A weekend family trip to Mt Fuji Lake Kawaguchiko Lake Saiko Asama Shrine Wind Cave and Yoshino Sato
The weather this year has been rather unusual. No summer, just rain. Apparently the second wettest season in recorded history of Japan. The wettest was the year 1961 when heavy typhoon triggered massive landslides destroying what was known as the most beautiful village of Japan. It was beside lake Saiko facing Mt Fuji. We will talk more about it later here. The route to lake Saiko starts from the hilly rail station of Lake Kawaguchiko. Asama shrine is within a short distance of Kawaguchiko station. Wind cave falls on the way to Yoshino Sato village. These are the top 5 sites you must visit if going on a weekend trip to Fuji 5 lakes area. And got a family with kids. And looking for a refreshing break not a hurried rush. That is how this awesome 2 day trip top 5 sights in Fuji five lakes area happened. Let’s begin.
A bit of Intro
The Fuji five lakes formed several thousand years ago, due to a volcanic eruption. Rivers blocked turned into lakes. Dense forest now covers most of the peaks around, except Mt.Fuji which is currently dormant but have a hot underlayer spewing sulphuric vapors through the porous upper layer.
Without any green cover, having uniform gradient on all sides, Mt Fuji looks more like an engineered structure , rather than a natural formation. The 3776 M high peak rises gradually up all the way from near sea level. Visible from as far as Tokyo this imposing giant has been revered across Japan as the seat of the heavens. A sight to cherish a place to honor. The five lakes around it formed a beautiful surrounding. On clear days the reflection of the peak on the waters of Lake Kawaguichiko, the largest of the five lakes, inspire tired souls.
Journey Starts – 2 day trip top 5 sights in Fuji five lakes
This time we were to stay at a lakeside cottage by the lake Kawaguchiko. And decided to take local bus trips to places around. Itinerary included this village Yoshin Sato known as Japan’s most beautiful village. And also the lava caves formed thousands of years ago around lake Saiko. If one is visiting Japan for a month or more then visiting Mt Fuji is a natural thing. Booking a two story cottage having a clear view of Mt Fuji from the onsen or the garden – it just happened.
But the unusually heavy rain all through the summer months worried us. The weather seemed ready to spoil all plans.
just the day before departure the sky cleared. Prediction for the weekend was sunny! When we reached hotel our host greeted us saying this would be only the 5th or 6th times in the entire previous two months when Mt Fuji was expected to be visible! And man how awesome that can be. We were to discover soon.
By train or bus – 2 hours
From Shinjuku all highway buses were full. Thanks to satellite weather monitoring the entire Tokyo knew this was The weekend to go visit Mt Fuji and its five lakes. Car rental was also out of question. The only other but costlier option was to buy train tickets. By the way when someone says costly in Japan you better mind it. Some stuff otherwise normal outside can cost an arm and a leg in Japan.
Be that as it may, journey by train meant it was more spacious. When you have kids you know what a difference to your travel experience it can make.
Are we there yet? Well ah …look there’s that nice car you see we are going faster than that … Can’t you see? A chocolate ? No, candy? She has got the larger one…
1st of top 5 sights – the Kachi Kachi Ropeway
The Train we boarded was direct to Kawaguchiko. Within Two hours we were at destination. Recharged selves with fresh hot bowls of udon and curry rice. Luggage at station locker, we boarded the local Red line bus.
First point of interest was Kachi Kachi Ropeway. Walkable from station. But we are couch flyers, walking is too much work. Unfortunately, the bus encountered a group of tourists from some other Far East Asian country. All 11 of them. the bus could accommodate barely 2 more. Negotiation started – 2 more not 8 more? Are you sure? Ah what did you say – Yes? Home country norms understandably dictated the outcome. Did you ever feel jealous of canned sardines before ?
Kachi Kachi was a nice change. The sun was already turning orange. Fuji in the silhouette, it’s entire form as if a gentle giant rising from earth. Customary photo done we headed for the steamer station below.
The 2nd – Lake Kawaguchiko cruise
Hill regions tend to draw into darkness sooner. The long shadows of the peaks around Fuji fell on lake Kawaguchiko. In between the water sparkled, colored in Orange Afternoon glow.
