity).
Stop 4: Lake Kawaguchi
Our final stop for the day was Lake Kawaguchi. We reached the embarking area just before the last boarding for the day (around 4:30pm). The cruise was about 40 minutes long and we were dropped off at another stop. The tour bus came to the other stop to pick us up again. It was mid-April, and there was a chill while traveling on the boat… please ensure you have proper clothing.
This was the end of the sightseeing for the day. Heading back to Tokyo was uneventful.
If Mt. Fuji is on your radar but you are not completely sold on the idea of taking time out to visit, then, let the weather guide you. IF you are blessed with clear blue skies, then the trip is absolutely worth it… you will not regret it. If it is raining and/or cloudy, then please consult the local experts.