February 20, 2021

Explore hidden jewels of the Mt Fuji foothills-shrines, highlands, and lakes

Japan’s highest mountain Mt Fuji and its foothills offer spectacular scenery and many attractions. While most Mt Fuji tours are designed to visit the eastern side of the mountain, the northern and western sides of Mt. Fuji also have beautiful and interesting spots you cannot miss. Although traveling by car is recommended for this trip, we hope this article inspires you to explore the hidden jewels of Mt Fuji’s foothills.

Mt Fuji as a World Heritage Site

Mt Fuji or “Fujisan” rises to 3776m and is the highest mountain in Japan. It is snow-capped most of the year and its majestic view has been an inspiration to many artists and poets over the past centuries. One very famous painting is Hokusai’s “Tsunami” where Mt Fuji is depicted in contrast to the big tsunami wave. 

At the same time Mt Fuji has been considered a sacred place by many Japanese people for centuries. The mountain is also the destination of many pilgrimages. These are the reasons why Fujisan was registered in 2013 as a World Heritage Site under the title “Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration”. 

Fujinomiya—The gateway to Mt Fuji

Fujinomiya is where the Fuji clan built their residence. The town lies in the south-west part of the Mt. Fuji foothills. To access Fujinomiya, take a JR train and get off at Fujinomiya Railway Station. Your journey starts here. 

Fujinomiya is home to the headquarters of Sengen Shrine. This shrine is one of the components of the mountain’s world heritage status. Sengen Shrine has many branches all over Japan, and in the Mt Fuji area, there are a total of nine Sengen Shrines including one on the summit. Many pilgrims to Mt Fuji visit some or all of these shrines. 

Driving north, soon you will arrive at Shiraito Falls. Shiraito means “white threads.” As the name suggests, the many fine streams that form the falls look exactly like white threads creating a  breathtakingly beautiful visual.

Asagiri Kogen—Mt Fuji’s highlands

The next stop is Asagiri Kogen Highlands. This area is about 700–1000m above sea level and therefore is much cooler than the flatlands of Japan. Asagiri Kogen has developed into Japan’s dairy farm capital. You can experience various hands-on activities such as butter-making and cow-milking at farms like Fuji Milk Land and Makaino Bokujo. These farms also have accommodation facilities (lodges and camping grounds) so that you can enjoy a stay on the farm.

Asagiri Kogen is also an ideal place for hiking. Strolling through the pastures, you can enjoy the picture perfect view of Mt Fuji so close to you and lakes that reflect the mountain on their crystal clear surfaces. The highlands also offer space for camping and paragliding.

Fuji Kyukamura Holiday Village and Tanukiko Walk

Another recommended accommodation in Asagiri Kogen is Fuji Kyukamura. It is a holiday village built on the shores of Lake Tanuki. The village has cottages as well as standard hotel rooms. All the hotel rooms face Mt Fuji, so you can enjoy a magnificent close-up view of the mountain from your own room. As Fuji Kyukamura has onsen (hot springs), you can soak in a hot bath viewing the mountain as well.

Built around Lake Tanuki is athe walking path called “Shizen no Komichi” (Nature’s Little Path). The path is about 4km long and it takes about an hour to walk all the way around. In the areas near the village you can also enjoy cycling, buggy trekking, paragliding and fishing. 

Fuji Five Lakes

The Fuji Five Lakes, or “Fujigoko,” are one of the most well-known features of Mt Fuji. These are Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji, Lake Sai, Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Yamanaka. They all lieg in the northern part of Mt Fuji’s foothills. 

Lake Motosu

Lake Motosu is close to Asagiri Kogen and it is the westernmost and deepest among the Fuji Five Lakes. Lake Motosu is best known for the upside-down reflection of Mt Fuji thanks to its deep and clear water. The upside-down reflection appears when the weather is fine and there is no wind. It is so beautiful and unique that this feature of Lake Motosu is used on the reverse side of the old 1,000 yen note. 

At Lake Motosu, you can enjoy water sports such as boating and canoeing, as well as camping, hiking and fishing. 

Lake Shoji

Next to Lake Motosu is Lake Shoji. This is the smallest lake among the Fuji Five Lakes. It seems that the lake is connected to Lake Motosu and Lake Sai through underground waterways because the water level of these three lakes is always the same 900m. At Lake Shoji, you can enjoy water sports, camping and hiking. 

Lake Sai 

Lake Sai is the middle lake of the Fuji Five Lakes. The area around the lake is not developed very much, but “Iyashi no Sato” (Village of Healing) is worth visiting. This is a culture village and is located on the western shores of the lake. 

In 1966, this area was struck by a landslide due to a typhoon. Before this happened, a number of traditional Japanese style houses that had thatched roofs stood in this village, but they were knocked down by the natural disaster. 40 years on, 20 houses have been reconstructed and the village is now reopened to the public as a traditional Japanese craft centre. These houses are used as museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. Some handicraft shops offer hands-on workshops so that you can make your own crafts. 

Lake Kawaguchi

Lake Kawaguchi covers the second largest area and boasts the longest shoreline among the Fuji Five Lakes. The development of the surrounding areas of this lake started a long time ago and therefore there are a number of well-established facilities. The most popular places and activities are lake cruising, Tenjō-Yama Park Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway, Kawaguchiko Music Forest and Ichiku Kubota Art museum. The east side of the lake has hot springs and has been developed as a resort area with many hotels, shops and restaurants. 

East of Lake Kawaguchi is the town of Fuji Yoshida. This city has another Sengen Shrine. The vista of Mt Fuji from Arakurayama Sengen Park with the five-storied Chureito Pagoda in the foreground is one of the most sought after views in Japan. The best season is spring when cherry blossoms are full. 

Lake Yamanaka

Lying on the eastern side of the foothills is Lake Yamanaka. This lake is the largest but shallowest among the five lakes. Lake Yamanaka is very close to Mt Fuji, and this advantage attracts a number of photographers, especially in the early morning and evening.  As the area around the lake is quite flat, many tennis courts and camping grounds have been built. You can also enjoy various water sports at the lake as well as cycling all around it. 

Visit the Mt Fuji foothills from spring to autumn

The view of Mt Fuji itself is beautiful all year around, but if you want to enjoy various activities in the foothills and highlands, spring to autumn is the best season to visit. Because the temperature of the areas is lower than the flatlands, spring comes 2–3 weeks later. This means you can avoid the very crowded cherry blossom season in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto and still enjoy stunning flowers with far fewer crowds(at least at present). If you are more interested in sports and outdoor activities, visit in summer. Autumn is also a nice season with beautiful coloured leaves. Note that in the Mt Fuji foothills autumn comes earlier than the flatlands. 

  • Written by Setsuko Truong
  • Translated by Carley Radford

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