Viewing the surroundings from the open deck of the steamer, one could see the huge Mt Fuji standing tall amongst the blue-grey mountain ranges in the horizon. Few tourists were rowing the small boats. Cranes flying back. Evening was about to set in.
End of Day 1 – onsen and zzz…
Headed back to Kawaguchiko station. Collected luggage, waited for the pick up van from hotel. Ours was a serviced cottage. We picked up groceries from Ogino, the local supermarket. The warm wood paneled two storied cottage with heated floor felt so welcoming! A quick trip to the covered in-premise onsen, and we were in dreamland.
Day 2 a clear morning
Next morning was bright. Headed towards the lake, a 3 minutes walk. Autumn Sun rays were gently brushing the lake. A layer of Mist still covered the lake surface. One or two fishermen already were out with their boats. Fuji was yet not visible. Drew in deep breathes. Such freshness.
Sight #3 – The magnificent Asama Shrine
After breakfast checked out. Kept the luggage with the hotel. Walked towards Asama shrine. Said to be twelve hundred years old it is remarkable due to the giant cedars in its premises. An ambiance of peace and quietude reigned. Sound of a nearby waterfall was the only sound that could be heard. Apart from our own footsteps. Barely any visitor. The vermilion colored huge entrance gate -the Torii -seemed standing there lost in its own.
The shrine was hidden amongst the tall pines and the cedars. Cedars were planted in formation mimicking the Big Dipper constellation. Why ? Nobody has an answer. The cedars themselves – Giant, aged, experienced, but alas, silent.
An old person came out from a nearby shop. Curious he asked us where we are from what are we for in Japan etc. Then slid into a monologue about how great this shrine once was – it’s history, tradition. With childish Enthusiasm he went ahead up to the shrine porch, pushed a door ajar. A ginormous paper lantern hung. Door shut, another door opened. A mikoshi, richly decorated, colors somewhat paled, came into view. It’s a wooden shrine carried on shoulders by devotees around neighborhood, He explained many things. But unfortunately our limited vocabulary, and time, drew the conversation to closure. Wish we planned better!
We were dropped back to Kawaguchiko station courtesy hotel pickup and drop off service. This time another two tourists were in the van. sounded French to us, if not Greek. We were to get into Greenline bus today. Redlines travel locally around Kawaguchiko. Green lines cover a larger tourist circle, including lake Saiko.
Next leg by Green line – all the way to Lake Saiko
In such trips normally we take care to mark a nearby Combini – Japan’s ubiquitous neighborhood convenient stores selling everything. For us combinis have stood there in all times good or bad. In the beginning When what’s your name was too difficult a question to comprehend. And then now and then providing us with hot meals when we are too tired. Or just lazy.. Cakes/pasta/curry rice/ cup noodles – good enough. Though certainly not good enough for you planning to relish a leisurely meal. A proper restaurant served meal. Kawaguchiko station area for that matter is not the best place anyway. We picked up our grub from the Combini right outside. Stood in queue for Greenline.
The one ticket for redline also works for Greenline. Both economical and convenient. Didn’t have to wait long. Soon we were out into the less touristy more natural surroundings of the greater Kawaguchiko area. Cottages by the lakeside, fishing boats, and blue lake reflecting images of green peaks. forest still dense in certain areas, roots covered by algae fed by fresh rain, part of the Aokigahara forest land.
Destination # 4 – Wind Cave
Our first destination in this leg of the trip was wind cave. A lava cave formed after the bubbles in the cooling lava burst. Said to be of lower gradient, safe for kids and senior citizens. Part of the cave complex that opens at other end known as ice cave. Hidden in forest under ground, these caves stay cold through the out the year. Icy stalactites form inside the Ice cave in winter. The locals used to store grains and silk cocoons. Introduction of Commercial refrigerators led to gradual disuse. But now the tourism authority has taken over. tourists visit in droves. Electrical Lights, stairs, a more or less paved passageway helps navigate inside. Grains and silk cocoons are still kept inside, only for demonstration though.
A bit about the bus stop – sorry solved the puzzle!
Greenline bus reaches wind cave passing by the bat cave and the beautiful village known as Yoshino no Sato.Greenlines makes a loop around Yoshino Sato, right before visiting the wind cave and again right after.
