Fuji Five Lakes

Getting There

The Fuji Go-Ko, or Fuji Five Lakes, is a region at the northern base of Japan's iconic volcano, Mt Fuji, Fujisan or Fujiyama. It is a resort area popular for fishing, hiking, snow sports in winter, and of course as a base to ascend Fujisan. As well it has lots of hot springs and, being at 850m above sea level, Spring arrives here are a bit later than lower places such Kyoto. We have never seen Fujisan, so it seemed a good choice of location to spend our last few days in Japan. In addition, with a later season, it might give us one more bite of the cherry (blossom).

It took the whole day to travel by train and bus from Kii-Katsuura to Kawaguchiko Station, on the shores of the lake of the same name, where we based ourselves in the Fuji Five Lakes area. At first a slow train took us on a scenic tour of the rugged coastline of the Kii Peninsula before reaching the flat and densely populated plains around Osaka, then it was a quick trip by shinkansen to the small town of Mishima (which, for your next trivial pursuit question, lies on the Philippine Sea Plate near a three-way tectonic pile-up), and finally a bus trip from Mishima to Kawaguchiko (back on the North American plate).

First ever view of 3766m Fuji-san

Evening fishermen

Welcome to Kawaguchiko

The absolute highlight of this trip was seeing this large white-topped cone shape appear from out of the clouds to the west - it was our first view of the 3766m Fuji-san in all its classic volcano-shaped glory. When we arrived at our hotel, there in front was a large cherry tree in full bloom. Lets hope that over the next three days we get a chance to see Fuji framed by cherry blossoms like in the classic posters.

Wet day in Kawaguchiko

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the region was grim. From mid-morning a major front was coming in, bringing strong winds and close to 100mm of rain. That sort of weather spells doom for cherry blossoms, so I was up at 6am the next morning trying to capture the essence of hanami time while the blossoms were still intact. Looking out the hotel window, Fujisan was visible in a pale, grey-tinted light - the kind that means bad weather will be here soon.

Ominous cloud above Mt Fuji

Early morning view of Fuji framed by blossoms

Fujisan wearing its cap of cloud

As I wandered in search of nice groupings of cherry trees, the wind was whipping up waves on the lake and cloud began to form on top of the volcano, gradually spreading out to form a broad grey cap. By 9am, the first rain-drops began to fall and an hour later it was raining steadily.

The north shore of Kawaguchiko ...

.... with its long boulevard of flowering cherry trees

The colours of Kawaguchiko in Spring

The rain wouldn't stop for another 18 hours. Faced with this outlook, we decided to buy a ticket for the local get-on/get-off tourist bus.

Rain over Saiko Lake

This took us to nearby Saiko Lake, where we visited a cave in an old lava flow of Fujisan that was home to a colony of bats, and the small village of Nenba with its traditional thatch-roofed houses (reconstructed after the the original village was destroyed by a mudslide in 1967, and now more tourist complex than working village).

Forest on the broken surface of an old lava flow

Nello explores the lava cave

Canal lined with weeping cherry trees at Nenba

Kabuto-zukuri thatched-roof houses in Nenba

Rainy day at Saiko Lake


Thatched-roof house in Nenba village

The blossoms of Yagasaki Park

Kawaguchi Lake - still beautiful in the rain and mist .....

.... especially when illuminated by cherry blossom

Returning to Kawaguchiko, the fair Nello visited the Muse Museum and its display of incredibly lifelike dolls made by the famous Japanese doll-maker, Yuki Atae. However, by now the rain was getting quite heavy and finding its way in under umbrellas - we retired to our hotel to laze away the wet afternoon and soak in the hot soothing water of the onsen.

Kawaguchiko lake walk - west basin (16.5 km)

By morning the wind and rain had finally stopped, but low grey clouds hung over the valley - to the south Fujisan was hiding behind a thick grey mantle. Still, the air was relatively warm, so we set out to do part of our planned circumnavigation of the lake. A bridge splits the lake into a large west basin and a smaller east basin. With a whole day to do it in, we headed west in a clockwise direction.

