Kawaguchiko was the first place we visited after leaving Tokyo. We had always wanted to see Mount Fuji, but when we visited Japan in 2015 we had to leave it out of our already too busy schedule. So, this time we made sure to include it in our itinerary. Read my Kawaguchiko Guide for great tips and photos!
You can view Mt. Fuji from many places and a lot of people prefer a day trip to the Hakone area. However, we wanted to keep a more relaxed pace and we decided to stay 2 nights at Kawaguchiko. You can also decide to stay only for 1 night, the town is very small and there is not a great deal to see and do, especially in winter. However, we decided to stay 2 nights to maximise our chances to see Mt. Fuji. You can also see Mt. Fuji from the train between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto, but in 2015 we were never able to even catch a glimpse of it because of the rain and clouds. So, this time we didn’t want to risk going all the way there for nothing. And we were magnificently rewarded with breathtaking views for all our stay!
Lake Kawaguchiko is the most easily accessible of the Fuji Five Lakes and it is linked to Tokyo with train and direct bus connections. The little town is a hot spring resort with various tourist attractions and views of Mount Fuji and it is located around the lake’s eastern end, while the northern and western shores are mostly undeveloped. The best views of Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko can be enjoyed from the lake’s northern shores, where the view is not blocked by buildings and/or hills. That’s the area we chose to stay in… more details on our hotel will follow.
Keep in mind that even though Kawaguchiko is located right at the base of Mount Fuji, the mountain is not always visible because of clouds. Visibility is usually best in the early mornings and in the late afternoons, while clouds often obstruct the view during the day even on days with fair weather, and especially during the hazy summer months. Even in winter, the best time to see Mt. Fuji, haze can get in the way during the day.
We were extremely lucky because we got to experience amazing sunsets…
And we even got to see Mt. Fuji’s reflection on the lake which, we were told, is not very easy to see – the lake has to be completely still for that to happen!
Among the wide range of other tourist attractions available around Lake Kawaguchiko are hot spring baths (many of which are hotel’s onsens), various museums, the Fuji Q amusement park, boat tours and a ropeway leading onto a small mountain next to the lake.
The Kachi Kachi Ropeway takes you to an observation point near the summit of Mount Tenjo, from where Lake Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji can be seen. We would have liked to go, but unfortunately it was too windy and the ropeway was closed.
In the end, we decided to take it slow and rest. It was very cold outside and we had the best view of Mt. Fuji from our hotel room!
So we did something we rarely do when travelling: we enjoyed our hotel and all it had to offer, and that too when we were able to peel ourselves from the window!
We did go out for a walk around the area, but we didn’t make it into town. The area is nice, with some interested houses/buildings.
It looked more like Europe than Japan, I must admit.
If staying in Kawaguchiko, I highly recommend you stay in a ryokan – a Japanese style hotel. This is the perfect place to experience the onsen and, above all, a kaiseki dinner – a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. It balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colours of food. Only fresh seasonal (and often local) ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavour. The finished dishes are carefully presented on plates chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. The garnishes are beautiful too and they are often made with real leaves and flowers. It is an amazing experience both for your palate and your eyes.
During our 2015 trip, we had only one of these dinners, in Miyajima. We loved it so much that this time around we decided to experience more of these dinners in different places. Besides, being winter, it made perfect sense not to go out in the cold to look for a place to eat!
Besides Miyajima’s, Kawaguchiko’s was the best kaiseki dinner we had! I highly recommend it. We actually had 2 dinners, having stayed for 2 nights.
Firstly, the dinner was served in our room. We were assigned a lady who took care of us throughout the dinner. She came beforehand to confirm our food allergies (make sure to advise the ryokan via email before you go if there is anything you cannot eat, as there is no a la carte menu… it’s more like a degustation menu) and to ask us at what time we wanted to have dinner.
Then when the time came, she arrived and set the table in front of us and she started to bring in the food. It was amazing! The kids had their own kids’ meal – which was enough to feed an army!!
The first night we started with Plum Liquor; Yuzu and soybean milk; Salmon in Oshino served with kelp, konjac in Ooishi and vinegared miso; and Salmon roe and Japanese white radish with oil.