Somewhat like USA??!
From bus stop we crossed the road and walked a short distance to the ticket gate. The entire area is covered in green forest. Save for the grass covered parking area outside the forest entrance. Kept reminding me of our trip to the Kentucky caves, USA. Only this area perhaps receives much more rain. So the tree roots are covered in moss.
Wind cave indeed was as exciting as we expected. Not too difficult. entry was two flights of stairs down. Usually Rain drenched, needed careful steps. challenge was the low ceiling. Lights did show warnings at critical places. The navigable path inside was just about fifty feet or so. Thereafter it narrowed further making it difficult for normal tourists. Spelunking enthusiasts may continue though, perhaps emerging out at the ice cave end. Ice cave can also be reached by a well marked path from a point near the ticket gate. Other option in case you are interested is to take a bus to the next stop around the forest. We didn’t. not this time.
Headed back to the same Redline bus stop where we got down across the road. Today’s next destination – Yoshino Sato.
Experience #5 – Yoshino Sato
The bus dropped us at a stop next to a narrow river. It’s a wide plain valley, surrounded by peaks. The river runs a short distance before meeting lake Saiko. Color of water in lake Saiko is green, the color of the forest covered hill ranges. Yoshino Sato village is a little walk up. Down here in the valley there is a small market next to the bus stop. It caters to the villagers and tourists alike. Roasted corns, grilled fish on a stick, fresh farm produce. touristy brick a brack. Asked the owner of the shop selling polished chips of colored stones as jewelry – are these sourced locally? A sheepish smile was the only answer.
The way to village went up by the side of the stream. It is October. white blooms of kans grass (saccharum spontaneum) filled the two sides. Ripe pumpkins in the vegetable patches reminded Halloween was approaching. The sky appeared extra blue.
It is all about the experience…
Yoshino Sato is described as the most beautiful village in Japan. It is a collection of thatched roof cottages. With gardens, stream, small bridges, and narrow winding pathways. Mt Fuji is right in front, covering the entire horizon from one side to the other! The village is virtually in its lap. On its other sides the greenish blue hill ranges extend as far as eyes can see. One British foreign ambassador compared it with Switzerland. No exaggeration here. we did feel as if we went back to somewhere in the Interlaken area. Picture perfect.
There’s a kimono rental available in one of the cottages. Very thoughtfully it also offers rental for men. gorgeous samurai dress with armour headgear and sword! At a Very reasonable price. There was a queue. Queue for rental. Queue for taking photos at the best location – on the bridge over the stream with Mt Fuji in the background. Queues discourage some, but not our could-be queen. Statutory photos done, returned dress and headed for the other cottages. Each cottage serves to showcase some form of traditional Japanese art and craft. Wood craft, paper making, clay modeling etc. visitors can participate, and buy. Run under supervision by tourism authorities.
And a bit of tragedy mixed…
Originally the village was much larger. But the 1961 typhoon triggered major landslide destroying much of life and property. We sneaked in this one and that one, without really any particular interest. The day’s journey was beginning to take its toll. but then our junior most member came running up to us excitedly pointing to an yard between two cottages few feet below. Some kids, as well as their moms and dads were walking around on stilts! Well trying,mostly. Appeared that stilt walking was a tradition in these areas. To help tourists have a feel of the times the authorities kindly kept a few stilts. Both junior and senior sizes. Free to try. And so we did.
By this time the sky turned orange. The peaks on the western horizon cast long shadows. Top of Mt. Fuji was no longer visible, covered in clouds. Time to return.
Journey ends …till the next
By the time we reached station the sun was already gone, leaving only a reddish hue on the western sky. Street lights lit up. The kids seemed ready to fall into sleep anytime soon. It would be years later when they look back into photos of this day they will realize how lucky they were. A golden weekend at one of world’s iconic place. For now they were only too happy to have collected their mementos – lapel pins with writing Mt Fuji world heritage site. Train started. a huge golden moon was rising. It was full moon night. Reclined back into the seat. In two hours the neon lights of the mega city Tokyo would push us back into our cage. Bound by time. Till then…
COMING SHORTLY…Fall colors and Nikko
Meanwhile check out the following