Beneath a red-flowering plum tree

Island shrine

Passing beneath the bridge on a paved walking path, we quickly reached the first highlight of the walk, the cherry trees of Yagasaki Park. The rain had done its worst and the paths were a carpet of fallen pink petals. However, most of the trees still held enough blossom to create a magical effect of pink above and pink below, as we strolled down the boulevard of dark-trunked trees. A shimmer of wind caused a flurry of pink petals to fall about us, completing the effect.

Fallen petals in Yagasaki Park

Cloud hangs low over the mountains

Cherries and reed beds of the central basin

Continuing on, the lakescapes of reed-lined inlets, dark waters and cloud-capped green-forested mountains unrolled. Fishermen were out on the shore or in their boats in the still water - it was a peaceful scene.

Fishermen enjoying the quiet backwaters of Kawaguchiko

The colours of Kawaguchiko

The footpath curved around past the Fuji Omuro shrine to reach Shikkogo Park, another place where the cherry blossoms were still holding their own, pale pink against the dark backdrop of surrounding hills. Passing a narrow section of the lake near Unoshima Island, we entered a less densely populated and quieter part of the lake - quiet for now, perhaps, but from the number of speedboats under wraps on the shore, this lake probably transforms into a noisier and less pleasant place in the height of summer.

A superb white-flowering cherry

Nearing the lake end, we were forced onto the verge of the road by a string of private lakeside properties. Discovering a dirt fisherman's track, we followed it around the the lake's edge to avoid the road and reach the village of Ashiwada at the lake's end. Then began the return journey on the north shore of Kawaguchiko. After passing a couple of headlands, we ran out of footpath once again and for much of the way were obliged to walk on the verge of the road - again not a problem now, but I wouldn't want to do it in the height of summer.

View east from Ashiwada

The western end of the lake

The road led us between forested slopes and reed-line lakeshore to the village of Oisho, where we finally regained a foot path that led to a pleasant lakeside cafe with views across the water to Fujisan (or on days like today, where Fujisan would be were it not hidden by low grey clouds). Still, it was a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by over a bite of lunch and a cup of coffee.

The channel near Uno Island

Reed beds near Oisho

View of where Mt Fuji should be

View across the lake towards Funatsu town

White cherry blossoms of Nagasaki Park

Pushing on, we now entered the cherry blossom hotspots of Kawaguchi on the north shore of the lake - some big old white-blossomed trees near Nagasaki Park and a long lakeside boulevard of pink blossom, site of the annual Fujikawaguchiko Cherry Blossom Festival. Despite the impact of the rain, this still formed a lovely archway of blossoms, with petals dropping softly or drifting into the waters of lake and canal.

The northern shoreline

Back on the Cherry Blossom Festival boulevard

This almost completed the loop of the west basin, as ahead lay the Kawaguchiko O-hashi Bridge, linking north and south sides. We crossed it, getting mid-lake views out over the east basin towards the centre of Funatsu town, and completed our circumnavigation of the west basin. Weather permitting, we will walk around the east basin on the morning that we leave.

Kawaguchiko is a very attractive lake, particularly during cherry blossom time. Today's outing had been a pleasant and easy stroll - we probably did less climbing all day than we did in the first ten minutes of the Kumano Kodo. After the effort of that walk, this was just what we needed.

Kawaguchiko lake walk - east basin (4.5 km)

Note: This walk is not in chronological order - it was actually done after Fuji-san (below), but it seemed a good idea to make the two parts of the Kawaguchi Lake Walk consecutive.

The weather was perfect for our last day in the Five Lakes region (and in fact our last day in Japan). When I looked out of the hotel window at 6am and saw the snows of Fuji-san glistening in the sunlight, I got up and hurried over to the lake for a few parting photographs. You'll have to excuse my fascination with this beautiful mountain.

Reflections in the still lake water

Early morning on Kawaguchi Lake

Cherry-blossom viewing

Fuji-san imperious

It was a good thing that I made an early start, as by the time I was heading back for some breakfast, Fuji had already started generating wisps of cloud around its summit. Our train for Narita Airport left at mid-day, which gave us a free morning - plent of time to do the short circuit around the east basin of Kawaguchiko at a leisurely pace. Thus, we set out, crossing the bridge that divides the two basins to reach the Ubuyagasaki Peninsula and head east in a clockwise circuit.