Then we had the most amazing sashimi I have ever eaten. I mean, look at that presentation! It was made up of Pacific Bluefin tuna, fatty tuna and… shark and served in “Japanese white radish like a Kamakura snow hut”!
Our main was Yamanashi prefecture pork shabu-shabu with vegetables, salt and sesame vinegar sauce (this was soooo good!). Basically, a hot pot with dipping sauces. Yum and perfect for the cold weather!
The soup (that was actually served before the sashimi, but it’s the first in this photo collage) was made up of sea bream dumpling, thin Japanese white radish and yuzu.
Then we had beef roast, bamboo shoots, arrowhead with Japanese wasabi sauce; trout, taro and pumpkin; and vinegared conger eel, burdock, cucumber and ginger.
Miso soup, rice and pickles.
And for dessert we had yuzu pudding and strawberries.
And we finished off with some Hojicha – roasted green tea.
The kids had a lot of delicious food too including pasta, corn soup, chicken pie, korokke shaped like Mt. Fuji and a Mt. Fuji rice and curry… so cute! They also had a ham and cheese fried roll, a burger with roasted potatoes and gravy and for dessert, the same yuzu pudding we had, PLUS vanilla slice, melon and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. SO MUCH food!
The second night’s dinner was another amazing experience.
We started with Pomegranate Liquor (zakuro); wild mushrooms with pine nuts and mayo; fish roe; beef and burdock (this tasted so good!); and sea cucumber with “normal” cucumber. I have always seen sea cucumber when snorkelling and I knew Japanese love to eat it, so I was really curious to try it. I must admit that it was probably the only 1 out of 2 things I really didn’t like. It was so chewy I found it hard to swallow. Definitely not for me, but I am glad I tasted it!
Our main dish this time was local steak with vegetables to grill at the table. It was beautifully marbled and it simply melted in your mouth!
Then we had soup sea bream dumpling, thin Japanese white radish (cut like a leaf!) and wine broth.
Then we had some amazing sashimi made up of Pacific Bluefin tuna, fatty tuna and sea bream, served with wasabi, and edible shiso flowers to mix with soy sauce!
Then we had some more sea bream, smoked and served with a little broth; and the second dish I did not like: a jelly made with squid ink served with a wheat flour flower, matsutake mushroom and vegetables. It looked amazing, but the texture was not appealing to me.
The vinegared dish looked so beautiful. It was made out of sea bream (apparently it was in season ;-)) and broccolini flowers. So well presented!
Miso soup, sea bream rice (I loved this) and pickles – radishes and burdock.
And for dessert we had custard and fruits.
The kids had a lot of delicious food again! It included the most amazing pumpkin korokke (I will have to make them!), vegetable and cheese gratin, teriyaki chicken, broiled salmon, grilled beef steak and vegetables, rice with poached egg and the best dessert ever… our same custard and fruits and the most amazing yuzu sorbet. Something I MUST try and recreate! It was so refreshing!
During these 2 dinners, I practically fell in love with yuzu!!
Breakfast at the hotel was very good too. The buffet was full of both European and Japanese treats.
There are freshly baked croissants, corn bread rolls and melopan. Bacon, ham, boiled eggs, tamagoyaki.
Sausages, fish – cooked and sashimi style, stews of all kinds.
Rice and miso soup, a salad station and hot crispy tempura!
Juices, tea, coffee etc… My kids discover grape juice and they will have it throughout our holiday!
For lunch, we went out. We walked for a long time trying to find a place to eat and we were not lucky. We were about to give up, when we noticed a small building, just across the hotel. We walked to it and it was a little family restaurant – aka Momiji Tei. They serve mainly udon and soba. We want to stay light as we had a heavy breakfast and will be having a kaiseki dinner… so we order some karaage (fried chicken). It was nice. Good service as well.
We are a little puzzled about this situation… we had asked the hotel to recommend us a place for a light meal nearby and they didn’t tell us about this place. If they had, it would have saved us a lot of walking and time!
In Kawaguchiko, we stayed in a very nice ryokan called Shuhokaku Kogestu.
