Japan, Hunting for Mr Fuji

Our journey started in Tokyo, where we landed in the afternoon after taking a morning flight. We had stayed at Kadoya inn for a night before taking the train from the Shinjuku station to Gotemba.

We took the Asagiri limited express train from Shinjuku to Gotemba station. More information here. As of Feb-16, the cost of a return trip is ¥5,620 per person.

Our ride took about 1.5 hours and made stops at: Shin Yurigaoka, Sagami Ono, Hon Atsugi, Hadano and Matsuda. From the Gotemba station, it is an easy walk to the Nissan car rental office.


Road trip

We had picked up the rental at Gotemba station the day before and already spent time at the outlet till 7pm when it closed. Our first encounter with Mount Fuji was uneventful as he was shrouded in cloud as usual. This journalog picks up from the second day of our drive, as we accelerate our search for Mr Fuji.

The drive from Kawaguchiko to Gotemba is ~136km and takes approximately 1.5 hours on the toll road. However our drive took us through the smaller country roads, where we would be able to see more than from the highway. Actually, the distances around the entire Fuji five lakes are rather small. Aside from snow being a potential to lengthening our driving times, it was mostly smooth and we got to each destination point rather quickly.

7th February
A full day of shopping that started up with blue skies and view of Mt Fuji, ending with snowfall!
Super Hotel - view of Mt Fuji2Super Hotel - view of Mt Fuji1 What a glorious morning! There Mount Fuji was greeting us in the morning with the crisp winter chill set amidst a blue sky! Our hotel room faces the great mountain we managed to take a nice video of the mountain views. Remember to ask for the higher floors when you book the hotel!

We have domiciled the night at Super hotel I. Located along the route 138 about 1.5km away from Gotemba station, it is a short drive of about 10 minutes to the outlet mall and also to many eateries up and down the same route. The other hotel (Super II) is closer to the station and rather hard to book.

Today is the first time we had breakfast at the hotel. The self service restaurant opens with a reasonable selection (considering the price) and we had our fill before heading out to the outlet mall yet again ↓

The mall is near empty at 9am save for folks such as us. Store attendants busy themselves with cleaning the windows and vacuuming the floor of their store front. It was all preparation Japanese style to greet customers waiting to be served. Today we explore more of the “East” zone of the outlet mall.

This entails crossing over a bridge, over a gorge separating the two sides ↓

Super Hotel Breakfast
AM Gotemba1 AM Gotemba2 Drive back to Super Hotel
It is from here that you can also take in one of the best vantage sites to photograph Mt. Fuji. Cherry blossoms line both sides of the bridge along the slopes of the gorge and makes for a great view in the spring.

We had some time to take lunch today at the outlet mall – at Tavola, an Italian “trattoria”. We sampled the stonefish with linguine. Interesting combination that came with mussels. The restaurant’s signature semoline bread was made with seaweed and tasted great! Total bill came to ~¥3,700 for relatively simple fare. Next time we will do the pizzas instead…

Kintaro Dinner2Kintaro Dinner1 It was snowing as we drove back to the hotel and famished as we were soon it was off to dinner at 金太郎. A few minutes’ drive away from the hotel (Tel:0550 83 6608 for the GPS), we sampled their signature dishes of which Soba is the main offering. So local as such that we only saw locals dining here.

The tempura set (¥1,717) came with a huge serving of the white soba, whereas the chicken soba (¥724) was served with darker soba.

The portion of Soba was large and it well made up for the lighter lunch we had today. Good value for the money spent. Then it was back to the hotel for our hot bath and rest. Tomorrow’s the real start to the travel itinerary!

Overnight stay in Super Hotel I, Gotemba at a cost of ¥9440 per night and it includes breakfast!

All day while we shopped, Melvin was constantly trying to look out for Mr Fuji. But today he is shrouded in a sea of clouds, as opposed the early morning’s skies of blue. Now you see how fickle Mr Fuji is?

