Things to do in Tokyo

A been-there-done-that guide to the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes

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The summit is great. The photos are great. But nestled at the northern base of Japan's iconic Mount Fuji, lies the Five Lakes (Fujigoko) region that is a stunning blend of natural beauty, cultural (folklore too!), and outdoor adventure. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor like I was, the Fuji Five Lakes area promises experiences that are as diverse as they are memorable. It also helped keep me engaged because for the most part of the trip, Mt Fuji itself went AWOL. Thanks, clouds!

From serene lake views to amusement parks, and from historic sites to picturesque trails, there's something for everyone. Yup, the kids too! In this in-depth guide, here are the myriad activities and sights this area has to offer. Keep an eye out for the tips and tricks to help you make the most of your visit to Fujiko.

What are Mt. Fuji’s Five Lakes

Reflection of Mt. Fuji in Lake Kawaguchi

The Mt. Fuji Five Lakes area comprises Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Saiko, Lake Yamanakako, Lake Shojiko, and Lake Motosuko. Each lake boasts its unique charm and a bucketload of activities, making the region a year-round destination.

Lake Kawaguchiko: The Gateway to Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji with a leading dock in Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

Lake Kawaguchiko is the most accessible and developed of the five lakes. It serves as a perfect base for those looking to explore the area, offering a wide range of accommodations and attractions. At the lake's eastern edge lies a bustling hot spring resort town, brimming with tourist attractions and offering picturesque vistas of Mount Fuji, while its northern and western fringes remain largely untouched by development.

The most stunning views of Mount Fuji are to be found along the lake's northern shores, where the scenery becomes especially spectacular during the cherry blossom season in mid-April and when the autumn leaves peak in the first half of November. A prime location for cherry blossom viewing is the lakeside promenade near the Kawaguchiko Music Forest. Meanwhile, all you photographers will be delighted by the "Momiji Tunnel" during the autumn, a stretch of road enveloped by maple trees located further to the west.

If you can’t make it to any other lakes, this one is more than enough for a bit of everything whether you are adventurous, going with kids, want a hint of romance or just want stunning photographs!

Must-do: Take a ride on the Kachi Kachi Ropeway to enjoy breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji and the lake below. Don't miss the chance to visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, where you can marvel at intricate kimonos.

Traveler tip: In spring, the Fuji Shibazakura Festival showcases a vibrant carpet of moss phlox with Mt. Fuji as the backdrop.

Getting there: Kawaguchiko Station links easily to Lake Kawaguchiko. The Red Line (or Kawaguchiko Line) or the Green Line (or Saiko Line) operates along Lake Kawaguchiko's southern shore before going all the way to Lake Saiko.

Lake Saiko: A Tranquil Escape

Sunrise at Lake Saiko with Mt. Fuji in the background

Lake Saiko is known for its serene atmosphere and natural scenery. It's an ideal spot for those seeking peace away from the crowds. But to me, it was a little lonely and eerie at points. The majestic views of Mount Fuji from the shores of Lake Saiko are mostly obscured by the surrounding mountains, but if you can get to the lake's western end, then lo and behold, you’ll have splendid views of the iconic volcano.

Encircled by forest-clad mountains and dotted with several campsites, Lake Saiko serves as a haven for enthusiasts of camping, boating, fishing, and a variety of other outdoor pursuits. Which is why you would find me there. The area is crisscrossed by a network of hiking trails that meander through the mountains around the lake and into the depths of Aokigahara Jukai—a vast forest to the south renowned both for its association with suicides and for tales of individuals losing their way within its confines.

Must-do: Explore the Aokigahara Forest, also known as the Sea of Trees, and discover fascinating lava caves such as the Ice Cave and Wind Cave. Take a map, and don’t go too far in.

Traveler tip: Join the locals in their traditional fishing or canoeing on the calm waters of the lake.

Getting there: The Omni Bus Green Line (or Saiko Line) connects Kawaguchiko Station with Lake Saiko, circles the lake in a clockwise direction and stops at Iyashi no Sato, at the trailhead to Koyodai and near the three caves.

