The small minibus wound its way up the side of the mountain, I looked around at the winter trees sticking out in prickly leafless thickets with the occasional smattering of long thin pines. The sky was blue and the sun was shining, and I was on my way to the Hotel Mt. Fuji. Sitting up high at 1,100 meters, as the name would suggest, the hotel offers some of the finest views of the majestic old mountain that any in Japan can offer. Situated on the shores of Lake Yamanakako, one of Mount Fuji's 5 lakes, this hotel provides the perfect retreat for those looking to take in some real nature while visiting Japan.
The hotel has reached the ripe old age of 50, but looking around inside, one wouldn't think this for a second. After asking one of the hotel staff, I was informed that the interior has been completely refurbished recently. The design inside is bright and breezy, and the high windows that look out onto the garden area provides the lobby and dining areas with plenty of light. Offering 153 rooms of various types, the hotel also boasts Japanese and Western restaurants, private dining rooms, a bar, a pool, jacuzzi and an onsen.
Arriving at the hotel, I was greeted warmly and shown to my room. At the front desk, I had another one of those particularly Japanese attention to detail moments when I spotted not just one pair of glasses for guests' use, but three, all of varying strengths! After check-in, I was free to wander the hotel, so I set off for a bit of an explore.
I went back to my room had a sit down, then took a look out of the window.
With my breath pleasantly taken away by the view from the room, I didn't have much time to relax as I was heading on a trip with some other guests to see what is know as Diamond Fuji. I was slightly puzzled by this phrase at first, but I came to understand on the bus that it is when the sun sets right over the peak of the mountain and creates a star-like flare that many photographers are enamoured with. Being somewhat of an amateur photographer myself, I was getting very excited! The bus wound its way down and up mountain paths as we made our way to the special spot. We passed the lake and looked at sailing boats bobbing away. Being winter, one part of the lake was slightly frozen, and I was told by one of the locals that the lake used to freeze over entirely in the past, but now it doesn't so much... a possible effect of global warming perhaps.
We arrived on the side of a mountain facing towards Fuji, this had to be the spot as there were already swarms of photographers waiting patiently with their tripods set up and ready to go. Whoops... I forgot my tripod. Well actually, to tell the truth, I don't even own one...
As the sun slipped down behind the peak, there was a flurry of shutters as people snapped madly to try and capture just one image of this iconic scene that a lot of Japanese people consider to not only represent the country, but also the hearts and minds of the nation.
After the sun set behind the mountain, we made our way back onto the bus - frozen to the bone, but with happy smiles on our faces. As we drove back in the mini-bus, the driver told us that the conditions hadn't been the best today, but not to worry, he knew of a "secret spot" by the lake on the way home. I was glad he did, and I managed to capture this one from the back of the mini-bus as we were speeding along the lake.
Arriving back at the hotel, the sun was still setting and so I decided to take a stroll around the garden to watch my second sunset of the day. As the light dimmed, the garden was illuminated and the whole place turned into some kind of otherworldly paradise. Couples walked hand in hand through the lights, and the whole area had a delightfully romantic feel to it.
After a nice walk around the garden, I went back inside for dinner. I'd had the choice of French or Japanese food, and decided that when in Rome, do as the Romans, so I headed to the Japanese restaurant, Wasai Shunka, on the first floor.
The dinner was multi-course and I thought the plates would never stop coming! The food was all prepared from fresh local ingredients and was undescribably delicious. To name a few of the dishes: anago sushi, bream eggs, nagaimo, carrot castella, steamed crab with mochi, vegetable tenpura, the list goes on and on.
After the meal, I went to check out the bar, Eau de joie, and was served an illuminated cocktail by the friendly bartender. Speaking of alcohol, while I was wandering the corridors of the hotel, I found a rare sight - a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale on display!