8th February
It was a nice winter drive from our hotel through Lake Yamanaka towards Kawaguchi lake and its many small attractions. We bathed at our Ryokan hot spring twice and enjoyed a great dinner!
Drive to Yamanakako1 Drive to Yamanakako9 Lake Yamanakako
The morning drive was through snow laden roads as we winded our way up to Yamanakako. The walking paths are all covered with snow and we did not venture far. No view of Fuji today as it was cloudy!

We drove on to Oshino Hakkai (Tel: 0555-84-3111 for the GPS), the site of 8 pond hot springs. Free to visit, it was filled with tourists vying for photos! Water from these pond springs are from snowmelt that filters down from the mountains via porous layers of lava over a period of 80 years!

The snow that is now will feed the springs later! Waikuike pond is where the reflection of Fuji is best. But no show today!

Oshino Hakkai - Waikuike 2 Oshino Hakkai - Waikuike 1 Oshino Hakkai - walk to Shobuike
But what amazed us was the extent of “grass” in the water.

The area that is now Oshino village and ponds was once a lake, one of several around Mount Fuji. Some 8,000 years ago (depends on where you search), the lake was mostly covered up by lava when the mountain erupted. What were left were these 8 ponds that continue to emit spring water. The water of Mount Fuji is considered spiritual and many people actually come to collect the spring water for use at home, believing in its healing powers. It has been tested that the spring water is one of Japan’s top 100.

Shobuike pond is said to be surrounded by Iris bloom, though it is hard to see them, since the snow cover has obscured the stumps. We saw a photographer set up with his tripod, probably looking for a reflection of Fuji on the water.

The Eight Springs are: Deguchi, Okama, Sokonuke,
Choshi, Waiku, Nigori, Kagami and Shobu Pond.We did not cover all of them, only the ones in bold font.It would take 2-3 hours to cover all of the ponds springs and we had a schedule to follow to. Kagamiike pond is said to be the most reflective, how → true! As it free to visit, the village is full of tourists.
Oshino Hakkai - Choshiike Oshino Hakkai - walk to OkamaiikeBe there either early (<10am) or later – perhaps lunch time? Be careful during winter though, slippery ice is everywhere. It is rather nice for a walk though.
We next headed on to look for Kaodya tofu “station”. It’s a tiny factory.Kaodya Tofu They have a reputation for making some of the best tofu using the pure spring water of Fuji. And that is not all, from the windows → of the café area, you can enjoy the free serving of tofu products and views of Mount Fuji as well. Houtou view of FujiWhat we did not realize was that sampling was free, along with the views!
↑ We were served a mix of tofu curd and different flavors of bean curd.

Driving on, we are now headed for lunch at yet another “hotspot” – at the Fudou restaurant.

Shaped like an igloo, in the backdrop is mount Fuji. Served in a hotpot, Houtou (ほうとう) noodles are a specialty of the Yamanashi region. The pot of noodles on the right costs ¥1,080 and came with a whole lot of vegetables. No meat though.

After a hearty lunch, it was off towards Lake Kawaguchi.

Houtou noodle restaurantThe first stop we made was at the natural living centre. With great view of the mountain and the lake, it was one of the best photo points.Houtou noodle Lake Yamaguchi is the most connected of the 5 lakes from a transportation perspective.

Natural living centre (Tel: 0555-76-8230  for the GPS)

Most of the development is in the Eastern end while the north and west are undeveloped. We are now at the northern shore, and the view is said to be even better in spring with cherry blossoms.Lake Kawaguchi - living museum Fuji view 1

Ukai Music Forest Museum There are numerous “museums” around the shores of the lake, some of them merely shop outlets but others house serious collections. Read up before you make your way to them to avoid disappointment. Lake Kawaguchi - living museum Fuji view 2
We stopped at Music forest (Tel: 0555-20-4111 for the GPS), a small theme park devoted to automatic musical instruments and focused mainly on those from Europe.

While we cannot see it in winter, the park is European style, manicured with a winding canal. Not cheap – ¥1,500pp, so we did only mulled around the souvenir shop.

Lake Kawaguchi - living museum All these attractions are well served by regular local tour buses though some folks are walking the distance from one to the next.

