The most common way to see Mt. Fuji is to take the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and stay a night or two in Fujikawaguchiko. We, however, were staying at Odawara; it is one of our stops along our 2-month-long trek from Tokyo to Osaka. So, we had to find another way to see Mt. Fuji.
Surprisingly, there aren’t many trains connecting Fujikawaguchiko to anywhere but Tokyo, and it isn’t easy to get to by bus either. We found that the bus would cost over 5,000 yen each and would severely limit our time at Fujikawaguchiko. We decided to wait for a good day without clouds and booked a rental car instead. The rental car (including gas) cost us 6,700 yen so it was much cheaper than the bus option and it gave us the flexibility we needed to visit everything we wanted to in one day.
We rented from Toyota Rental because we could get it from 8AM to 8PM to maximize our day. Usually we rent from Orix (which is cheaper) but their rental office didn’t open till 9AM.
After collecting our rental car beside Odawara station, we drove north by north west towards Mt. Fuji and Fujikawaguchiko. The car didn’t have a USB port for charging our phone or for listening to our usual road trip music so we turned on the radio and found an American military base radio station playing the lyrics “I’m gonna marry her anyway”. As we rounded the bend towards Panorama-dai, a panoramic lookout at the east edge of lake Yamanako, Mt. Fuji came into clear view. It was enormous and beautiful.
Mt. Fuji is the most distinguishing icon of Japan. It is the country’s tallest peak at 3,776m and an important pilgrimage site, and we could see why as we stood among the wheat fields at the lookout. The mountain is huge and breathtaking. Without any nearby mountains to lessen its grandeur, it stands very tall and prominent in the landscape.
We then drove down the road to Lake Yamanakako, which has a pedestrian and bike path along the edge. We stopped at a parking lot to get some more photos of Mt. Fuji along the way.
An hour later we arrived in Fujikawaguchiko, a town at the base of the mountain. It is the starting point for ascending the mountain and lies beside the largest of the five famous lakes located around Mt. Fuji.
Our first stop was Arakurayama Sengen Park, which we wanted to visit early in the day before there were too many tourists. The park has a lookout behind a pagoda that may be the most famous view of Japan.
We took some photos and then spent a long time just taking in the view and watching other tourists take their own photos. There were several Thai groups and we noticed an older Japanese man sitting with a large camera at the lookout. He offered to take our photo, asked about us, and started giving us some of his own printed photos of Japan. Some of the photos were from this very same lookout, but in spring time with the sakura (cherry blossoms); others were of Shinkansen trains and decorated rice fields. He didn’t speak English but we had a simple conversation with Yuki’s limited Japanese and body language. We were somewhat floored by his generosity and kindness, so we asked if we could take a photo with him.
It occurred to us that we could return his generosity by printing the photo we just took with him at a nearby 7-Eleven, so we rushed down the hillside to get it printed in fear that he would leave before we returned. It seemed that he had been hanging out there for a while, but it was nearing lunchtime.
Most 7-Elevens in Japan have a self-service printer/scanner that can print photos, postcards, or paper up to A5 size. It isn’t too expensive, being about 30 yen (30 cents) per photo and 60 yen for a postcard. We printed out two photos and a postcard, and wrote him a message on the back. We hurried back to the park and raced up the many stairs to give him our gift. He seemed very surprised and grateful to receive the photos. We felt like today was shaping up to be a really special day.
Our next stop was the Mt. Kaichi Ropeway . There were a lot of tourists at the top and we arrived right when the sun was directly above Mt. Fuji, so the lighting wasn’t very good. In hindsight, the location of the mountain view at the top of a ropeway is kind of odd because it is directly north of Mt. Fuji. This means that the visible side of Mt. Fuji would be under some kind of shadow year-round, and (for the most part) the sun would be in front of the photographer.
We weren’t too dismayed. At the bottom of the ropeway, we found three-flavoured soft-serve ice cream for 300 yen and then went for lunch at a sushi conveyor restaurant.
Mt. Fuji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the town of Fujikawaguchiko has a visitor centre with good displays of the geology of the mountain and the history of pilgrimages originating from the town and ascending the mountain every summer. Surprisingly, however, the second floor patio with a view of Mt. Fuji isn’t that great. It was nice that they had a stamp of which Yuki was able to add to her collection book though.
Our last stop of the day was the north side of Lake Kawaguchi for sunset photos. Google Maps was a great tool that I used to pick out this spot ahead of time, and we arrived to the last glimpse of the yellow sun dipping behind the western mountains. We went down to a private part of the lakefront and I set up the camera on a tripod so that I could take some photos of us.
Then I started recording this video:
I proposed to Yuki and she couldn’t have been more surprised and happy. We’re both so excited and happy; it was a spectacular end to a such a memorable day. And the scenery couldn’t have been more beautiful.
If you’re wondering how to propose to your girlfriend while traveling the world — see our next post!