The ryokan is in a fantastic spot. It’s located on the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko and it has the BEST views of Mt. Fuji and the lake! Really unbeatable! Even the most expensive hotel in town doesn’t have better views!
There are many rooms, but the best part is that they ALL have Mt. Fuji views, no matter what the room category is. The main difference between the less expensive and the more expensive room is that the latter have a hot tub in the room/terrace.
So we managed to see Mount Fuji at all times of day… and night!
Look at the starry sky!
The Japanese style room was quite big. There was an entrance area where you could leave your shoes and the toilet was there too.
The main room had a tatami floor and a little covered “terrace” with little table and 2 chairs and a huge window with the most amazing view!
When we arrived, we used the room as “day room”, so we had a table and we could sit around it on the tatami mat to enjoy tea and pastries provided by the ryokan management.
After dinner, the rooms were prepared for the night and the futons were laid down for us to sleep in.
We also had a Yukata each to wear for the night and to walk around in the hotel, and all the usual toiletry sets you find in Japanese hotels, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors etc…
There was also a souvenir shop in the hall.
The breakfast area was really beautiful too.
However, the most memorable experience for me was the onsen. This was our first ever onsen experience, but even after visiting many other onsen during our holiday, I can still say it was by far the best!
There are two public baths, one for women and one for men. The changing area is massive and really well equipped with toiletries like disposable air bands, air brushes, cotton buds, shower caps etc. There are hair driers available, and a huge variety of creams and lotions.
There is a sauna and 2 onsens: a “normal” one with a huge tub and all the showers to wash at. And then a beautiful open air onsen made with rocks and with amazing views of Mt. Fuji. There is nothing more relaxing than soaking in a hot thermal tub when the outside temperature is freezing cold and you can enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji! It was amazing!
Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, I have no photos of the onsen, but have a look at the hotel website for a good idea of what to expect.
The hotel stuff also comes to pick you up and drop you off at the station where trains and buses arrive and depart from. That’s very convenient too.
Booking was very easy. I booked through Japan I Can.
I highly recommend Shuhokaku Kogestu for the comfort of the room, the amazing location, and the best onsen we have ever tried. This is definitely the place where we will be staying at on our next visit to Kawaguchiko.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN KAWAGUCHIKO
The best way to explore Kawaguchiko is by bus (and on foot).
From Kawaguchiko Station, two retro bus lines provide tourists with local transportation around Lake Kawaguchiko and neighbouring Lake Saiko. The Kawaguchiko Line (buses every 15 minutes) operates along Lake Kawaguchi’s eastern and north eastern shores, while the Saiko Line (buses every 30 minutes) operates along Lake Kawaguchiko’s southern shore and around Lake Saiko.
A pass for unlimited use of both lines on two consecutive calendar days costs 1200 yen.
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TRAVEL IN JAPAN:
HOW TO GET THERE
Kawaguchiko Station is the terminal station of the Fujikyu Railway from Otsuki. The bus terminal for local buses and highway buses to/from Tokyo, Kofu, Gotemba and other destinations is located just in front of the station.
We chose the first of the following options. You can book your ticket online up to 1 month before you travel.
By bus from Shinjuku Station
Fujikyu and Keio Bus operate one to two direct buses per hour between the Shinjuku Bus Terminal in Tokyo and Kawaguchiko Station. The one way journey takes just under two hours. Most buses stop at Fujisan Station and Fuji Q Highland before arriving at Kawaguchiko Station and many of them continue on to Lake Yamanakako (just over two hours from Shinjuku). The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on these buses.
By bus from Shibuya Station
Fujikyu operates approximately one bus every two hours between Shibuya (Mark City), Fuji Q Highland, Kawaguchiko Station and Fujisan Station. The one way journey takes 2 to 2.5 hours. The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on these buses.
By bus from Tokyo Station
Fujikyu and JR Kanto Bus operate one to two direct buses per day from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) to Kawaguchiko Station. The one way trip takes about two hours. The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on these buses.
Take the JR Chuo Line from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Otsuki Station (between 70 and 100 minutes depending on the train). From Otsuki, take the Fujikyu Railway Line to Kawaguchiko Station (55 minutes). The Japan Rail Pass is not valid between Otsuki and Kawaguchiko.