Not recommended in the winter.

The service comes by once every 30 minutes and there are bus stands located at the attractions such as the one ← pictured on the left.

We then drove on to a herbarium where we had lavender ice cream (¥350). Then it was back to the natural living centre where we waited for the sunset. Unfortunately we did not get the orange/red hue on the mountain today. Many others were also waiting for the same. An Akita’s owner was walking his dog and the animal poses with tourists. There were so much giggling of the ladies as they took photos of the dog and the Fuji panorama.

We decided to get back the Ryokan after taking the final Fuji photos for the day and on to a hot bath. It has been a long day…

Yamagishi Ryokan dinner 1 Yamagishi Ryokan dinner 2 Yamagishi Ryokan dinner 3
Dinner was served. And the above pictured set was the “standard” one. Some folks topped up with more! At Ryokan Inns, the dinner arrangements are usually quite sumptuous and well laid out. Imagine the amount of dishes that need to be washed after every meal serving! Our meal included local beef and vegetables and seafood. Exquisite as it was, we polished off every morsel. This is what’s left of the shrimp after the meal!

The Ryokan also had a doll festival platform in the foyer area. It is interesting to see that some of the hanging dolls looked like zodiac signs. After the 2nd bath, we did some night shopping at the hotel store before turning in.

Overnight stay in Yamagishi Ryokan (山岸旅館) for ¥18,300 which included dinner and breakfast.

Blessed day. Took so many photos of Mr Fuji today that the cameras (yes we had two + the phones) might just go berserk! We saw many fellow journeymen (and women) trudging along to the views. Lucky us (or lazy us), we drove and were fortunately rewarded with the views from so many differing angles. As we mentioned in our newsletter blog post, our personal travelog runs into 33 pages.

9th February
Today we venture further to the end of the five lakes – Lake Motosuko, views of Fuji are featured on the 1000-Yen note. The driving distances between sites is short and we had the time to take it easy!
Checking out this morning, we had a nicely prepared breakfast. Though the ingredients were simple, the presentation lives up to the Japanese tradition (sometimes also reputation) of perfection. Lake Saiko ViewThen it was a drive out for our day! Lake Motusuko 1000 yen viewFirst stop, the small lake of Motusu.
One of our main objectives today was to view Mount Fuji that was used on the ¥5000 note.

1000 Yen Fuji

It is now used on the ¥1000 note instead. We were unfortunate that the mountain view was obscured by clouds today, though the profile remains visible. Waiting for almost an hour we gave up!

It is a free spot, so many tour buses come this way too to take a peek, but like us there were also disappointed.

Saiko folk musuem1Then it was a drive to the folk village at Iyashi no Sato (いやしの里 at Tel:0555-20-4677 for the GPS).
↑ Just in case, we have the picture of the 1000 Yen note to remind ourselves what it should have looked like.

To enter the Iyashi village, pay an entry fee of ¥350pp. If you show some local tourism brochure you can ¥50pp off.

There are 23 thatched roofed houses had been restored and transplanted to this location after it was extensively damaged in 1966 during a typhoon. Many are reconstructed and the place re-opened as an open-air museum. They now house shops quite a few of them pottery, and a number offering visitors the opportunity to try out making traditional handicrafts.

Saiko folk musuem2One of the key features of the houses is the roof . If you look carefully at some of them, you will notice that they look like the helmet of a samurai with crossed crests similar to a warrior’s. Most no longer have such decorations on the roof due to past damage, though the one or two we observed had a keen likeness for one. On a fine day, Mount Fuji should be staring at us.Saiko folk musuem3
After a good round of walking and a little shopping (how can we not have that), we headed back to lake Shoji, where we visited a road-side restaurant (more of a junction really), that serves venison curry rice (¥1,300 centre picture below). The portion is not large but we had enough to taste. The serving of venison was a good sample and the curry appears to be prepared with Indian spices rather than the Japanese curry recipes most would be used to. The other dish we tried was the tempur of white bait. Also nice though we came for the venison. If you want to drive here – Tel: 0555-87-2351 for the GPS.

