Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kawaguchiko: The Gateway to your Mt.Fuji Adventure

Photos: Nestee Cunanan

We can never leave Japan without having a glimpse of Fuji-san. There are numerous options to accomplish this: head to one of the tall buildings in Tokyo on a sunny day, while on the Shinkansen heading south of Tokyo - it was about 10 mins of Mt. Fuji-viewing on our train ride to Kyoto, go to the Gotemba Premium Outlet or do a day trip to Mishima and probably some areas I have not read about. Since we like to admire its beauty longer and experience Japanese provincial living, we opted to spend 3 days at Kawaguchiko, a small town in one of the 5 lakes surrounding the famed mountain. It is about 2 hours from Tokyo via Otsuki through Japan Rail.


Fuji-san did not disappoint. I had my jaw-dropping, first-look of the perfect cone volcano halfway through our scenic train ride from Otsuki. Picture yourself riding an old train, managing a slow uphill ascent through farmlands and small shrines; at each small train stop locals ride and alight looking every inch how books describe them to be, then out of nowhere, a snow-capped moutain peeps through your window and there is no denying that you have seen what you have travelled miles for. 

Mt. Fuji owned my heart.

The Kawaguchiko train station is a picture out of a story book. It has a few tracks, 19th century design, cold mountain air and the volcano as its backdrop. Everywhere you walk around town, the mountain is like .... Walk... Walk... Turn... Booom! Mt Fuji. Walang pinipiling lugar, solb, quota.


You can head to the lake and marvel the volcano from there as well. 


It is a good place to have a picnic and enjoy watching the locals sail, fish or the tourists doing the Lake Kawaguchiko tour. That's what we did on our first afternoon and accomplish some cam-whoring.


Once evening settles, Fuji-san also has to rest and you can enjoy one of the Ryokans in town. Please note that most of the establishments you can find online are hotel ryokans and not the traditional ones with the full-on wooden houses. We YOLO-ed on the expense on this leg and booked a traditional ryokan. Upon setting foot at Onsen-ji Yumedono, we were surprised that we booked an entire house and not just a tatami-floored room. 


The establishment has only 3 (?) guest houses with service at par with international 5-star hotels: train station to hotel and vice versa transfer, check-in and check out at your room, slippers and shoes are already waiting for you at every turn and staff welcoming and bidding you farewell.

Our room has 2 living rooms, 


a huge sleeping area, a separate bath, another room for toilet, a dressing area, private outdoor onsen, a corridor 


and its own courtyard.


It's a stay-in kind of hotel and is best to minimize outdoor excursions to optimize the amenities of the ryokan. Since the ryokan provided us with yukatas, we took the opportunity to dress up 


and be kids 


playing make believe.


To complete the Japanese experience we tried the onsen in our ryokan sans public humiliation of getting naked in front of strangers. We still respected the ritual of getting ourselves immaculately cleaned before using the bath, dipping ourselves and not splashing around and positioning the bath towel  on top of our heads without soaking it in the bath.

Them Japanese are very hygienic. 


The onsen is not for the faint of heart. When they say hot bath, it is not lukewarm nor warm temperature but boiling hot temperature! Konting sibuyas, kangkong, sampalok at asin .... isa ka ng sinigang!

I tried several permutations of taking an icy cold bath, delaying my entry into the onsen so the cold spring air will cool down my body, slowly dipping myself into the pool, it always end with me getting very uncomfortable with the heat. I get dizzy every time I get out from the bath and turn very red all over - steaming, boiled.

Nonetheless, I conquered around 5 onsen experiences and have come to like it. It's an acquired taste for tropic-dwellers, I guess. What I noticed though is it's very nice to sleep and eat after an onsen experience.

At the ryokan, we had the chance to enjoy a Kaiseki meal - 12-course dinner reminiscent of old-court and imperial meals. One of its characteristics is the artistically-designed plates.

We started with appetizers, sashimi, 


soup palate cleansers, 2 main courses of fish and grilled steak 




All freshly-made and could pass for fine dining. Breakfast at ryokan is traditional Japanese fare, served in several courses as well. Our hostess are 2 old ladies impeccably-dressed in regal kimonos. 

We ventured out to Lake Motosu via a 1-hr bus ride from Kawaguchiko to see the shibazakuras. The come on of this spring festival is a field of white, lavender and pink moss phlox flowers in full bloom, covering several styled gardens with Mt. Fuji as its backdrop. 


The flowers are a beauty to behold and what you normally see being looped in appliance store television displays to show how sharp a unit is. Magnificent, beautiful. 


Sadly, it was an overcast morning when we headed out so there was no Mt. Fuji to be seen but the blooms colors make up for it


and the cold weather makes me pine for a jacket or scarf to complement my OOTD with the shibazakuras.

Please note that there are a lot of tourists in the area and don't be a smart aleck by wearing pink to be of the same color with the flowers, I had that brilliant idea and everyone does, too! including the staff and carts at the festival :P


There were also other flowers such as anemones


and this purple one.


Sakuras are also present in the garden. 


Apart from Shibazakura, you can also head to the 5th station where mountain climbers start their ascent to Mt. Fuji or simply take a peek of the peak, enjoy the Fuji-Q theme park where some of the rollercoasters are world title holders in terms of experience (as if riding a roller coaster with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop is not enough).


I can recommend visiting Kawaguchiko to get an unlimited view of Mt. Fuji; in my opinion, the most beautiful Family Mart could be located in this town because it has the mountain as its backdrop. We were lucky that in the 3 days we were there, Fuji-san showed itself a good number of hours each day. It gives you a glimpse of the way of life in a small Japanese town and enjoy the fresh mountain air; two 5-year old boys randomly greeted us on the street. If you want a quiet, relaxing, honeymoon try to consider this town; there are highly rated ryokans with excellent amenities (Yumedono offers Bulgari bath essentials and has facial toner, moisturizers for free) 


and there is a train route you can take straight from Narita Airport to Kawaguchiko. It is also a good rest stop if you are doing a multi-city Japan trip to allow your legs and body to recuperate for the temple and garden runs that you did and about to take.


"Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.” - Miyamoto Musashi

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