The east basin of Kawaguchiko

View from Ubuyagasaki Peninsula

The arbour of weeping cherry trees

It was great to walk in the warm morning sunshine. As we approached the hills on the eastern shore, the snow-capped (and now cloud-capped) Fuji-san slowly slid behind the forested spur.

View of the east basin and Kawaguchiko o-hashi Bridge

Fuji-san - hiding behind hill and cloud

Turning south, we had one last "bite of the cherry", as the path curved around beneath a row of late-flowering weeping cherry trees. It seemed a fitting end to our time in Japan, as for a month now, we had followed their flowering season south from Kyushu to here.

Stroll along the eastern shore of Kawaguchi Lake

The last cherry blossom

Outcrops of lava rock on the southern shore of Kawaguchi Lake

All too soon we arrived in port area of Funatsu, where large tourist ferries and swan-shaped paddle-boats waited to take tourists out for a jaunt on the lake. That was not for us - we quickly head back along the southern shoreline, past outcrops of ancient lava rock from which the lake was formed and on to our hotel. Our two-phase circuit of Kawaguchiko was complete and it was time to go. It couldn't have ended on a better note.


Clouds lift to reveal
Fujisan imperious
Then hide it once more

The forecast for the day was for a mix of sun and clouds and, as it was our last full day in Japan, we decided to devote it to Fuji-san. We were actually lucky enough to get a room upgrade at our hotel to a bigger room with mountain views. True to the description, when we woke up, there was Fuji-san peaking through the window. I quickly dressed and raced outside to get a few photos of the mountain with lake foreground in case it decided to disappear again.

Fuji-san triptych

It almost did! As we headed for the train to travel a few stops down the track to Shimoyoshida, the cloud that had ringed its base had risen to hide its summit. Our aim was to climb up to the nearby Chureito Pagoda, perched on a hilltop in the grounds of the Arakura Sengen Shrine, next to a grove of cherry trees. This combination is regarded as one of the top Fuji viewing spots and, when we finally climbed the last of the 397 stone steps to reach the pagoda, that became obvious.

Even though the blossoms were almost spent, a large group of Japanese tourists had assembled on a stone-walled platform behind the pagoda, ready for the perfect photo. Fujisan, by contrast, was not ready - still hiding its summit behind a band of cloud. However, it was slow-moving cloud and, bit by bit, Fujisan began to reveal itself.

Entry to the Arakura Sengen Shrine

Passing through the red torii gate

Chureito Pagoda

We joined the small crowd of people on the platform, cameras on tripods and hand-held at the ready - we were all "waiting for Fuji", as slowly the cloud shifted over the next forty minutes to reveal the summit of the volcano - magical!

Cloud hiding the summit of Fujiyama, but ....

... as photographers waited for that special shot ...

... the cloud slowly lifted to show the summit track

The classic photo of Fuji-san and the Chureito Pagoda

At last the summit appears

A curious Fuji view

We were inspired to hurry off and catch the train back to Kawaguchiko Station, and the next bus up to the Fifth Station on its slopes, at 2300m the starting point for many a pilgrim's ascent of this mountain. Ooops, Plan A developed a hiccup when we discovered that the bus would only go as far as the Fourth Station, some 300m lower, because of ice on the road.

On the slopes of Mt Fuji ....

We headed off - oops, a terminal hiccup developed, as a dark band of cloud swirled around to envelop the western face of the mountain. When we alighted at the Fourth Station, we found ourselves in a thick fog. Even worse, the road was blocked for pedestrians as well as vehicles - naively, I had thought that we could at least do a short walk on the slopes of the mountain and even reach the snow-line. No way, said the heavy duty barrier and security guards at Station Four.

.... at the Fourth Station ..

... where the views over the lake are spectacular!?

I walked over to the edge of the asphalt road and symbolically poured a bit of damp Fujisan soil through my hands. Then we caught the bus back down in the fog. The cloud had now spread over the valley below and Fujisan was once again hidden from view - our disappointment at not being able to see or even walk a bit on the slopes of Japan's highest mountain was tempered by the realisation that we had been very fortunate for the volcano to have revealed itself in its full splendour, however transient. It was a fitting finale for our sojourn in The Land of the Rising Sun.