Lake Yamanakako: The Recreational Hub

Swan in lake Yamanakako with Mt.Fuji in the background

The largest of the five lakes, Lake Yamanakako, is famous for its wide range of recreational activities and the most wide-angle views of Mt. Fuji. That said, don’t go all the way to Ishiwari no Yu. You cannot see the mountain. At all. You’ll find small towns, hotels, minshuku (family-run guesthouses), camping sites, and restaurants along its periphery. But for the best vantage point, go to Panorama Dai, an observation area accessible by a 30-minute walk from the "Mikuniyama Hiking Course Iriguchi" bus stop. You’re welcome!

Must-do: Go to Yuyake no Nagisa Park, best known for its autumn colors. The lakeside is also a favorite for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Try boating, fishing, water skiing, windsurfing, camping, and tennis.

Traveler tip: Visit the Yamanakako Hananomiyako Park to see beautiful flower fields and traditional Japanese gardens. The flowers in bloom change with the seasons, so some days it’s all sunflowers and yellow and others a brilliant mix of purple, red, pink and orange from tulips, poppies, zinnia and cosmos. Check out the exact flowers and when they bloom here.

Getting there: Hop on a bus along the Kawaguchiko-Gotemba-Mishima Line from the Kawaguchiko Station to Lake Yamanakako. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes. For a full-circle route, the Fujikko tourist buses from the Fujisan Station are ideal.

Lake Shojiko: The Hidden Gem

Mount Fuji at twilight after sunset, view from Lake Shoji

Lake Shojiko, the smallest lake, is untouched and oozes natural beauty and tranquil surroundings, making it a perfect spot for photographers and nature lovers. Nestled between Lake Motosuko and Lake Saiko, its formation is a result of lava flows from Mount Fuji splitting a large ancient lake into three. Despite their separation, the lakes share a connection through underground waterways, maintaining a consistent level of 900 meters above sea level.

Bordering the dense Aokigahara Jukai forest, Lake Shojiko's pristine environment is minimally developed, with just a handful of hotels on its northern shore boasting superb views of Mount Fuji. The lake is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and various water sports including water skiing, jet skiing, and boating.

Must-do: Enjoy camping or picnicking by the lake, with Mt. Fuji. looming before you.

Traveler tip: Hike the surrounding trails to uncover scenic spots that are less known but equally captivating. I didn’t do this specific trail, but the Tategohama Parking Lot – Onnazaka Pass – Sanpobunzan – Panorama-dai – Tategohama Parking Lot is a popular one.

Getting there: The Omni Bus Blue Line goes from Kawaguchiko Station to Lake Shojiko then Lake Motosuko. But beware, it’s not at all frequent!

Lake Motosuko: The Diver's Paradise

Lake Motosuko, Mt Fuji

Lake Motosuko is known for its clear blue waters and features on the 1,000 yen note, it’s the westernmost lake of the Fuji Five Lakes. Its remote location makes it less accessible by public transport and it retains a largely undeveloped charm, with a few campsites dotting its perimeter. The lake is a favored spot for outdoor activities and water sports. This lake is the last of the three smaller bodies of water (with Saiko and Shojiko) that are interconnected underground.

Must-do: Divers ahoy! It's a favorite among scuba divers and those looking to explore the underwater beauty.You can dive to about 122 meters, but bear in mind the altitude is about 900 meters. So, stick to all your altitude diving procedures.

Traveler tip: Not a diver? No worries, kayaking is an option. Or sit back and take pictures of Mt. Fuji from the western shore. Or even paint! That said, if you are not any of those personas, skip this one. It's tough ot get to, stick to Kawaguchiko!

Getting there: Use the Omni Bus Blue Line to get from Kawaguchiko Station to Lake Motosuko but plan well as the frequency of the bus is fairly low.

Tips and Tricks for the Ultimate Five Lakes Experience

  1. Getting around: Renting a car is the most convenient way to explore the Five Lakes area, especially the less accessible spots. However, public transportation, including buses and trains, is available and can be paired with local sightseeing bus tours.
  2. Best time to visit: Each season offers a unique charm. Spring and autumn are particularly popular for their mild weather and stunning natural displays of flowers, leaves and Cherry Blossoms (spring). But winter provides clear views of Mt. Fuji, while summer is great for outdoor activities.
  3. Accommodation: From luxury resorts to cozy guesthouses, there's a wide range of accommodations. Booking in advance is recommended, especially during peak seasons.
  4. Houtou Noodles: Don't miss the chance to try local delicacies such as Yamanashi's famous Houtou noodles, a comforting dish perfect after a day of exploration.
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