I visited Japan from March 23 to April 1 to see the cherry blossoms but high on my list of priorities was seeing Mt. Fuji. And among the best places to see Mt. Fuji during this season is Kawaguchiko, a town settled around one of the 5 Lakes of Mt. Fuji.
Kawaguchiko offers a clear, unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji rising up above the lake and its easy accessibility means that it’s a perfect locale for a day or weekend trip. Additionally, it’s a town with no shortages of onsen, or hot spring baths, that arise from the volcanic waters of Mt. Fuji.
Getting to Kawaguchiko: By Tour
There are a myriad of ways to get from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko. One of the most accessible (but most expensive) are the tours who will take you on a day trip bus or private car. With either of these options it should only take you an hour and a half, with the prices ranging from $100 to $400, depending on the level of service and extracurriculars you’ll enjoy. The more expensive ones all included public onsen visits. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to join in on a tour that included an onsen visit, as people with tattoos are barred from visiting. Some may let you in if you have small tattoos (as in, you can cover it with a hand or bandage).
To find a tour like this, you’ll find no shortage on sites like viator or govoyagin. Your hotel (or any larger hotel) will also be happy to help arrange one for you. They typically leave early in the morning, around 8am.
Getting to Kawaguchiko: By Train
If you opt to use a train, however, the ride will likely take you around three hours, including wait times.
Similar to the bus route, Shinjuku station is where you’ll need to go if you’re hoping to reach Kawaguchiko by train. Trains in general are my favorite mode of transport in all countries, so I opted for this one. But it’s both more expensive and time consuming.
In Shinjuku station, you’ll be seeking the JR Chuo line. There are trains that also leave from Tokyo Station but they are fewer and far less frequent. With the Shinjuku station, there are trains leaving 10 to 20 minutes.
On the main floor of Shinjuku station you will see a ticket booth where you can buy (from a human being hahaa) a ticket to Otskui station. Otsuki is your last stop before you transfer onto the train that will take you to Kawaguchiko.
The attendant will ask you if you would have reserved / would like to reserve a ticket. I found that doing so was unnecessary on the way there in the morning but on the afternoon ride back many people were stuck standing. The difference between reserved and non-reserved was around $7 USD.
From there, they will tell you the time, your platform, and where to go. I had plenty of time to wait so I opted to try one of the extremely popular restaurants in Shinjuku station that are maybe 50 steps away from the ticket booth.
The train ride to Otskui station will take one hour. Once you arrive, you will all be funneled to the exit where you’ll have to present your ticket to Otsuki. The next ticket office will be on your left, and I found it to be a good idea to buy it immediately, especially if you’re opting for a non-reserved ticket.
The train to Kawaguchiko also takes an hour, and you’ll actually go past it at first. The train will make a bee-line to Mt. Fuji station (don’t get off…) and to the theme park before backtracking to Kawaguchiko.
Getting to Kawaguchiko: By Bus
A final option is to take a highway bus to Kawaguchiko. This is actually faster than a train, and cheaper to boot.
You can depart from either Shibuya or Shinjuku station. It’s better to reserve a ticket in advance as, even on weekdays, there are frequently a lot of people visiting Kawaguchiko.
Navigating Shinjuku station when you’re not familiar with it can be a nightmare. But to reach the highway bus terminal go through the “New South Gate”. You’ll take the escalator from the ticket gate at New South Gate to get to the departure terminal on the 4th floor.
To find the express bus station in Shibuya station, just note that the departure terminal is on the 5th floor. The easiest way to find it is to go to the Avenue exit. There, there will be signs indicating where the bus terminal will be.
It’s always wise to ask one of the helpful attendants at the information station if you get lost.
The ticket for one person is approximately $16 (one way), and the total time it’ll take you to get to Kawaguchiko is 1 hour and 45 minutes. You will arrive at Kawaguchiko station.
Climbing Mt. Fuji
It’s important to note that actually getting onto Mt. Fuji during this season can be very difficult. Typically, the bus to the 5th station (the highest point you can get to on Mt. Fuji in a car or bus) is closed. This isn’t particularly surprising. During this season the weather is below freezing and it can snow, as it did the night before I arrived. In the spring, Mt. Fuji is still crowned with a beautiful white cap but by summer and all the way through August it is bare and far less majestic. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately if you’re hoping to avoid the cold) the climbing season begins in July and continues to September, when Mt. Fuji is less likely to have snow.
There are three trails starting at 5th station, and one trail starting at 6th station, so if you take one of the buses from the Kawaguchiko bus station you should have an easy time beginning your venture. These trails are also 24 hours, so if you’re seeking a sunrise or sunset you may do so. In fact, many people begin their hike in the evening so that they can see the sunrise. There are a few huts that you can take shelter in.
The ascent can typically take 5 to 7 hours, the descent 3 to 5, so plan accordingly. Japan-Guide is a good resource for getting your bearings on what it is you might need to be successful.