We had driven back to Lake Motusu but not luck with the view. Thus we decided to enjoy a hot bath instead. As we checked in at Maruei Ryokan, it was snowing… ↓

Lake Shojiki curry lunch2 Lake Shojiki curry lunch1 Snowing at Maruei Ryokan
Maruei Ryokan Open air bath1 ← The Ryokan is also located at the eastern end and it has a hot bath with views of mount Fuji on the top floor. I was lucky to be alone to enjoy the view! Of the two baths on the top floor, only one has the view so check when it is your (gender’s) turn. Maruei Ryokan Open air bath2
Maruei Ryokan Dinner1 Maruei Ryokan Dinner2 Maruei Ryokan LogoDinner was really nice, we had a own private room. The spread was also very good, you get what you pay for!
Overnight stay in Wakakusa no Yado Maruei Ryokan (若草の宿丸栄) for ¥28,080 with dinner and breakfast. This was the most expensive night of all, but also the best.

The morning started out cloudy for Mr Fuji and we cannot get the thousand yen note view. Oh never mind! You win some, lose some. But the best thing for Melvin today was the bath alone with views of Mr Fuji in the late afternoon. Had it all to himself!

10th February
After a great morning view of Mt Fuji, we had a morning drive to Yamanakako where we continued the pleasure of viewing the mountain from various scenic spots. But alas it was time to go back to Tokyo soon for the shopping!
 What a great morning! There was Mt Fuji againAM view of Fuji from Maruei which we viewed from the rooftop.Morning view of Lake Kawaguchi From the roof, we could also take in the entirety of Lake Kawaguchi. All in we must have spent more than 10 minutes out here in the cold.

But it was really too cold to stay out long on the roof! The temperature must had been around the -3°C range with a dose of strong wind.

Following the cold start, we had a sumptuous breakfast just as we had dinner, then we started out on our drive back to Gotemba via Yamanakako.

As we drove, we noticed that the traffic lights had the profile of mount Fuji. Wow!

We drove through route 138 back to Lake Yamanako to make our first stop was at the pier on the southern shore of the lake. This is the location of the Swan lake excursion boat. We were greeted at the pier by a “swarm” of mandarin ducks ↓.

Maruei Ryokan conciergeI thought that I saw another ‘Mak’ on the guest list as we checked out. Wow, what a coincidence!
Return drive to Yamanakako Lake Yamanako Swan pier View of Fuji from Plaza point
They waded around the pier, probably waiting for passengers to feed them. However we were busy taking fantastic pictures of the mountain. We were joined later by a swan – probably hoping for food too… (506 Hirano @ Lake Yamanaka, Tel: 0555-62-3100 for the GPS).

Final stop – the plaza Kirara (Tel: 0555-20-3111 for the GPS) , this time at the eastern end of the lake. Everything here is frozen over and gave us great photo shots of the mountain and lake.

Gotenba train museum2Alas it is time to leave the Fuji area. Gotenba train museum1We made the final drive back to Gotemba… While waiting for our train, we explore the local train exhibit featuring a steam locomotive. It is just around the corner from the station and a good distraction while you wait.

Then it was the trip back to Tokyo! Time to embarked on some serious shopping days.

Fuji Five Lakes Map
Our entire driving only clocked ~250km

This is a road trip and by definition it means we drive. As far as possible, we used GPS rather than try to navigate the signages (which also has English).

The best use of the GPS in Japan in our opinion is the telephone number. Map codes don’t work particularly well from our view.

We rented the car from Nissan.
Nissan Rental Gotemba
For a 5-day rental it cost us ¥43,848 and the petrol cost came up to a negligible ¥1,500 as the driving distances were so short! Further, petrol was not exorbitantly priced (¥109/litre, can you believe that!) plus the mileage on the Latio, kept costs to a minimum. So this segment of our trip has ended. It had been a real adventure to drive amongst the five lakes over the last 4½ days.

Next up, the shopping in Tokyo!

February 2016

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