No matter what website you read, receptionist you talk to, or blog post you scroll through – everyone refers to Mount Fuji as a lady, and one with a bit of a temperament.
Mount Fuji is easily the most iconic landscape in all of Japan, and notably even in the world. So of course there are a lot of people that go out of their way to come see her. Unfortunately, many people don’t actually get to see her. It’s usually too cloudy, overcast, raining or snowing. And some people stay here for an entire week without one sighting of the big lady. Then they reason, “Mount Fuji’s a lady, and sometimes she’s shy.”
I think for my stay she wasn’t shy, she was just sassy. I could always see her, but never 100% clearly, but just enough to make you think that if you sit and wait it out long enough the two small clouds blocking your view at the top of the mountain will go away. And then they do, and then more come, and then you’ve just spent an hour waiting for the impossible.
Regardless, I should consider myself lucky. Most people take a day trip from Tokyo when the weather looks clear to come see her. I had two nights already booked at a hostel downtown, not really leaving myself much wiggle room for weather. And of course, the forecast didn’t look promising. So I hopped on the train anyways, and was surprised when I saw her with no problem for the first time.
A little gloomy, but oh it’ll do. As soon as I got to the Lake Kawaguchiko stop, I practically ran to my hostel, threw my backpack down, and ran outside to take pictures before the sun continued to set.
I had a full day planned the next day, but the forecast said rain half the day. Needless to say, I basked in these views while I could, not knowing how the next day would go.
And if any of you follow me on social media, you probably know how this story plays out. The weather was beyond fine, and I could easily see Mount Fuji all day! Well, minus the exception of a few clouds at the top that just never seemed to want to leave her side.
First Stop, Chureito Pagoda
I have to admit, they make it incredibly easy to get around this small little town. With very comically decorated trains.
Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture of the Thomas the Train carnival train I had also used…
The Chureito Pagoda is a decent hike from the train station, going vertical to really get the best view. But to get there, you pass through some beautiful landscapes, shrines and sculptures.
First, the Shinto shrine:
Then, a small information center with a natural fountain:
Then, you really start to climb. You can take the stairs…
Or you can take a windy path, decorated with orange lanterns adjacent to beautiful evergreen trees. I took the stairs up, and the windy path down.
And then you finally reach the Chureito Pagoda! And looking straight at it, it takes you a minute to turn around and appreciate the view.
You can keep climbing, getting better and better views. But, they have bear warning signs everywhere – so I didn’t venture too far with this sneaking suspicion that I would somehow be the one who wound up in a bear altercation… the slight risk was worth it in the end:
So these views are typically decorated with pink cherry blossoms, also iconic to Japan’s landscape. I came about 3 weeks too early. There’s still snow on the ground in a handful of locations, let alone flowers! I did see a few blooms in Tokyo, and I’m crossing my fingers that the cherry blossom gods are in my favor while in Kyoto and Osaka…
After the Pagoda, the rope way cable car I was going to take was closed due to high winds (and I can attest – it was cold and it was windy.) So instead, I walked around a small portion of Lake Kawaguchiko.
Now, this is one of five lakes that surround Mount Fuji. They’re popular travel destinations for people who want to get the lake side view of Fuji. And once you think you’ve taken the best picture of her, you get a little further and you’re like ah no wait this ones better. Then you have about 300 very similar pictures. I tried to choose my best here…
And of course, Fuji is spectacular. But I also think it’s worth pointing out that there are other mountains in the same area (these aren’t volcanoes, so potentially safer mountains too!)
The area is truly spectacular. I was able to sit at a cafe, sketch and drink tea, while staring out at this view. And what kind of a day like this shouldn’t end with some ice cream?
Relaxing in an Onsen
Part of the reason that I chose the hostel I did is because it has a traditional Japanese onsen inside. I was super excited for this, but I don’t think I knew exactly what it was…
What I did know: I did know that onsen’s are public baths. I also knew that many are strict about people entering who have tattoos. I assumed it would be like my experience in the pools of Iceland: you’re required to shower nude first, and then you put on your bathing suit and go outside to the co-ed heated pools.
What I didn’t know: that you had to be fully nude the whole time, and are only with your gender. Also, I didn’t realize that the hostel I booked has only an onsen, meaning if I want to shower, this is how I have to do it.
So I peeked inside, said hell no and went to my room. I was actually considering just not showering for these two days. Until I talked to a German girl in my room who has been in living in Japan for about three years.
She assured me, it’s totally normal, no one is judging you, and it’s all around an amazing experience. She walked me through the steps, and said it’s open to 11, so you can always just go really late.
Well, everyone wanted to go late. I got down there, and walked in to a locker room with a dozen of nude women preparing for their onsen. I just took a deep breath, derobed and just went for it.
All in all – it was amazing. Much like the heated pools in Iceland, the combination of the cold air and the incredibly hot water is so soothing. And it was also really nice to see the cultural difference of how accepting all women are of their bodies. There was quite a range of ages, and no one even batted an eye at each other. They were just relaxing after a long day.
I wound up talking to a girl from Taiwan, who kept telling me how brave I was to be traveling so far and alone – and I just wanted to say, traveling alone is easy, bathing nude with a bunch of strangers? Now that’s brave.
For anyone interested, here is a little poster of the general onsen rules:
I snuck in once it closed to take some pictures. Of course, there are zero cameras allowed when the onsen is in use. But I wanted to share the experience as best as possible!
There is a sit down shower area, then an indoor and an outdoor pool at varying temperatures. In part of the outdoor pool, you can lay in your bath and watch the stars.
All in all, I really had a great quick trip to Lake Kawaguchiko to see Mount Fuji. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have been able to wake up to this:
And fall asleep to this:
Good night from Lake Kawaguchiko!