To top off a perfect day, I went to the onsen and enjoyed a long hot soak in the baths. This time I got to see the full-moon with the clouds moving swiftly over the top from the warmth of the open-air bath. The rocks around the bath were illuminated, and I had time to reflect to myself on what a great day it had been.
When I got back to my room, I collapsed on my bed... zzz
I woke up at 5:45 a.m. wanting to see what is known as beni-fuji, which is the red effect shining off the snow on the tip of Mount Fuji that is visible in the morning sun from the hotel garden... but... looking out of my window I couldn't see a thing. Drat. In credit to the hotel, I had been told that I wouldn't be able to see it this morning, but being an Englishman, I've always been told that you cannot predict the weather. Apparently, in Japan, you can. I decided it would probably be better to get some more sleep.
After a tiny bit more sleep, I went down to have another soak in the hot springs. This time I was looking out at a snowy misty morning - equally as enchanting as seeing the full moon the night before. Next I headed to The Garden Cafe to partake in a Western-style all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet!
I have to say, after all the Japanese food I've been eating recently, it was a nice change to munch on some Western food!
After breakfast I made my way to Lake Yamanakako to take a ride on an amphibious bus called KABA, which is the Japanese word for "hippo".
The KABA boat...? bus...? takes visitors on a drive around the lake, then takes a splash into the water and offers wonderful views of Fuji from the middle. As KABA moves along, the guide offers some information about the lake and gives the riders a little quiz in Japanese about its history and formation (the quiz is aimed at younger children, so should be a good Japanese lesson for people studying the language). Our enthusiastic guide let us in on a little secret as to why the lake is nicknamed "flying whale" in Japanese. The origin of the name is partly due to the shape of the lake, but also due to the fact that Yamanako is the highest of the 5 Fuji lakes.
Unfortunately, on the day I went on KABA, the clouds were still thick around the mountain and I wasn't able to see it from the lake. However, our guide told us that this is a message from Mount Fuji telling us that we should come back and visit the mountain again!
After a nice ride on the hippo, I stopped in at the Pica Resort for lunch. The lunch at the Fujiyama Kitchen was delicious, and the restaurant, which is situated in a woodland area by the lake, had a nice relaxed vibe to it. I highly recommend it! I noticed a Hammock Cafe as I was walking to the restaurant and would've loved to stop and relax with a coffee in a hammock, but I still had things to see and do!
After lunch I had a bit of time before catching my bus back to Tokyo, so I took a stroll through Oshino village. Oshino village is a small homestead at the base of Fuji. The village is home to 8 natural spring water pools, known as hakkai or 8 seas. These pools of water are sourced by hot spring water present due to the volcanic nature of Fuji. The pools used to be part of Lake Yamanako, but it has receeded leaving the 8 pools isolated. The town is somewhat reminiscent of a little English hamlet, with thatched roofs, water wheels and little lanes that wind throughout the village. Definitely worth a visit.
As I still had a little more time left after exploring the village, I went to look at Koyo Okada Photo Art Museum - a photo gallery devoted to exhibiting a photographer who worked predominantly in the Showa era. Okada was peculiar as a photographer in that he only photographed Mount Fuji. Similar to Hokusai, the ukiyo-e artist famous for his 36 views of Mount Fuji, Okada focussed solely on photographing the venerable mountain. One of his photos of Fuji was the basis of an illustration for the reverse side of the 5,000 yen bill.
Heading back to Tokyo on the highway bus, I started to reflect on my trip to see Mount Fuji, and how so many people have become fascinated with its unique shape. I felt myself falling for its majestic beauty and knew that I'd be going back to see it soon.
It's really easy to get out to Hotel Mt. Fuji and the Yamanakako area. The easiest way to get there is by highway bus departing from either JR Tokyo or Shinjuku stations. These buses will take you almost directly to the hotel, just alight at the stop marked "Hotel Mt. Fuji" and a shuttle bus operated by the hotel will take hotel guests from the stop to the hotel. For up-to-date information on times etc. please consult these websites: