Mt Fuji is an instantly recognisable icon of Japan so it was at the top of our list of places to go while in Tokyo. Our original plan was to take ourselves to the mountain and the national parks around it, but after researching we realised that an independent day trip was going to be difficult to achieve. The different vantage points and places of interest around the mountain are spread far and wide and without a car we would not be able to visit most of them. So we decided to go on a guided day trip to see this majestic mountain.
To meet the coach for our day tripping adventure we had to make our own way to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in the city centre. We were careful to follow the detailed directions in our reservation email and allowed for peak hour train travel, so we arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare. Our guide Yoshi began his commentary before the coach had even left the terminal and he continued to entertain and enlighten us throughout the day with interesting information and anecdotes about the mountain and its surrounds, including the disconcerting fact that the mountain, an active volcano, erupts around every 300 years and the last eruption was 306 years ago!
It didn’t take long before we left the centre of Tokyo and soon we were travelling through lush green farmland, dense forests and small towns as we headed into the mountains. Yoshi said: “The top of Fujisan is only visible on average two days every week. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to have a clear view from the Visitor Centre today.” With a cloudless blue sky the day was picture-perfect and so was our first view of Mt Fuji, framed by a touch of autumn colour.
From the Visitor Centre we travelled into Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, halfway up the mountain at 2300 metres. The station is located just below the tree line and the steep slopes of volcanic rock. Instead of visiting the souvenir shops and hotels, where climbers stay in readiness for early morning departures, we followed the uphill path through the red torii gates to Komitake Shrine. From here we could see Lake Yamanaka nestled in between the deep blue mountains of the national park.
Mt Fuji is surrounded by five lakes and it was to Lake Kawaguchiko we went for our lunch stop. Instead of upgrading to a Japanese lunch we decided to bring our own, purchased at our local 7/11 store in the morning. While everyone else on our tour spent 50 minutes inside a restaurant eating udon and miso soup, we sat on the shore of the lake watching tourists paddling their giant swan boats across the water.
We even had time for some exploration along the lakefront where we met the local shopkeepers. “Your Japanese is very good,” said one after I thanked her for my purchase. Little did she know that “Arigatou gozaimasu” was one of the three Japanese phrases I know.
After leaving the sparkling waters of Lake Kawaguchiko we headed to another large lake for a leisurely cruise. Lake Ashi, a crater lake in Hakone National Park, is a popular holiday spot and we cruised past several resorts on the shore of the lake, surrounded by thick forests of Japanese cedar.
Our destination was the Mt Komagatake Ropeway, a cable car which travels 1800 metres in seven minutes to the summit of Mt Komagatake. From 1357 metres there are spectacular views of Lake Ashi, Mt Fuji and the volcanic mountains of Hakone and even though by late afternoon, after a very humid day, it was quite hazy, we still had a sense of the majestic beauty of this area.
After spending our day at one famous symbol of Japan we finished our tour on another national icon. We travelled from Hakone back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen. There’s a reason it’s called the Bullet Train. On the normal express train from Tokyo Central Station to Hakone the journey takes 85 minutes, but we hurtled through the darkening countryside at breakneck speed and were back in the city centre in half an hour.
As independent travellers, guided tours are not often included in our travel plans, but taking this day trip, on an air-conditioned coach with an English-speaking tour guide, to destinations we wouldn’t have been able to reach on our own was definitely a great choice. We just need to go back again and spend a few days. There’s much more to see around Mt Fuji.